The Mystery of the Amen Glasses

At the international conference, held in Edinburgh this month, to celebrate 400 years of glass making in Scotland, two glass researchers came together in an endeavour to solve one of the mysteries of Jacobite glass made between 1743 and 1749.

The ‘Amen’ glasses are unique. Only 37 genuine glasses are known and they are one of the most valuable 18th century drinking glasses. The historical sentiment encapsulated in these glasses is such that they sell for tens of thousands of pounds. They are engraved in diamond point with verses of the Jacobite anthem together with the cipher and crown of the old pretender, James, and the word ‘Amen’. The sentiments are explicitly treasonable and in the 18th century, especially after Culloden, possession of such material was not without considerable risk and some of the glasses are still protected and concealed in a velvet lined mahogany box.

Ian McKenzie, a professional glass engraver working in Australia, has been studying the ‘Amen’ engravings for some years and Geoffrey Seddon has also studied Jacobite glasses for over 30 years. In the 1970s, having photographed 16 ‘Amen’ glasses in close-up detail, Seddon, with the help of a forensic handwriting analyst, was able to show that the ‘Amen’ glasses are all the work of a single engraver. As described in his book, his study also revealed that four glasses were forgeries, and two of them were in important public collections.

Ian McKenzie came to the conclusion that the most likely engraver of the ‘Amen’ glasses was a Scottish artist, the famous 18th century line-engraver Sir Robert Strange. In the 18th century line-engraving of a polished copper plate was an extremely important art form since it was the only means of illustrating a book or making a print of any kind. One of the tools used is a diamond point and it was the expert use of this which eventually made Robert Strange famous.

Seddon, in his lecture, ‘Rebellion and Scottish Glass’, told a rapt conference audience how an analysis of the detailed photographs of ‘Amen’ glasses revealed the profile of the engraver. Study of the improving quality of the engraving showed that the majority of the ‘Amen’ glasses were engraved over a very short period of a couple of years. Robert Strange’s life: his marriage to an ardent Jacobite, Isabella Lumisden; his period of service in Prince Charles’s army in the ’45 rebellion; his life in Edinburgh and his period in France, fits the profile of the ‘Amen’ glasses perfectly. This compelling circumstantial evidence is a strong indication that Sir Robert Strange was the engraver of these glasses. His arguments were so persuasive that one sceptic in the audience rose at the end of the lecture and told how he had come to damn the argument but was leaving a convert.

‘Amen’ glasses have always reached high prices. The Seddon – McKenzie revelations seem set to ensure their value will now increase still further.

Photographs copyright Geoffrey Seddon

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2 Responses to The Mystery of the Amen Glasses

  1. Suse Coon says: would be a good place to start, through one of the forums.

  2. timothy strange says:

    Absolutely fascinating Where is it displayed
    Wish we had some!

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