Quaich – Scotland’s Cup of Friendship

Never heard of a Quaich before? Or it rings a bell but you’re unsure of what it is exactly, what you use it for and where it comes from? Then this article is for you!

WHAT IS A QUAICH?

Scotland's Cup of Friendship - The Quaich
An example of a modern Scottish wooden Quaich with silver lugs. Most of our quaichs can be engraved. This quaich can be engraved on the lugs and disc. Click the image to view the full range.

The word ‘Quaich’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘cuach’ meaning cup. Many think it is pronounced ‘quake’ but in Scotland we actually pronounce the ‘ch’ in the same manner as we would for the word ‘loch’. The Quaich is also known as the Scottish “Loving Cup” or “Cup of Friendship”.

A Quaich is a traditional Scottish shallow drinking cup with two handles on opposite sides that is typically carved out of wood, probably in imitation of a scallop shell from which drams of whisky are believed to have been drunk. There were also larger Quaichs used for ale, the largest surviving one being big enough to hold 1,5 pints.

WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE QUAICH?

The “Loving Cup” is a cherished Scottish invention that originated in the Highlands, where it’s been used for centuries. Quaich making was a highly regarded profession in Scotland in the 17th century. The earliest Quaichs were made from a single piece of wood, with the lugs (handles) sometimes covered with silver – which provided a perfect place for engraving the initials of the owner. (Carving your initials pretty much everywhere used to be very popular in Scotland.)

In the seventeenth century, metal Quaichs made of silver, brass or/and pewter also started to appear – making the cups fancy enough to be used among the fashionable upper classes of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Quaich is said to have first traveled south in the canteens of the armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.

Since the wooden Quaichs are quite sturdy and thick at the bottom, the design had to change in order for the aristocracy (mainly fine Scottish ladies) to be able to lift the fine metal Quaichs and drink from them in a sophisticated manner. This resulted in a much lighter design where the sides were of the same thickness and the inner cavity much deeper and more bowl-like than before.

The centre of the bowls are usually decorated with an engraved silver disk – a traditional message might be inscribed in gaelic: ‘SGUAB AS’I’, which means ‘Toss it back!’

Traditional carved wood and silver Scottish Quaich
A traditional Sterling Silver Scottish quaich with detailed scroll handles.

WHAT WAS THE QUAICH USED FOR?

Scotland’s cup of friendship has been used throughout the centuries to offer a welcoming drink in the form of whisky or brandy at clan gatherings and family occasions as well as to greet friends and visitors.

The two handles make the Quaich an ideal cup for sharing and incorporates trust between the giver and the receiver who could be friends, family, lovers or even strangers. A Quaich should always be offered so that the receiver can hold both lugs, making it impossible for the drinker to use any weapons.

WHAT IS THE QUAICH USED FOR TODAY?

The Quaich has found its place in many ceremonial events and is still being used to offer welcoming toasts to guests in some Scottish homes. At weddings the Quaich is seen as a symbol of the shared love between the wedding couple and in christenings it is used to drink to the health of the newborn. This friendly cup is also often present at traditional events such as Burns Suppers.

A QUAICH MAKES A MEANINGFUL GIFT

Sláinte! (“Health” in Gaelic)

LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION?

15 thoughts on “Quaich – Scotland’s Cup of Friendship

  1. Aydia says:

    Hello.
    I am doing a research that includes quaich as one of my data and your article really helped me a lot.
    I was wondering if you could give information about the size of quaich (generally) like the length of the handle and the diameter of the bowl.
    Thank you!

  2. ANTHONY HAWKE says:

    Hello. Would you have any idea about how the Quaich and loving cup ceremony was incorporated into Scottish Freemason rituals. I am a freemason in Norway and will be giving a talk about this shortly

  3. Sven M. Boehne says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful insight, it helped me a lot with the preparation of a ceremony I would like to hold.
    The ceremony is used at the opening of the Edinburgh Tattoo as well.
    Here is a brilliant explanation: https://youtu.be/B5sVF-a1o80
    I have tried to find the text and translation of the words, but to no avail…
    Can you help me? Tapaidh leibh!

    • Esme Young says:

      Dear Sven,
      Thank you for your kind comment. We belief the welcome toast at the Military Tattoo translated is ‘100,000 welcome to the city of Edinburgh and to the castle, and health to you all.’
      Hope that was helpful!
      Esme

  4. Diane Kane says:

    I have recently purchased a very plain antique pewter quaich from an antique dealer. Pitted and plain bowl but has a two symbols stamped into the handles. One appears to be a rose with leaves and the other a castle. Both are very tiny. How can I trace the markings? How do determine the age of it?

    • Esme Young says:

      Dear Diane,
      I believe these will be makers marks (kind of like a company logo). If you google pewter makers marks there are many sources to help you identify them. Once the maker is identified you will be able to pinpoint a time frame. Unfortunately you can’t tell an exact year from markers marks as is often possible with silver hallmarks. Hope this is of some help.
      Kind regards, Esme

  5. Momen's Brooch says:

    I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog
    that’s both educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something that not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about.
    I am very happy I stumbled across this during my hunt for something regarding this.

    • Ellen Jones says:

      Dear Janna,
      Thank you so much for your feedback, glad to have helped! Let us know if you would like any further information about Quaich’s!
      Best, Ellen

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