Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Anonymous Gift
Scotland is a long way from Washington, but in the 19th century, trinkets bearing images of the Capitol were shipped from the Scottish region of Ayrshire to the nation’s capital. This wooden napkin ring is an example of Ayrshire’s “Mauchline ware,” which uses techniques first developed for producing snuff boxes and later famous enough to have its own moniker. Artisans decorated close-grained sycamore wood with pen-and-ink drawings and then coated the entire piece with multiple layers of varnish. By the time this napkin ring was made, the process became more mechanized and the inspiration more global, using printed engravings of tourist destinations across Europe and North America rather than drawings of Scottish landmarks, and an enormous range of small keepsakes eclipsed snuff boxes. Napkin rings such as this one were often sold in numbered sets.