Brief History of the 'Tontine Heads'
Their name derives from the Tontine Hotel, which once stood in the Trongate. Here the masks are numbered in the order in which they are displayed in the St Nicholas Garden collection.
The Tontine Hotel was originally built as the Town Hall by
carved five masks for the first five bays, which were built in 1737-42. Four of these masks are included in the collection, #1-#4. The final five bays were built in 1758-9 and
supplied the masks, #9-#13 in the collection.
In 1781 the Town Hall was taken over by the Tontine Society and adapted by William Hamilton as the Tontine Hotel. The ten masks became known as the 'Tontine Heads'.
In 1869 the building changed hands again, becoming the retail premises of the drapers Moore Taggart & Co. At this time the ten masks were removed and acquired by the Glasgow builder Peter Shannan.
In 1872 Peter Shannan built a new warehouse for Messrs Fraser Sons & Co at the bottom of Buchanan Street. This had thirteen bays; he used the ten original 'Tontine' masks and added a further four, carved in a similar style by William James Maxwell.
In 1888 the warehouse was destroyed by fire, but one wall was left standing. This wall had four masks, #9, #10, #12, #13, and they were left in place until the 1930s, when they were put on display inside the store. Of the other nine, only eight were recovered after the fire.
Two of these recovered masks, #1 and #8, were taken by the lawyer William Hill and the remaining six by the builder Thomas Mason, a partner in the firm of
Morrison & Mason Ltd
. Of these six, four were later identified as being #11, #2, #3 and #4.
At this stage, 1888, one of the thirteen masks was lost in the fire, four are still in place, two are with the lawyer William Hill and six are with the builder Thomas Mason. The one lost in the fire belonged to the original set of five carved by
In the mid-1970s the masks were collected together by the People's Palace Museum. Four were taken from Fraser's, two were taken from Barlanark, the home of the lawyer William Hill and the remaining five from the builder Thomas Mason's mansion at Craigiehall, leaving one missing (from the 1872 additions). Of the original ten masks and the three later additions eleven have survived.
Six were placed in the Museum's store and five were displayed in the Winter Garden. In 1994 they were all removed to their present location in St Nicholas Garden.
The other two masks in the collection are only loosely connected. They were part of the 1873 extension to Fraser's at 116-20 Argyle Street and removed when the building was altered in 1933. There are still eight keystone masks on this building.
For a fuller account of the history of the 'Tontine Heads' (or 'Tontine Faces') please see Ray McKenzie's Public Sculpture of Glasgow, from which these brief details are condensed.