Crank up the stereotype

There’s a very Canadian chain of hardware-retail stores called Canadian Tire, and I was in one the other day.

“Crappy Tire,” as it is semi-affectionately referred to by semi-frustrated Canadians, has a popular incentive for customers to use cash and not credit: they give you “Canadian Tire Money” in small amounts based on your sale total. You then can use the “money” on your next cash purchase.

Canadian Tire has used a balmoral-wearing, tartaned “Scrooge” character for as long as I can remember. The character I think is intended to denote the qualities of saving and thrift. The character is on the company’s money, and has been featured in its ad campaign. It’s a combination of the Christmas Carol persona and a stereotyped tight-0fisted Scot.

The company’s insinuation is that penny-pinching is good, but the big lesson of Dickens’s story is that they can make people horrible. Old Scrooge, who hoards his money and is distrustful of all, is hateful; the reborn Scrooge, who shares his wealth and learns to love his fellow man, is loveable. Canadian Tire lamely puts a trace of a smile on the character, perhaps to skirt the Old Scrooge issue. This has always made me think.

Why is it okay to stereotype Scottish people as misers? Thrift can be seen as a good thing, but the Scrooge-like, bah-humbug thing is a bit insulting, especially when you remember that Toronto’s population reportedly has more first-generation Scots than the city of Aberdeen.

As I mentioned before, the Groundskeeper Willie Scottish stereotype is pervasive, and it’s used to sell everything from bevy to chuggy. Martinet “Scottish” characters, replete with wild red hair and screeching voice, are somehow okay.

I mean, one doesn’t see ads featuring a Shylock character, encouraging people to emulate a penny-pinching-Jew. That would be the gross and insulting stereotype that it is. People justly recoil against stereotypes of African-Americans, and Don Imus is dismissed for his ignorance. Good.

Maybe Scots are just good at not taking themselves too seriously, and the ability to laugh at ones self is generally a good quality. I just wonder why some negative stereotypes are allowed and some aren’t.

Pedigree and pipes

The news of John Wilson’s MacDougalls realizing (that’s the word they use when describing the sale of antiques at auction) $13,000 in as-is condition should have the piping world talking. Troy Guindon’s acquisition will make any serious piper jealous – not so much of the instrument itself, but its historical pedigree.

That said, I’ve always thought that our best, vintage drones are under-valued. A serious pianist will drop $80,000 or more on a good Steinway or Bösendorfer. Stringed orchestral instruments fetch easily into six-figures. $5,000 for a set of silver and ivory Hendersons is a bargain, considering the passion most serious pipers put into their craft, not to mention the fact that an equivalent brand-new all-silver set easily exceeds that price.

But it’s the pedigree of the Wilson pipes that interests me. The added value of owning and playing a set that produced great music and stirring performances really has no price for those who appreciate such things.

How much could pipes played by our current champions realize? What would Willie McCallum’s silver Hendersons go for at auction? What about Bill Livingstone’s drones, previously played by his father, originally made by Peter Henderson? Or Colin MacLellan’s Lawries? These are all pipers with an even more impressive performance record than Wilson’s, so the added-value of their drones must be even greater, no?

Truth is, pipes like Wilson’s are usually left or gifted to a pupil or, as in Wilson’s case with his uncle, to a family member. Sales of such pedigreed pipes are not usually seen, or made so public, so perhaps our sense of such a great instrument’s value is not as high as it should be.

Until now. It will be interesting to see whether this $13,000 bagpipe energizes the market for vintage drones, and increases our perception of bagpipe-value to a more appropriate level.

Pipe dream

Credit and congratulations to Jim McGillivray and David Waterhouse for convincing Margaret Wilson to sell her late husband John Wilson’s MacDougall’s. These have been moldering under a bed at her home in Willowdale for nearly 30 years, but should be restored to pristine condition, and I hope ultimately get into the hands of a serious and appreciative piper.

I used to live about three blocks from Margaret Wilson, and I actually made a casual offer for the pipes maybe 15 years ago. At that time she was hoping that someone in her family would take up the instrument, so I didn’t push it with her. That would have been the ideal place for the pipes, since they have always been a Wilson bagpipe, what with his uncle, The Baldooser, originally buying them.

It did set me thinking about vintage pipes. My feeling was that the market is not nearly as hot for Henderson, MacDougall and Lawrie drones as it was a decade ago. It seemed to me that modern pipe-making techniques are so good that more pipers are gravitating towards McCallum, Naill, Kron, Strathmore or whatever. So I posted a poll on it, and it appears that a “dream instrument” is still a classic silver-and-ivory vintage set. My perception appears to be not-so-clear.

Add the extraordinary pedigree that the Wilson pipes carry, and I would not be surprised if these achieve $15k or more.

I’ll take two . . .