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Ibrahim Dagger

Place of Origin: Alwar, India

Date: Late 19th century

Overall : 452mm (17.75 inches)

Reference: 162

Status: Sold

Full Description:

This fine Indian dagger is from Alwar (previously Ulwar), a princely state formed in 1770 AD, and now a city in modern-day Rajasthan. Its highly unusual form speaks of both European and Mughal influences.

The blade is of the highest quality wootz or jahuar steel, of a type sometimes referred to as kara-taban, a Persian term meaning brilliant-black. There are five slotted fullers just below the spine, each about 35mm (1.4 inches) long, and they terminate at a tip that is intentionally clipped in the style of a European hunting knife (a form echoed by the scabbard’s silver chape). Unusually, two further fullers sit opposite each other in the ricasso section near the base of the blade.

The blade is precisely inlaid in gold within a cartouche:

عمل محمد اﺍبراﺍھﮪﮬﻫﯿﻴم مشتاقﻕ اﺍحمد ساخت اﺍلورﺭ

“Work of Muhammad Ibrahim. Mushtaq Ahmad, made in Alwar.”

The identity of the Mushtaq Ahmad mentioned on the blade is not clear but it is likely that he was the person for whom the dagger was made. We do, however, know that this exquisite piece was crafted by the swordsmith Muhammad Ibrahim, probably one of the famous Alwar artisans mentioned by Powlett in the 1878 work Ulwur Gazetteer[1]. According to Powlett, these artisans were known far and wide and given land in lieu of pay—a testament to the high esteem they were held in by their royal employers.

Indeed, a blade made by Ibrahim resides in the Royal Collection and boasts of similarly high quality watered steel[2] (Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II), and illustrated in the recent book by Kajal Meghani Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6, page 128 (RCIN 11297.a-b). High quality, dark coloured wootz seems to be a hallmark of Ibrahim and another sword marked to him in a private collection known to the author also supports this theory.

The rounded top of the ivory grips and cross guard is reminiscent of the so-called cloven-pommel daggers, which began to appear in Mughal paintings at the start of Jahangir’s reign[3]. However, the push-button scabbard-release and the clipped tip are both features found on Anglo-Indian knives, demonstrating the broad-minded approach to this weapon’s design and production.

The cross guard and grip straps are all decorated in heavy gold overlay, unusually, employing two colours of gold. The guard’s intricate patterns show a traditional deep yellow colour to the gold, highlighted with a lighter shade. The grip, however, differs in design on each side, with one having floral motifs in a traditional gold koftgari manner and the other a repeating cross pattern. This cross pattern is also seen on Lucknow enamel-work and can be viewed in a late 18th century Huqqa base which is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (museum number IS.122-1886)[4].

The original wooden scabbard is covered with green silk velvet, with a silver chape and locket. It has done well to protect the original finish on the blade which remains in high polish and showing a good contrast to the wootz pattern.

[1] Powlett, Gazetteer of Ulwur, 1878, p.118.

[2] https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/11238/sword

[3] Kaoukji, Precious Indian Weapons and other Princely Accoutrements, 2017, p.127.

[4] http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O16045/huqqa-base-unknown/#