The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland was founded in Edinburgh in 1780 by David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan, and received its royal charter from King George III on 29 March 1783. The Society has been active ever since. One of its main activities in the first 70 or so years of its existence was collecting antiquities and ethnological material from Scotland and elsewhere, but in 1851 a deal was done with the British Government to takeover and look after the Society’s collections, which represent a considerable part of the core collections of the National Museums of Scotland. The Society’s library is also incorporated in that of the Museum, meaning that Fellows of the Society have privileged access, and significant collections of documents were given to the National Library of Scotland and the National Archives of Scotland.

The Society has always sought to encourage and promote research into the history and archaeology of Scotland and the Scots. It provides grants and awards for research projects and is a significant publisher in the field. It produces annually The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a peer reviewed journal, and monographs and books. These are mostly now available digitally, including the very successful Scottish Archaeology Internet Reports. Publishing activity is not totally confined to producing academic reports. The Society is proud of its books with a wider appeal, like Making For America, a book of essays published in 2013 on the subject of Transatlantic craftsmanship, Scotland and the Americas, in the 18th and 19th centuries. This originated in a conference held in the Winterthur Museum, Delaware, in 2009.

Lectures and conferences are a major part of the offering provided for Fellows of the Society. Many of these take place in Edinburgh, but the Society has a strong North-east branch based in Aberdeen, and lectures are held there, and increasingly in other venues in Scotland. There is a small group of dedicated Fellows in Australia who have an annual meeting, and there are a few hundred in North America. The Society’s Council is considering ways of promoting more activities there.

Another activity which the Society regards as of the utmost importance is advocacy, including promoting best practice, criticizing changes in heritage legislation or supporting local initiatives to preserve facilities or access to heritage monuments. Because the Society represents the whole heritage sector in Scotland, including professionals and amateurs, and because it is not dependent on Government funding or ties with other bodies, it is able to speak with an independent and respected voice.

Membership consists of Fellows, proposed and seconded by existing Fellows and approved by the Fellowship as a whole. There are about 2,900 Fellows, and the Society is keen to expand that number, and recruit younger Fellows. For more details on the Society’s activities, and how to join, check out its website at

‘Antiquary’ may seem an old fashioned word, but the Society is very proud of its heritage. It feels strongly that ‘antiquary’ is the best word to represent the range of interests and expertise of its Fellows. These are not narrowly based in history or archaeology but include collecting, ethnology, heraldry, genealogy and art history. Indeed, it appears that a characteristic of most of our Fellows, many of whom have specialized knowledge and expertise in a relatively narrow subject area or period of time, is a willingness to combine that with an interest in the whole field of Scottish studies. That is what makes a Fellow. May be this will be read by others who should be interested in taking on that mantle.

David H Caldwell