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A quaich /ˈkwx/, archaically quaigh or quoich, is a special kind of shallow two-handled drinking cup or bowl in Scotland. It derives from the Scottish Gaelic cuach (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [kʰuəx]) meaning a cup.


According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, the quaich was inspired by the low silver bowls with two flat handles frequently used as bleeding vessels in England and the Netherlands in the 17th century.[1] Another popular theory suggests that the shape is derived from scallop shells. However, this seems to have had its origins in the now discredited poems of James Macpherson supposedly translations of poems by Ossian, son of Fionn mac Cumhaill.

In his 1955 monograph Some Scottish Quaichs,[2] Richard L. McCleneahan, an American collector, suggests that the quaich evolved directly from the medieval mazer. This seems unlikely as the form and material (burr maple for mazers) are quite different. There were small stave-built drinking vessels common in the medieval period found around the Baltics and, since some of the earliest quaichs are stave-built, this could be the source.

sycamore and silver quaich

Traditionally quaichs are made of wood, an artform known as "treen". Some early quaichs are stave-built like barrels and some have alternating light and dark staves. The staves are held together by bands of willow or silver. They generally have two, and more rarely three or four, short, projecting handles. Other wooden quaiches were lathe-turned out of a single piece of wood and there was another group which were turned then carved outside in basket-weave pattern. In addition to wood, they are made of stone, brass, pewter, horn, and silver. The latter were often engraved with lines and bands in imitation of the staves and hoops of the wooden quaichs.[1]

Oak quaich

The origin of quaichs in Scotland is traced to the Highlands[citation needed]; it was not until the end of the 17th century that they became popular in such large centres as Edinburgh and Glasgow. The silversmiths of such local guilds as Inverness and Perth frequently mounted them in silver, as may be seen from the hallmarks on the existing examples.[1]

Commemorative quaichs awarded as prizes, or given as gifts, are more commonly made of pewter or silver. These prize cups are rarely used for actual drinking.[1]

Related vessels to the Scottish quaich include the porringer, a larger vessel typically 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter with one (US colonial) or two (European) horizontal handles. The Sami and Norrland, Sweden, equivalent is the kuksa, which also only has a single handle.

The quaich was used for whisky or brandy, and in the 19th century Sir Walter Scott dispensed drams in silver quaichs. One of the quaichs he owned was the Waterloo Tree Quaich. It was made in part from wood Scott had taken from the Waterloo Elm, when he visited the battlefield shortly after the Battle of Waterloo (the elm tree had been the Duke of Wellington's command post for much of the battle).[3] In his collection he also owned some other quaichs made from commemorative wood: one made from Falkland Oak; one made from Queen Mary's yew; and another made from the Wallace Oak.[4] The one he kept for himself was particularly precious to him,[citation needed] because in 1745 that quaich, made of wood with seven bands, had travelled from Edinburgh to Derby with Bonnie Prince Charlie.[4]

Some quaichs' bottoms are made of glass, allegedly so that the drinker could keep watch on his companions. A more romantic quaich had a double glass bottom in which was kept a lock of hair so that the owner could drink from his quaich to his lady love, and in 1589, King James VI of Scotland gave Anne of Denmark a quaich or "loving cup" as a wedding gift.[citation needed]

Wooden commemorative quaichs designed by Paul Hodgkiss were given as presents to winners at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.[5]

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