Carved stone Monuments in Iona and the Western Highlands.
For anyone devoted to the Isle of Iona and the magnificent ancient carved stones found there, as well as their influence on the craftwork of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie as well as other Scottish silversmiths and crafts workers - the ‘Holy Bible’ of reference books is the rare volume ‘Carved Stone Monuments in Iona and the Western Highlands’, by James Drummond.
The book itself is very large and heavy, measuring 37cms x 28cms x 4.4cms, and is the sort of book that, if you are lucky enough to locate a copy, you’ll need to read either flat on a table or on a cushion on your lap, due to its size and weight.
Drummond was curator of the Nation Museum of Antiquaries of Scotland, and was, like some of us today, totally fascinated by the ancient carved stones found not only on Iona but in neighbouring areas such as Kintyre, Keills, Kilmory, and Knapdale. From c.1868 onwards he spent his spare time travelling to these sites and painstakingly sketching in pencil every stone he came across, all in the most meticulous detail.
In 1881 the Council of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland realised the uniqueness of Drummond’s painstaking and detailed series of sketches he had completed over the years, and commissioned them to be published as a limited edition book by Archaelogica Scotica in Edinburgh. Single copies were supplied (or perhaps sold?) to each of the Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. They must have cost a lot of money to print, as the book has one hundred full-size chromo-lithographic (semi-colour) plates of illustrations, and features over 200 highly detailed sketches of medieval and earlier carved stones of Western Scotland. It was a hardback publication of very good quality – exactly how many copies were printed is uncertain, but I would doubt if there were more than 300. Each copy is numbered, and the copy shown here is number 87. Copies do come up for sale occasionally on the internet via antique book dealers, but at the time of writing a reasonable copy in the UK will probably cost you £350-£380, and I have seen two in the US for £600+.
In the 1960s, Llanerch Publishers in South Wales produced a small paperback copy of Drummond’s book. This version, although a good reference book, is less than a quarter of the size of the original (and about 1/20th of the weight!), and the quality of the plain black and white line-drawing illustrations are in no way comparable with the original large chromolithographs in the 1881 version. This 1960s edition has been out of print for several years now , but can occasionally be found in second-hand bookshops.
Libraries are always worth trying, as they may be able to locate a copy of the original book for you to look at if they haven’t got a copy themselves. Due to its rarity you’ll have to look at it ‘in situ’, they won’t let you borrow it to take home under normal circumstances, (and also if you had to carry it home it would be very heavy!)
This book was printed when Alexander Ritchie was 25 years old, and the Ritchies would certainly have been familiar with it. They would probably have had a copy of it in their own collection of Scottish history and Celtic art books at Shuna Cottage on Iona. (In the 1960s there was a fine copy of Drummond’s book in the Abbey Library on Iona that I was able to study in depth while living on the island.)
Shown here is the frontispiece of the book, which has a small chromolithograph picture of Kilmory Chapel and standing cross towards the bottom of the page. The date at the bottom of the page is 1881. The title on the gold-embossed cover is shown in the second picture.
Due to space, just three of the 100 plates are shown below. Hopefully we will be able to add a few more plates at a later date.
© 2004 by David James