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John Telfer Dunbar

1912 - 2003

John Telfer Dunbar was born in Edinburgh in 1912 and educated at Sedbergh School. By profession he was an archaeologist specializing in maritime archaeology and underwater exploration. In the mid-1950s, he was Archaeological Director of the British Underwater Research Group based in Salcombe, Devon.

Telfer Dunbar is best known for his work on Scottish Highland and military dress. He began to collect weapons, samples of tartan, and images of Highland military and civil dress, and related manuscripts in 1928. In 1947, he succeeded Major Ian Mackay Scobie as Honorary Curator of the Scottish United Services Museum in Edinburgh. The collection includes some of Major Scobie' working papers. In 1949, Telfer Dunbar' collection of material on Highland dress and tartans was exhibited during the Edinburgh Festival and seen by Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family. His publications include History of Highland Dress, Edinburgh, 1962 and The Costume of Scotland, London, 1981. Telfer Dunbar was President of the St. Andrew Society, 1973-1979, President of the Scottish Tartans Society and Chairman of the Costume Society of Scotland.

During the Second World War, John Telfer Dunbar spent over three years as a prisoner of the Japanese in Malaysia and Thailand between 1942 and 1945. He worked on the notorious ' Railway' from Siam to Burma during the entire period of its construction. During the 1950s, Telfer Dunbar worked on a history of the Far East Prisoners of War. He was first Chairman of the Scottish Returned Far East P.O.W. Association and editor of the Association' magazine, Scottish Pow-Wow. The collection includes numerous incoming letters to William Wilson, Tartan Manufacturers, Bannockburn. John Telfer Dunbar presented material from the firm' archive to the National Library of Scotland in 1952 (MSS.6660-7000).

 

 

 

 

His major book The History of Highland Dress' was published by Batsford, London in 1962 and was the result of a lifetime's study by one of the world's authorities on the question of Scottish Highland military and civilian dress.

In addition to dealing with the historic aspects there are chapters on the early military tartans and weapons largely based on unpublished material and the author's knowledge as an international collector and writer.
An appendix on early Scottish Highland dyes has been written by Annette Kok, who carried out practical experiments for years. The book contains 58 plates, many full page and in colour.

'The Costume of Scotland' J Telfer Dunbar, Batsford, London 1981 (excellent).
Highland Costume 1977 (The bible; if you only own one book on Highland dress, make it this one).





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