No story would be complete without a little
controversy, and the world of tartan is no exception! Tartan frauds have
been around since the nineteenth century, when the infamous Sobieski Stuart
brothers toured the Highlands claiming to be the heirs to "Bonnie Prince
Charlie" and living off of their fame and reputation. In 1842 they
published a book entitled Vestiarium Scoticum that was supposedly taken
from a sixteenth century manuscript detailing the patterns of all the original
clan tartans. Of course no one but the brothers themselves had seen the
In reality, of course, the concept of
a "clan tartan" does not date back any further than the late eighteenth
century. The alleged manuscript never existed and the Vestiarium
Scoticum was a complete hoax, with the Sobieski Stuart brothers creating
many of the tartan designs themselves!
The Sobieski Stuarts were not alone in the
business of tartan fraud. The records of famed tartan firm
William Wilson and Sons of Bannockburn (external link) include an early
nineteenth century letter from a tartan merchant, no doubt seeking to fill a
customer's order. “Please send me a piece of Rose tartan,” he writes,
“and if there isn’t one, please send me a different pattern and call it Rose.”
In a more modern context, one Austrian
company in recent years has attempted to market tartan patterns discovered in
archaeological digs in that country with the bogus claim that the kilt was
invented not in the Highlands of Scotland, but in pre-historic Austria!
Tartan is an industry, and unfortunately
there will always be those few in the business who will attempt to mislead
people in order to make money. In recent years, confusion has arisen
regarding the existence of two individual tartans for the state of North
Carolina and South Carolina.
In 2003, David McGill, owner of a small
private design and retail company in Edinburgh called International Tartans,
designed a "North Carolina" tartan at the request of someone named "Charles"
from Flatbranch, NC, (no last name is given on his web site). He was
supposedly "dissatisfied with the fact" that the Carolina tartan had been
formally adopted by the NC Legislature. Shortly thereafter, a woman from
Sumter, SC, heard of the new "North Carolina" design and commissioned McGill
to also design a tartan for South Carolina. Again, the reason stated on
the International Tartans Web site is "dissatisfaction" with the
"patronizingly named Carolina tartan."
No explanation is given as to why the name
of the Carolina tartan is supposed to be "patronizing," but this is simply
part of a larger campaign to discredit the Carolina tartan and promote his new
designs. On his web site, McGill also calls the Carolina tartan "mysteriously named" and "even
more mysteriously provenanced." Perhaps the most astonishing claim he
makes is that when states pass legislation to adopt a tartan, they "are not making that tartan official or exercising
McGill claims that his two new tartans are
the tartans for "all true North [and South] Carolinians." He even offers
to name those who wear his tartans "Armigers," which is completely fraudulent.
An Armiger is someone who bears heraldic Arms (nothing to do with tartan), and
only the Lord Lyon has such authority in Scotland.
The so-called "North Carolina" and "South
Carolina" tartans are copyrighted proprietary designs, and as
such, they may only be purchased through McGill's company, International
Tartan. The actual Carolina tartan, as an official symbol of both NC and
SC, is in the public domain.
The Scottish Tartans Authority makes this
statement about International Tartans.
David McGill's company has designed
quite a wide range of fashion tartans and given them the names of
counties/areas... It is
believed that one or two of them might have come to be accepted as district
tartans by usage in some areas, but until proof of widespread usage or
official acceptance is supplied, they can only be regarded as fashion
tartans by the Scottish Tartans Authority.
The truth of the matter is that the
official tartan of the State of North Carolina is the Carolina tartan.
official tartan of the State of South Carolina is the Carolina tartan.
Private individuals who, for whatever reason, did not like the sanctioned
Carolina tartan commissioned a retail company to design new tartans for NC and
SC. These tartans have no official standing with either state. (It
is a little like someone deciding on their own that the daisy would make a
better state flower for NC than the dogwood, or the SC flag really ought to
have a maple on it, not a palmetto).
people choose to wear these fashion tartans, they are of course free to do so.
But those wishing to wear the actual State tartan recognized by North and South Carolina
should wear the Carolina tartan. Any attempt to discredit the Carolina
tartan, as is being done by International Tartans, is dishonest and does
injustice to those who worked diligently to have the Carolina tartan adopted
through the official legal processes of their respective states.