A London auction house is set to conduct what they believe is the first ever auction devoted to Indian silver on February 14.
Chiswick Auctions will offer The Stewart Collection, comprising the Indian and Burmese silver of the Raj period that at the turn of the 20th century was admired across the world. Its reputation for exceptional design and craftsmanship has been revived in recent decades with the publication of key reference works. This collection, inspired by items inherited from grandparents who were based in Indian and Ceylon in the early 1900s, was guided by Wynyard Wilkinson’s seminal book Indian Silver 1858-1947 that was published in 1999.
The contents cover all the major silversmithing centres of British India from prolific cites such as Lucknow to the little-known Trichinopoly. Chiswick Auctions’ specialist John Rogers believes it is the most comprehensive offered in recent memory. “As the only silver department to have a dedicated approach to non-European silver, presenting the Stewart collection is an especially proud moment. I know of no other collection of Indian silver with such a holistic and thorough approach to ornamentation and design.”
Of all the silversmiths working in British India, one name stands out – Oomersi Mawji of Bhuj. Pieces by this accomplished master began to appear c.1860 and they continued to be produced by his sons and grandsons well into the 20th century. “Working the silver with ingenious skill and patience, Oomersi Mawji and his sons raised the quality of decoration on Cutch silver to an art form,” noted Wynyard Wilkinson. A baluster form teapot in the collection is expected to sell for £3,000-£5,000. Made around 1880, the whole surface is chased with a detailed design of plants and animals with a Black Francolin bird forming the spout, a lizard the handle and a scorpion the finial.
Another fine example of the Cutch style from this period is an unmarked silver cigarette case, made in Poona c. 1890 and attributed to the city’s main craftsman Heerappa Boochena. The design on this cigarette case of a tiger hunt is almost certainly borrowed from Our Tiger Shooting (1859), one of the 40 prints in the popular album Curry & Rice penned by George Franklin Atkinson (1822-1859), a captain in the Bengal Engineers. The estimate is £400-£600.
Many of the forms created by Indian silversmiths mirrored those that were popular in Britain at the time although some were new or adapted for life in the subcontinent. These include milk and butter coolers that countered against the intense heat and covered vessels which kept flies at bay.
From the Kashmir region is a scarce mid to late 19th-century butter dish on stand – a classic English form here modelled after a Kashmiri lacquered papier mache turban box, estimated at £500-£800; while from Lucknow is a very rare three-piece tea service made in Lucknow c.1890 in the so-called ‘Sikh Vignette’ pattern, estimated at estimate £800-£1,200. Embossed with multiple portrait busts of Sikh royals or military heroes, the teapot is applied with a caparisoned elephant finial.
The seller’s favourite lot is an early 20th-century Karachi table casket by Soosania estimated at £600-800. Raised on lion paw feet, the lid is chased with a scene of a church with spire (probably Saint Andrew’s Church, Karachi) with two biplanes circling above. The two aircraft are curved much like birds in flight, a charming naivety that suggests the silversmith was unfamiliar with the new concept of powered flight.
The first pieces owned by the vendor, were inherited, a Kashmir tea caddy and a Kandy moonstone tray. A similar tea caddy with chased decoration in the typical style, is guided at £80-120, while a similar Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) moonstone tray by the KAA (Kandyan Arts Association) is guided at £120-£160. The design for these trays is based upon the semi-circular carved stone bases found at the entrance thresholds of Anuradhapura period temples or palaces, termed moon stones or Sandakada Pahan.