These mysterious weapons were already obsolete when the first ethnographers encountered them.
Width 18 cm
Depth 13 cm
Height 10 cm
Iron, gold, silver
Punjab, Sialkot or Lahore
Dutch antique art market
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When Runjeet Singh founded the Sikh empire in 1799 it drew many armorers from far and wide to the Sikh capital of Lahore, as well as the well-known arms production town of Sialkot, both in Punjab. When the empire fell in 1849, it left many arms decorators, koftgars, out of work.
Some started to produce consumer goods which they decorated with the exact same style and techniques as they did on arms.
A Punjabi iron strongbox. It stands on four feet and has a heavy lid with four sloped sides. Its entire outer surface is decorated with gold overlay, called koftgari, in styles that should be familiar to any arms collector. This type of work is usually attributed to Sialkot, but to my eye could just as well be from Lahore, the seat of Sikh power.
The decoration consists of sprays of stems with flowers, rows of jackfruit bearing branches, and more stylized floral motifs. The bottom is overlaid with silver lines.
It comes with a working lock and its original key.
A comparable box is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, accession number M.2001.93.
It has the number 1867 written on the bottom which they think may be the date of manufacture. Plausible, as most seem to date from the years after the fall of the Sikh Empire in 1849. It could of course also be an old inventory number, unrelated to the date.
Another example with similar jackfruit decor is a pen case in the collection of the Maharajah of Marwar. Described here.
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