Somerled MacDonald’s antique prize chanter

45 was recently contacted by Clive Douglas after reading our article written by Alan Forbes on Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society, which can be found here.

Clive spotted the name of Somerled MacDonald in the article, and he thought he should share photos of a prize chanter which he owns which was presented to Somerled MacDonald in 1905.

Alan Forbes kindly replied to Clive and with information on Somerled MacDonald. Alan said: “Somerled MacDonald (1868-1948) was a great-grandson of Neil MacLeod of Gesto, compiler of the Gesto Canntaireachd. He was quite a significant person in the piping world of his time and was one of the founding members of the Piobaireachd Society. He was an active judge at piping competitions, and took a scholarly interest in all aspects of the evolution of piobaireachd in the early part of the 20th Century, writing many papers and letters on piobaireachd notation and expression. 

“He was a keen member of the Scottish Pipers’ Society (now the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society) and won the Strathcona Cup for Piobaireachd in 1902, 1903 and 1905 and the Society’s Challenge Cup for March, Strathspey and Reel in 1905 and 1906. The practice chanter was the prize for his Strathcona Cup success in 1905.

He was a talented artist and portrait painter – there is a self portrait of him on the internet which can be viewed here. He lived in the Murrayfied area of Edinburgh.”

Clive Douglas obtained the chanter and miniature set of pipes in the mid-80s. Clive explained: “I bought the miniature set of silver and ivory pipes from a Glasgow antique dealer who handled lots of sets of pipes, and the practice chanter was in the case with them. There is no maker’s name on the chanter. The hallmark is for Young and Tatton, an Edinburgh silversmith, and the date mark is for 1904. That ties in with the date of the competition.  I don’t think many Edinburgh pipe makers had a silver stamp like Henderson and Lawrie did in Glasgow. I suspect that would be because they didn’t directly employ any silversmiths, but used local jewellers to do the required work. The silver work is unusual and I’ve never seen another chanter or set of pipes with the same design.

“The pipes are an exact copy of a full silver and ivory set, right down to the small ivory bubble on the blowstick. I think they were made by J.T. Forbes of Dundee. Again, there is no pipe makers stamp on the silver. The marks are for the Edinburgh silversmith, Thomas Ebbutt, and the year stamp is for 1928. The chanter with the pipes was marked J.T. Forbes Dundee.

“Pipe Major Angus MacDonald thought that the pipes had been made by Robertson and I believe that at one time Robertson were making pipes for Forbes. I’ve seen some other full sets by Forbes and the profiles look the same, and on silver sets the stamp was Thomas Ebbutt as well.

“It seems odd now, but I never really considered that the chanter and the pipes might both have belonged to Somerled MacDonald. Somerled passed away in 1948, so it is possible that the pipes were his too.”

Clive would be keen to hear from anyone who has more information about the pipes or the chanter. Email and we will put you in touch.