Back in print

Back in print

A new company is breathing new life in to old lost tomes.Ian Buxtontells us more

Whisky & Culture | 10 Nov 2006 | Issue 60 | By Ian Buxton

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As regular readers will know, I am an enthusiast for old whisky books for several reasons.Firstly, they are often attractive objects, “Books do furnish a room” as Anthony Powell remarked.Secondly, unlike a whisky collection you can enjoy them and they don’t decline in value the moment you’ve opened them.Finally, and most importantly, they can tell us how whisky has changed during the years and what people a hundred or more years ago thought was important.Unfortunately, there is a growing interest in classic whisky books and they are getting expensive and very hard to find.However, emboldened by the positive reception to the re-issue from 1930 of Aeneas MacDonald’s Whisky (Canongate Books), for which I provided the introduction, I decided to see if there was an opportunity for some even more specialist titles.I’ve teamed up with publisher and writer Neil Wilson to create a website at We are offering limited edition facsimiles of two of the rarest whisky books you could hope to find.Ian MacDonald, author of the first book Smuggling in the Highlands, was a highlyregarded and long-serving excise officer, who spent much of his career in the Scottish Highlands where he came to know the people and their whisky-related ‘ploys’ very well.Much of the material in Smuggling in the Highlands was first read before the Gaelic Society of Inverness during the late 1880s, when whisky smuggling was resurgent in the north of Scotland.It was subsequently published as a series of articles in The Highlanderand Celtic Magazine.The only book version appeared in 1914, and our facsimile edition is an essential and long-overdue edition for anyone truly interested in the heritage of Scotch whisky and Scottish social life a century and more ago.Despite his ability to tell a good smuggling story, however, there is no doubt that MacDonald had little sympathy with the law breakers whose activities he chronicled.Indeed, it is typical of the man, and his era, that an entire, and wholly fascinating, chapter is devoted to ‘Moral Aspects of Smuggling’ in which he rails against “lawlessness, dishonesty, idleness and drinking”.Whisky writer Gavin Smith has provided the introduction to this book.Its equally fascinating companion is Reminiscences of a Gauger by Joseph Pacy.Dating from 1873, this is as compelling as it is rare – a good copy is now worth £250-300.This is one of the most important works of its period – an invaluable record of some 40 years service during the middle of the 19th century, being one of the very few contemporary accounts of the life and work of the gauger.It is particularly notable for his detailed explanation of foiling a duty evasion racket in Campbeltown at the height of its whisky producing fame and his turbulent relationship with Captain William Fraser of the Royal Brackla distillery.As he says in the book: “I know that I never encountered a man either in or out of the service that tested my courage, my prudence, or my honesty, more than this same distiller.” Each title will be available in a limited, numbered edition (500), in a slipcase, and packed with a CD containing a fully searchable PDF file of the original book, also in facsimile.We have reserved the first 100 numbered copies of each book for our founding subscribers, whose names – in a nod to an all but lost publishing tradition – will appear in the new
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