The Spicy Smell of Success

Silver nutmeg grater by Hugh Ross II, c1760-70, acquired by Tain and District Museum in 2013 with an NFA grant of £2,780.

Nutmeg Grater, copyright of Tain and District Museum

Silver nutmeg grater by Hugh Ross II

What might a prosperous and fashionable 18th century gentleman have had in his pocket at a party? Well, among other things, a silver nutmeg grater. Like other spices at the time, nutmeg was valuable and highly prized. One of its uses was to liven up (or possibly disguise) the taste of punch. Our party-goer’s expensive grater was just the right size to hold one nutmeg. He would have used the grater to spice his glass of punch to his personal taste, showing himself to be a person of both wealth and sophistication.

Nutmeg Grater, copyright of Tain and District Museum

Detail of silver mark

Although the records tell us that silver nutmeg graters were made in Tain, no example was known until this one was discovered in Canada. It was made by Hugh Ross II, probably between about 1760 and 1770. Its style is rather outdated for the period which might be a reflection of Tain’s relative remoteness from centres of fashion. Tain and District Museum already had two beautiful contemporary punch ladles by the same maker, and the grater and ladles work well together to capture the interest of many visitors – especially as there are still some shreds of nutmeg stuck in the grater!

Tain and District Museum would not have been able to buy this rare and interesting item without the support of the NFA. The grater has broadened the scope of our important collection of locally made silver and helps to illuminate the lifestyle of a privileged few in northern Scotland in the 18th century.

Estelle Quick
Tain and District Museum