310 – The Piper’s Assistant by Angus MacKay

An update by Geoff Hore 2008-2015.  The writing in black font is from A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music. The update comments are in blue font.

The publication details of this book should be read in conjunction with 308 – 1840 Complete Tutor by William MacKay.

1      1843

No copy of edition 1 is known to exist.  In the original Bibliography the book Cannon identified as edition 1 is now believed to be edition 2.  Manson describes this book:

‘1843 — MacKay — The Pipers’ Assistant, a collection of Marches, Quicksteps, Strathspeys, Reels, and Jigs, consisting of 155 tunes. Edited by Angus MacKay, piper to the Queen. Edinburgh, published by Alex­ander Glen, bagpipe maker, 30 West Regent Street. London, by Angus Mac Kay.   Price 8s.   Out of print.’

The wording in this description differs from that in edition 2 and edition 2 has a price list inside the front cover that can be dated after 1946.  

MacKay was appointed to the position of piper to Her Majesty in April 1843 and that would be the earliest edition 1 could have been published. The move into 30 West Regent Street was recorded in the Edinburgh post office directory in 1844 but could have occurred as early as mid 1843.  The move out of that address into 30 St Andrew Square was first recorded in the 1847 post office directory although it could have occurred as early as May the previous year.  

It is possible the book described as edition 2 could be edition one but refer to the comments below.

2     c1846-50 (Edition I in the original Bibliography)


title; pp I-III, index in Gaelic; pp IV-VI, index in English; pp VII-IX, instructions; p X, exercises; pp 1-85, tunes 1-155; p 86, ‘Errata’.

  • National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.  (Glen collection). Boards. One fly-leaf at each end. 4.0 x 9.2″. The binding, which like the rest of the book is very much worn and discoloured, may possibly be original. Pasted inside the front cover is an Alexander Glen price list, giving Glen’s address as 30 St. Andrew Square, not as on the title-page. The change of address took place c. 1847 (Post Office Directory).  This copy is numbered and signed by the Editor himself, thus: on the title-page, lower left, over a printed dotted line, ‘MacKay’; lower right, the number 558 in the same faded brown ink.
  • Private Collection (New Zealand).
  • The Author’s Collection.  Photocopy.

Pages 1-56 of the music correspond closely with the 56 pages of William MacKay’s collection (no. 308) as revised by Angus MacKay. Although there are 104 tunes, as against 100 in William MacKay’s book, these are nearly all the same and occur on the same numbered pages. Musical settings are identical or nearly so, but the tunes have all been re-engraved on new plates, and the new pages 57-86 are engraved in the same style. The ‘Errata’ on page 86 are in fact extra parts to three of the tunes of the first section.

This or a subsequent edition was advertised at the same price in 1854 (see notes on William MacKay’s collection, No. 308 above).

Manson gives the date 1843, and since the title-page is undated we have only his authority for it. It is in fact the earliest possible year, since it was only in 1843 that Angus MacKay became piper to Queen Victoria (see Piobaireachd Society collection, vol 10, introduction, p iii). The latest possible year would be 1847, when Alexander Glen’s address changed to 30 St. Andrew Square.

Cannon had reservations about the 1843 publication date of edition 1 and this was complicated by the price list in edition 2 that can be dated mid 1846 or later.  When Cannon carried out his research the only books found were this edition (which he called edition 1) and edition 4 (1872).  Since then edition 3 (dated 1851) has been located leaving us in no doubt there were two editions published between 1843 and 1850.

It is possible the first edition appeared in 1946/7 and then a second edition was published soon after, but before 1851.  The only two existing copies of this book have a hand written number on the title-page – 530 and 558 – and this would suggest that editions 1 and 2 were part of a run of 600 books.  However, 600 books in the 1840s was an enormous number; edition 4 of A Collection of Quicksteps, Strathspeys, Reels and Jigs Arranged for the Highland Bagpipe by Donald MacDonald (No 306) 1841, had only 25 copies printed and A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd by Angus MacKay (No 307) 1838 had 275 copies printed for subscribers. Many of this latter book are known to exist around the world and it believed that if 600 copies of the present book under discussion were printed then there might be a significant number in libraries and private collections today.  

If the first edition of this book was published in 1846/7, followed by the second edition a couple of years later and then the third edition in 1851, then this is a rather rapid series of publications.  It seems more likely the three publications would be over a longer period of time, 1843, 1847 and 1851.   

In the notes to The Complete Tutor for the Highland Bagpipe by William MacKay (No 308) 1840 Cannon commented:

“… rather ambiguous wording of an Alexander Glen advertisement issued in 1854 (it appears in the first edition of MacLachlan’s Piper’s Assistant, no. 312 below). Among the items of music for sale are ‘1. Bagpipe Tutor, containing 100 Tunes, corrected by Angus McKay, Piper to Her Majesty’ price 4s; 2. ‘Do., second edition, containing 155 Tunes, edited by Angus McKay’ price 8s. The first of these is an edition of the present work and the second is Angus MacKay’s Piper’s Assistant. So Angus MacKay’s collection was regarded by the publisher as the second edition of the corrected version of William’s. Since the two books continued on sale together, I prefer to classify them as separate works. For further comment refer to Angus MacKay’s Piper’s Assistant (No 310).”

The publisher of Editions 5, 6 and 7 of William MacKay’s book and editions 3 and 4 of Angus MacKay’s book identified each edition by number and this strongly suggests he intended them as separate publications and adds to Cannon’s decision to ‘…classify them as separate works’.  When the early editions are identified the picture will become clearer.

3     1851


title; pp [i], ii-vi, preface, pp I-VI, contents; pp VII-IX, Instructions; p X, exercises; pp 1-85, tunes (1-155), p 86, errata; p [87], price list.

  • College of Piping Museum, Glasgow

The title-page in this book appears to be from the same plates as that in edition 2 except the date, price, and imprint details have been added or changed. The words ‘A New’ and ‘Edited’ have been added below the book title. This edition has a preface not previously included but all the other pages appear to be identical to those in edition 2.

3a   1851 (Not in original Bibliography)


Contents as in edition 3.

  • The Author’s Collection.  Photocopied from a CD donated by Steve Scaife of Ceol Sean Bagpipe Music Books, Springfield, Illinois, USA.

This edition, dated 1851, appears to be identical to edition 3 except that no edition number or price appears on the title-page. On this basis it is assumed it is a reprint that came after edition 3 and before edition 4.

The price list in this book is nearly the same as that in edition 2 except for some subtle changes in the fonts, layout, wording and prices.

4            1872


price list, title; pp [i], ii-vi, preface, pp I-X, 1-86, as I above. (The book in the present writer’s collection has the price list after page 86, however the book has been rebound and it may have been moved during that process.)

  • National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.  Library binding. 4.2 x 9.4″.
  • Geoff Hore’s Collection.

In spite of the title, this edition is very similar to the first. The title-page is in fact from the original plate, with extra words added, and the original signature and number replaced by date and price respectively.

The preface, a brief collection of historical notes on the pipes, the clan system, and Highland dress, is identical with that printed in Alex. Glen’s Caledonian Repository, 2nd ed., 1870 (no. 313 below).

The selection of tunes remains the same and there are only occasional small changes, mainly for the worse. Thus the page number VII is misprinted 3 VII, and the tune title ‘Briogais Mhic Ruairi’ (p 2) becomes ‘Briogais Mhic Ruadh’. (Edition 3 has ‘Briogais Mhic Ruairi’)

The price list in this edition has been completely revised and has a number of price changes and also adds two new pipe music books. There is no street address for Alexander Glen.

The book was advertised as late as 1886 at the same price. Perhaps by then it had been reissued under David Glen’s imprint. It does not appear in an advertisement of 1890, however, and Manson confirms that it was out of print by 1901. A large proportion of the tunes were incorporated in revised form in David Glen’s Collection (no. 316 below), books 5 and 6, first published 1889-90.


  • Rev 00. (9 September 2008).
  • Rev 01. (6 October 2009).
  • Rev 02. (6 February 2011).  Adds details of edition 3 and updates the comments.
  • Rev 03. (3 March 2011).  Adds further details to edition 3 and amends some of the comments.
  • Rev 04. (27 March 2014).  Updates information about Alexander Glen and then amends other text accordingly. Adds details of edition 3a.

© Geoff Hore 2014