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Thursday, March 15, 2007

No Offical Maine State Tartan

The Maine tartan has been in the news recently as the result of a lawsuit brought about by the copyright holders against L. L. Bean for using it, without permission, in their line of "Americana" shirts for men. You can read about it here.

The Maine tartan was designed in 1964 by Sol Gilis, of Nova Scotia, at the request of a Mainer. Originally it was produced by the Maine Spinning Company, which has since gone out of business. Around 1987 it was revived by the Maine Tartan and Tweed Company, who obtained the copyright. And that copyright has been closely guarded. I know from personal correspondence that when Dr. Gordon Teal of Teallach, and Dr. Philip D. Smith Jr., wrote their District Tartans book in 1992 there was some issue over them being able to include a picture of the Maine tartan. And the Maine tartan is one of the only ones in the International Tartan Index that specifically states that it is included with permission of the copyright holders.

Being designed in 1964 it is definitely the oldest tartan designed for a US state. It's still being worn by the Maine St. Andrews Pipes and Drums. (You can see pictures here). And there is a good close-up image of the Maine tartan on this list of state symbols.

Which raises a question -- is the Maine tartan actually an official state symbol? Aside from a newspapaer clipping from The Glasgow Herald dated December 30, 1965, stating that it had been "duly accredited by the State of Maine," there is no evidence to suggest it was ever formally adopted.

Due to "copyright issues" surrounding the Maine tartan, in 2001 the St. Andrews Society of Maine deicded to create a new tartan for the state, which they call the Maine Dirigo tartan (click for image). Dirigo is the state motto, and means "I lead." They contacted state officials, who did some research and could come up with absolutely no record of the original Maine tartan ever being officially adopted. So a move was put forward to have the new Maine Dirigo tartan adopted as the official tartan of the state.

According to the notes for that tartan appearing in the International Tartan Index (STA), it was "adopted as the state tartan 15th January 2001 in State House, Augusta, Maine." And this is what I have assumed to be true... until this morning.

News reports about the current controversy surrounding the original Maine tartan and L. L. Bean have generated a lot of discussion about the Maine tartans. So I was doing a bit more research on line this morning, and came across this reference to the Maine Dirigo tartan on the state government's web site, regarding the 120th First Regular Session of the Maine State Legislature.

Apparantly, the motion to have the Dirigo tartan officially adopted by the state may have been brought before the legislature on January 15 of 2001, but a decision was not formally made until February 13 of that year, and that decision was "Ought Not to Pass."

This is very interesting! Needless to say, it contradicts the "recieved wisdom" about this tartan, but this is not all that unusual. There are simply too many tartans out there, and too few serious tartan researchers, to expect 100% accuracy in all the tartan information that is available. So it is hardly surprising to discover that mistakes have been made. This is exactly why the STA has this statement in the introduction to their International Tartan Index on-line:

"The huge ITI has been compiled from very many sources and its accuracy is only
as good as that provided by those sources. What this means is that despite two
years of continued research and correcting, it is most certainly not free of
inherited inaccuracies and at times, a complete lack of any recorded details at
all! We hold out great hope that you, the viewers, will contact us with
corrections or additional information on any tartans about which you have a
specialist knowledge. Your input will be added to the ongoing research that will
continue for very many years."

I've already sent Brian Wilton, of the STA, an email this morning informing him of this information, so that they can correct their own records of the tartan.

So, what this means for the State of Maine is that there are currently two tartans designed for the state, neither one of which has any official standing as far as the state is concerned. One of them is certianly much older than the other -- and its status as the oldest tartan designed for a US state gives it some historic credibility. But for someone wishing to wear a tartan for the state, the choice is really up to them!


Roy Ibra said...

I had no idea that the Society tried to have the Dirigo tartan designated the official state tartan. The Maine State Tartan is far better looking.
The site for MSAP&D is now a .org, so it is .

Jeremy said...

Please note that the website for the Maine St. Andrew's Pipes & Drums, who proudly wear the State of Maine Tartan, has relocated. Lots of photos of the tartan can be seen at

Allen said...

Five years on, and the SRT still shows Dirigo as official in 2001!