Tanjore Encrusted Ware – Indian Inlay

Chathura Meegama Harry Tilly, Silver 19th century, exhibit, tanjore 1789 Views

T anjore-ware originates and gets its name from the city of Tanjore, now called Thanjavur, in southern India and has similarities with the 19th century ‘swami’ silver which was made in the Madras, now called Chennai, area, a short distance away. Hindu gods and mythical beings are depicted in the same distinctive style in both, heavily influenced by the ancient stone carvings which can be found in the numerous temples within this region, particularly the ‘Great Lving Chola Temples’, now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Chathura MeegamaTanjore Encrusted Ware – Indian Inlay
Bidri Hooka Bowl

Bidri – Indian Inlay

Joseph Cohen Silver bidri, bowl, exhibit, tray 1756 Views

B idri is the technique of inlaying zinc vessels with brass, silver or gold. This form of decoration is uniquely Indian and began in the city of Bidar, in the Deccan. The oldest known examples date from the late 17th century, but according to oral legend, production of bidri began during the 16th century.


Joseph CohenBidri – Indian Inlay
Koftagri Indian Inlay

Koftgari – Indian Inlay

Joseph Cohen Silver box, koftgari, shield 2351 Views

K oftgari is the Indian form of damascening which closely resembles the damascening found in Persia and Syria.

The inlay process begins after the piece is moulded and fully formed. The intended design is engraved into the base metal and fine gold or silver wire is then hammered into the grooves.


Joseph CohenKoftgari – Indian Inlay
Sri Lanka Mythological Creatures Book Ends

Sri Lankan Mythological Creatures

Joseph Cohen Silver decoration, mythology, patterns, silver, sri lanka 3224 Views

T his article looks at a pair of book covers in our collection and compares the images of three mythological creatures found on the covers with images of the same creatures depicted elsewhere.

The Makara – Crocodile Sea Monster

The makara is a crocodile sea monster found in Hindu and Buddhist art and mythology.
This creature is described in the Rupavaliya, a sanskrit book in the artistic canon of Sri Lankan, as having “the trunk of an elephant, the feet of a lion, the ears of a pig, the body of a fish living in water, the teeth turned outwards, eyes like a human’s, and a splendid tail” (translated in Medieval Sinhalese Art).

Mythology Makara Embossed
On the book’s cover, the makara is embossed and chased with scales, a fish tail and a menacing face.
Mythology Karava Makara
This 19th century representation of the Karava Makara flag, used in the ceremonies of the Karavas, shows the makara in an expressive stance, turning his face upward and curling his tail inwards
Mythology Bharhut Stupa
This is a sketch of one of the carvings in the Bharhut Stupa of Central India, circa 200 B.C. Compared with the silver book covers, the snout on this makara is very small and curls upwards.
Mythology Bakong Temple
This carving from Bakong temple in Cambodia shows a makara disgorging a lion-like monster.

Simha – The Majestic Lion

The simha or lion is an important symbol in Sinhalese art and poetry, where it represents the mythical ancestor, standing for power, majesty and dignity. As recalled in the Mahabharata: ‘Thus, Simha, proud as a lion, free from fear and bewilderment, rushes towards the mountains.’ And ‘Kings are as proud as lions’.

The head of the lion is also depicted without its body shown. This is called kibihi-muna.

Mythology Kibihi Muna
The kibihi-muna carved on the silver book covers. Like the makara (crocodile sea monster) its face is menacing.
Mythology Kibihi Muna Sketch
Kibihi-muna sketched from a painted box – [D.S.M.] (Medieval Sinhalese Art)

Makara Torana – Kibihi-Muna and Makara Arch

The kibihi-muna (lion face) and makara (crocodile sea monster) are often combined to form an ornamental arch. The kibihi-muna acts as the keystone and is flanked by two makara which face each other.
This arrangement is seen on carvings in temple as well as on ivory and silver articles.

Mythology Kibihi Muna Complete
Here is the complete photo of the kibihi-muna (lion face) and makara (crocodile sea monster) shown before; together they form a wonderful decorative arch, the makara torana.
Mythology Makara Toram
This Ivory box with gold mounts has been carved with a similar scene of makara torana. (Sinhalese Medieval Art).

Nari-lata-vela – women growing on vines

The nari-lata-vela is a mythical vine with flowers in the form of women, these woman are ‘in all wise of perfect beauty, glorious in grace’.
The vine grows in the Himalayas, a favourite location for Sri Lankan mythical creatures.

Nari Lata Vela
A sketch of nari-lata-vela from the decoration on a painted box, Ridi Vihara, Sinhalese Medieval Art.
Mythology Nari Lata Vela Bookends
Nari-lata-vela on the silver bookends.

Mythology Horn Comb
Nari-lata-vela pieced on a horn comb, panava, by the artist Kegalla Kacceri.
Mythology Siamese
A Siamese version drawn by P. C. Jinavaravamsa

Joseph CohenSri Lankan Mythological Creatures
Harry Tilly Descriptions of Plates

Silverwork of Burma – More Descriptions of Plates

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver bowl, description, plates, silverwork 1159 Views

A nother great artist was Maung Myat San and a small bowl by him is contrasted on Plate VII with the work of a present day prizeman. The photograph does not do justice to the modern bowl because much of the detail is lost in glitter but after making all allowances, it cannot compare with work of the old master, which for clearness and charm of design, accuracy of workmanship and restraint, has not yet been beaten. This bowl was probably made about the year 1860.

It is interesting to compare the larger Shan betel-box cover shown in Plate VIII, which is thought to date from the eighteenth century, with the Burmese work of the same period, figures 1 and 2, Plate II. The value of plain polished dividing lines is seen in both but in the Shan work they are in higher relief, while in all other respects the Burmese work is better. The smaller Shan betel-box in Plate VIII shows a greater advance in design while that in Plate IX, which is supposed to have been made in about the year 1850, is better still. The silver pipe with an ivory stem in Plate VIII is a quaint piece of work in which the ornamentation of twisted wire and small beads is very effective; this pipe and the dagger above probably belonged to a Sawbwa or Shan Prince; lotus bud at the end of the handle of the dagger is in excellent taste.

The buckle in Plate IX is given to show how good Burmese silversmith can adapt an old design to modern needs. Shan silverwork is brought to Burma by peddlers and can be purchased without difficulty at the rate of twenty rupees for fourteen tolas weight, but it can sometimes be obtained for its own weight in rupees. In Plate X is shown a bowl made in about the year 1884 by Maung Ba, now deceased. It is a modern example of a bowl without “houses” of which the earliest known is that numbered four in Plate I. The upper scroll in this bowl is a combination of kyu and tazin ngwe foliage which is twisted over. The ornamentation of the base is composed of kalla ban set within a skeleton of lotus leaves arranged the Shan custom. The story is that of Wethandiya, one of the ten holy legends of Gaudama in a previous existence, and the prince is represented as making an offering of the white elephant of the Kingdom to the Brahmins of the Palace who, it will be noticed, wear a peculiar head dress. For this act of generosity Wethandiya is banished by his father and may be seen setting off in his chariot with his wife and two children. It would take too long to recount the further pathetic adventures of the family but the story is beautiful and is the favourite of all Burma.

The sugar basin shown in Plate XI was made by Maung Pauk Tun, since deceased, and is a good example of modern work in very high relief; the bowl in the same plate is placed in the middle of the last century and was made in Arakan, probably for a Musalman, being without figures. The borders are of Shan flower work with leaves after the Siamese fashion. This interesting piece of work was rescued from the melting pot.

The bowl shown in Plate XII is by Maung Yin Maung who has taken the first prize two years running at Handicraft Competition held in Rangoon. The figure work is very good and the foliage skilfully designed and well executed. The bowl was made in 1900 and the artist has much improved in designing since then. The scene represents King in consultation with his ministers.

In Plate XIII is given the photograph of a Swun ok made by Maung Po Thet is 1885 or thereabouts. It is in the shape of the Pagoda and is an excellent piece of work though not of the most graceful shape.

The Pagoda Trophy presented for Association football by the Burma Athletic Association is given in Plate XIV and is carefully finished though not a good model of the Sule Pagoda which it is supposed to represent. Burmans are rather fond of models of Pagodas in gold or silver.

Plate XV shows the statuette of a belu or ogre with which Maung Yin Maung of Pegu won the prize for work in the round, at Handicraft Competition of 1900. It is of brass but is made by cire perdue process by a silversmith and is remarkable for the pose and action. Burmese connoisseurs object to this belu wearing flowers in his ears, his accoutrements also are of Siamese fashion which is incorrect in a Palace ogre.

In the last plate the pupils of a silversmith are shown at work, the figures at the extreme right and left being in usual attitudes.

These notes on the silverwork of Burma have come to an end. They do not treat of the successes achieved in this new century; but deal chiefly with artists now dead and gone, the best of whom died in poverty, having advanced a few steps along the path which leads to perfection and have the admiration of the living artists, who, like them, are eager, painstaking and independent, full of the anticipation of the attainment of a higher ideal, even at a pecuniary loss.

To the leading silversmiths of Burma, Scattered through the Province, may be fitly applied the words of Tennyson: –

Men, my brothers, men the workers ever reaping something new.
That which they have done but earnest of the things they shall do.

Burmese Silver Plate 16
Plate XVI

Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – More Descriptions of Plates

Silverwork of Burma – Description of the Plates

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver bowl, description, plates, silverwork 685 Views

T he first four plates are photographs of old bowls collected at the time of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition, and were originally taken for the instruction of modern silversmiths. The most ancient are Nos. 1 and 2 in Plate II which, from the style of work, are judged to date from the eighteenth century and are in low relief but have been carried to a degree of finish required firing twice.


Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Description of the Plates

Silverwork of Burma – Status and Characteristics of Silversmiths

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver silversmith, silverwork, status 559 Views

T he occupation of silversmith is not hereditary in Burma, though it often happens that amongst the members of a particular family one or two are found in each generation to have an especial aptitude for the work. Like other men, some work steadily and some fitfully, but a good craftsman is honoured by his fellow townsmen and his success is felt to reflect credit on the town.


Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Status and Characteristics of Silversmiths

Silverwork of Burma – Neillo Work

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver neillo, silverwork 627 Views

Description of work

Many of the silversmiths of Burma are proficient in this art, although few are fond of it, because producing niello entails working over a hot furnace and inhaling the sulphurous fumes. The design appears as if drawn in silver outline on a black ground. Antique Burmese silver objects and articles with niello decoration include cups, lime boxes, plates and knife handles, and are all quite smooth with a good polish.

The black enamel used is made of –

  • Lead
  • 2 parts
    1 part
    1 part

The materials are melted in a fierce fire with sulphur added at discretion.

The silver object to be treated with niello is commonly about 1/3 inch thick, and the design is drawn and engraved as before. The lines of the drawing are left alone, but all other parts are punched in to the silver and the edges are cut sharp with a small chisel. The niello, prepared as above, is finely powdered. This powder is mixed with borax and placed in all the hollows. The work is then placed under an iron cage in a fierce charcoal fire, where the intense heat fuses the black enamel to the surface of the silver. The enamel or niello is then filed smooth, polished with sandpaper, then with charcoal-dust, and finally burnished like silver-work.

Silversmiths occasionally also do a little damascening, either of silver or gold, on blackened copper or silver and brass on iron. The copper is blackened by melting it with five per cent. of gold and a little sulphur.

Plain polished cups are sometimes made of a mixture of half gold, half brass, which is said never to tarnish and has a beautiful colour.

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Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Neillo Work

Silverwork of Burma – Tools and Plants

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver plants, silverwork, tools 524 Views

A mongst the tools and plant of a worker in silver is an open charcoal hearth fanned by English or Burmese bellows. The latter deserves a word or two of description, as they are used in many trades. They are of all sizes, from the tiny model of goldsmith, which may be worked with the little finger, to the huge apparatus of the brass-founder, required a man to each rod.

The bellows are formed by placing vertically, side by side, two hollow bamboos plugged at the bottom. From just above the plug two small bamboo pipes converge to the hearth, where they are connected by a fireclay nozzle. The blast is formed by compressing the air in the tubes by an ingenious contrivance, which serves at the same time as a piston and as a valve for admitting air. Each tube or cylinder is fitted with a rod, at the end of which is tied a bunch of cock’s feathers with the quills upwards: when the rod is forced down, the feathers are pressed against the side of the cylinder by resistance of the air and an air-tight piston is obtained; when the rod is drawn again ,the feathers trail downwards and the cylinder is filled with air. The rods are worked alternately, and in all except the largest blowers, are connected at the top by a bar pivoted at a point between them, so that a reciprocating movement can be given by pushing and pulling down one end of the cross rod by means of a light bamboo. The combined piston and valve closely resembles those feather brushes used for dusting pictures.

The other tools used by silversmiths are crucibles, hammers, small anvils, blowpipe, spirit lamp, many sizes of punches, and small chisels, a small tapping hammer and round steel burnishers. Some men are able to use the lathe.

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Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Tools and Plants

Silverwork of Burma – Method of Working

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver silverwork 529 Views

T he method of the Burmese silversmith can best be explained by describing the making of a bowl. The silver is melted in a flat clay saucer over a flaming fire and, when purified, is allowed to cool in the saucer, which serves as the mold to produce a plate, flat on one side and convex on the other, about ½ inch to ¾ inch thick. The silver plate is then gradually beaten out on a round iron anvil with an iron hammer until it is of the full diameter of the bowl to be produced.

  • Beeswax
  • 2 parts
    1 part
  • [/block_grid]

    When correctly modelled the wax figure is coated over with a thin layer of fine clay, well-kneaded and mixed with dried powdered horse dung and afterwards with a thick layer of river silt. The mould is baked in the fire, the wax melts and runs out through a hole left for the purpose, and the clay becomes as hard as brick. The melted silver is run in while the mould is red hot, and when cool the mould is broken and the silver is chased and carved until complete.

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    Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Method of Working

    Silverwork of Burma – Silver Content

    Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver 647 Views

    U nder the Burmese Government, the buying and selling of silver might only be conducted under the supervision of a licensed broker, and each piece was named and marked in accordance with a regular scale: for example, rupee silver was said to correspond to (Burmese writing excluded) or a mixture of –

    • Pure silver
    • 10 ticals
      ½ tical
      ½ tical

    While the China dollar was thought to correspond to (burmese writing excluded) or a mixture of –

    • Pure silver
    • 10 ticals
      1 tical
      1 tical

    And so on, through many variations.

    The best silver from the mines was of a standard known as (burmese writing excluded) Ngwe zin baw pyu and when to this was added ½ per cent. of copper and ½ per cent. of lead it was called (burmese writing excluded) Ywet ni. This variety can now be obtained in the market and is used to improve the quality of silver handed to the silversmith.

    Silver is purified of zinc and copper by melting it in a crucible and adding a small quantity of lead, on which the greater part of the alloys are given off in gas. The addition of lead is repeated if necessary.

    In our days, English bar is used by the silversmiths of large towns, but in the district rupees are still melted down, especially for small work.

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    Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Silver Content

    The Silverwork of Burma by Harry Tilly

    Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver silverwork 631 Views

    T here are perhaps few countries in the world in which the use of gold and silver is prohibited in ceremonial worship and fewer still in which there is no religious services conducted by priests. Yet such is the case in Burma where the monks who follow the strict precepts of their Lord Gaudama are forbidden to touch gold or silver, and beyond expounding the law of their great teacher, do not preside over any religious exercises nor do they assist at a marriage or perform any last offices over the remains of the being who has quitted this scene of trial.

    The silversmiths of Burma, therefore, have never been called on to make praying wheels or censers or incense burners as in some other Buddhist countries, nor has their art developed by the experience of generations in the design and execution of chalices, crucifixes, croziers, or reliquaries and shrines, as in Christian countries. And until the last fifty years or so, their field of work was still further limited by sumptuary laws which, wherever the authority of the Burmese Government was sufficiently powerful, denied to any but those of Royal blood, the use of gold or silver vessels. As a set off to these limitations there was the patronage of the King and the Court, and much gold plate was made both for the personal use of the monarch and for gifts to be presented on special occasions. Silver bowls, Betel boxes and drinking cups were in common use in the palaces and no doubt were also used by powerful and wealthy people who were for one reason or another able to evade or over-ride the sumptuary regulations.

    With the gradual extension of the rule of the British has followed freedom from restriction and greater security of property, while display no longer exposes the imprudent to the exaction of their rulers and consequently well-to-do Burmans are generally the possessors of two or three silver bowls and drinking cups, and it is not uncommon to find minute silver bowls in the trays of the betel boxes of quite poor people. The Burmese are, however, still simple in their tastes and much plate is not found in any village or small town, but what there is may always be borrowed for a festival, such as the assumption of the yellow robe by a son or the boring of the ears of a daughter. On these occasions, all the neighbours are invited and contribute towards the feast, either money or in kind.

    The ceremony of taking the yellow robe by a Buddhist corresponds to confirmation in a Christian church and in each case the vows to live a pure life are taken at about the same age. To the Burman boy each of the prescribed acts on that day is significant and reminds him of the great renunciation of Gaudama Buddha. He is dressed as a prince and is led forth through the streets of his native place sheltered by royal umbrellas and accompanied by shouting companions, and when he returns to his own home he finds it transformed, as far as the means of his people will allow, into a palace filled with fair young girls dressed in the gayest silks, laughing and joking beneath bright canopies edged with white cloth, cut into fairy like lace. There is much feasting and the food itself is out of the ordinary, while even water and betel-nut are sacred in silver. All this is in honour of the boy, but he looks beyond to the end of the room where, on a raised dais, behind large fans, sit the monks in their yellow robes, and he hastens to prostrate himself, remembering that he must give up all these things even as did the Lord Gaudama. He take the vows of poverty and austerity, his head is shaved and his clothes are thrown aside and exchanged for a mendicant’s garments, and he humbly follows his teacher to the quiet monastery, to stay there for the rest of his life, or for a couple of months according to his vocation. And so with all the festivals of the Burmese, gay colours, white jackets, a little silverware, laughing girls, young men full of the pride of life, the old looking on with tolerant eyes, and in the background the monastery calling to mind the weighment of merit against demerit in the working out of the inexorable law of existence.

    It is not surprising then that the Burmese silversmith has little variety of shape to show his European customers and does not succeed particularly well in making teapots, race cups and other things, which he and his have never used. But on the squat forms of bowl or betel box his fancy depicts the immortal stories of the past – stories many of them taken from the ancient treasure house of India; such as the Ramayana, which to the Burman recounts the adventures of Gaudama in one of his previous existences. There are ten such principal legends and to each of the characters is assigned, by tradition, a precise costume and particular ornaments, nay more, the very attitudes are in many instances prescribed and of the many demons, ogres and guardian spirits who continually appear throughout the stories to thwart or aid the hero, each one may at once be recognized by its action or emblem. Besides bowls, drinking cups and betel boxes, the latter being in shape like a biscuit box, the Burman silversmiths make small oval or octagonal boxes to hold the lime which is eaten with betelnut; the cover fits very tightly and usually has a projecting smooth edge or beading by which it is remove. These little boxes are sometimes made of gold or in niello work, as well as in silver, and are generally well designed and finely executed. They are placed in the tray of the betel box with four or more small cups or bowls having a wreath or border of flower work near the upper edge, and in them placed the condiments taken with the areca nut; the betel-vine leaves are placed in a double air-tight tray below the upper tray and in the space at the bottom are placed tobacco leaves. The equipment is rendered complete by a pair of curiously curved shears, often inlaid with gold or silver damascene work. In the Palace the whole box was carried on a stand and was made of gold as indeed were the spittoons, tazza in elaborately carved repousse work with pierced covers, the sword of State and any other object for the personal use of the monarch.

    Many silversmiths embellish these larger pieces with small fantastic statuettes made by the cire perdue process, which, although lost for some generations in Europe, appears to have been generally known throughout India and Tibet.

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    Joseph CohenThe Silverwork of Burma by Harry Tilly
    Indian Silver Publictions

    Islamic, Indian and Asian Silver Booklist

    Joseph Cohen Silver asian silver 610 Views

    F eel free to add books and make corrections to this list.
    Please keep the scope of this list to Islamic and Asian silver, art and architecture.

    (This is a working list and a resource, it hasn’t been checked for accuracy)


    Joseph CohenIslamic, Indian and Asian Silver Booklist

    Burmese Silver – Decorations and Depictions

    Joseph Cohen Silver bowl, decoration, patterns 3128 Views

    Decorations and Depictions

    Below is a description of a typical Burmese bowl. From this description one can understand how ornamentation was applied to other forms.

    A bowl can be divided into three horizontal sections: the top, the middle and the bottom. The middle section contains the main pictorial scene and is the focal point of the bowl; It takes up most of the space on the bowl. The middle sections depicts key scenes from Buddhist traditional stories and legends, either separated into roundels by line work and scrolling vines, or flow continuously around the bowl in one large frieze.


    Joseph CohenBurmese Silver – Decorations and Depictions
    Patterns on Borders

    Recognising Kutch Silver

    Joseph Cohen Silver kutch, patterns, silver, turkish 955 Views

    K utch or Cutch silver is a regional style of Indian Silver which was made in the Kutch Region in the west of India. Its most recognizable feature is its scrolling foliate patterns. These crisp, tight patterns weave around the surface of the piece. Interspersed between the foliate patterns are depictions of animals, birds and hunting scenes.

    Scrolling Foliate Pattern
    Notice the crisp scrolling foliate patterns
    Borders on a Tray
    Notice the borders on this tray

    Bordering the main frieze of the tray above, are bands acanthus leaves, gadrooning and geometrical patterns.

    Nearly all kutch silver made objects and vessels of European form, although, pieces in Islamic and Indian form are occasionally seen. Silversmiths tried to cater to the high demand from Europe. Common items of kutch silver include: tea sets, trays, goblets, beakers, ewers, mugs, candlesticks, card cases and casters.

    Turkish Coffee Pot
    Coffee pot in Turkish form, courtesy of David Thomas

    The best pieces of silver can be identified by the quality of detail, the irregularities of its design and its presence. The maker of an item may also be important, although most pieces do not have a maker’s mark or any form of identification.

    One interesting detail from a tray in our collection, is how the animal depictions in the foreground blend with the background foliage. On this tray, the birds are perched on the stems, sit on the leaves and fly around unimpaired by the background.

    Borders on a Tray
    Notice the borders on this tray


    Watt, George. Indian Art at Delhi 1903. London: John Murray, 1904.
    Wilkinson, Wynyard. Indian Silver 1858 – 1947. 1999.

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    Joseph CohenRecognising Kutch Silver
    Burmese Box

    Burmese Silver – Forms

    Joseph Cohen Silver 19th century, bowl, exhibit, statue 1371 Views


    There is little variety in the forms of silver vessels seen in antique Burmese silver. Typically, one sees bowls, containers, cups and figures or statues.

    To make the statues, the silversmith first cast the silver to create the form and then chased the piece to add detail. When making the other items, the silversmith melted silver into a clay saucer and then hammered the silver into a specific form. To add detail and ornamentation, the silversmith would use the techniques of chasse (chasing) and repousse (punching from the outside and the inside, respectively) to create scenes in high relief. This inward and outward process would be repeated a number of timesin order to obtain high relief with fine and crisp details.

    The forms seen in the repertoire of Burmese silver are limited. In the time before British rule, everyone, besides Burmese royalty and aristocracy, was prohibited from using silver and gold. Furthermore, silver and gold were never used in religious practices since Burmese monks were prohibited from touching silver and gold.

    During the time of British rule, the silversmiths did not change the form of their vessels in order to suit their European customers (as was the case in India and China). Tea sets, goblets and other European vessels are rarely found and when they are, they are often not made well.

    Bowls from the Indian Colonial Exhibit
    Bowls from the Indian Colonial Exhibit

    Above is a picture of several bowls shown in the Indian and Colonial Exhibition. The six bowls all take a similar form but their ornamentation varies. They were made between 1840-1850 and are older than most bowls one will encounter. (The photograph was taken by P. Klier and published in ‘The Silverwork of Burma’ by Harry Tilly). Below is a bowl in our collection. Notice that the shape and layout of this bowl is similar to the bowls shown in the first picture although this bowl was created about half a century later.

    Burma Silver Bowl
    Burma Silver Bowl from our collection

    Cast Statue
    Cast Statue (Taken by P. Klier, published in ‘The Silverwork of Burma’)
    Burmese Box
    Burmese Box

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    Joseph CohenBurmese Silver – Forms
    Silver Kashkul or Begging Bowl

    Recognising Kashmiri Silver

    Joseph Cohen Silver kashkul, raj, silver 1602 Views

    Indian Silver of the Raj

    K ashmiri Silver was one of the most popular styles of Indian Silver. The silver-work was influenced by the beautiful scenery which the Kashmiri region is well known for.  Floral motifs of coriander leaf, poppy plant and chinar leaf were incorporated into the design and repeated around the entire surface.

    Chinar Leaf
    Chinar Leaf

    Usually, these motifs are placed amidst line work of arabesques or paisley patterns. The line work was adorned with a simple circular pattern and occasionally gilded.

    The ornamentation was rendered on a flat plain: the line work and background of floral motifs were on the same level. This created a smooth, intricate effect reminiscent of the artistry of the well known Kashmiri shawls. The paisley pattern or boteh can often be found on Kashmiri shawls, showing the further influence textile design had on the silversmiths.

    Goblet with Paisley Pattern
    Goblet with Paisley Pattern
    Kashmiri Shawl
    Kashmiri Shawl courtesy of ULITA

    Kashmiri silversmiths created objects in both European and Indian forms. Examples in Indian form include kashkuls (begging bowls), kangri bowls, and surahi (water bottles). European forms such as tea sets, goblets, tankards, condiment sets and trays were also made.

    Goblet with Paisley Pattern
    Goblet with Paisley Pattern
    Silver Kashkul or Begging Bowl
    Silver Kashkul or Begging Bowl

    Bibliography and References

    Watt, George. Indian Art at Delhi 1903. London: John Murray, 1904

    Wilkinson, Wynyard. Indian Silver 1858 – 1947. 1999.

    Joseph CohenRecognising Kashmiri Silver
    Embossed Lotus Flower Malay Silver

    Silver From the Malay World

    Joseph Cohen Silver decoration, malay, patterns, silver 716 Views

    ‘S ilver from the Malay World’ is a small display at the Victoria and Albert museum which shows a broad spectrum of 19th century Malaysian silver. In the showcase is a range of items from pillow ends, to daggers, to bowls. The display also shows the variety of techniques (chasing and embossing, niello work, and electroplating) and material (gold, glass, and wood) used in conjunction with silver.

    It is open now until the 16th of March 2014 and is on the 3rd floor near the full silver collection at South Kensington. The pieces can also be seen online at the V and A website.


    Joseph CohenSilver From the Malay World
    What is Indian Silver

    What is Indian Silver

    Joseph Cohen Silver decoration, silver 4217 Views

    Introduction to Indian Silver

    Indian silver from the Raj period, the era of British rule, was produced from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. There are several distinctive styles, each varying in form, decoration, and technique. The styles are categorized by the region in which they were made. Although each style differs greatly, there are some common traits which all Indian silver shares.

    Generally speaking, Indian silver is profusely and densely ornamented with human and animal depictions or floral patterns. The immense amount of time the silversmiths were able to dedicate to each piece, allowed them to embellish the entire surface in great detail.

    Using small punches of varying sizes, the silversmith hammed the silver from the outside. Known as chasing, this technique delicately punched in the silver surrounding the intended design. To create motifs in relief, the silversmith combined the techniques of chasing and repousse which required punching from the outside and the inside of the silver.

    The silversmith would first create the form of the piece and would then add the ornamentation. The forms and their decorative treatment derived from both European and Indian styles. Indian art was influenced by Islamic art – from Persia and other Islamic countries – as well as by Hindu art and these influences can all be seen on Raj silver.

    At first, silversmiths made Raj style silver for the local market, selling to travellers and British administrators. The world became aware of Indian silver after it was displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London’s Crystal Palace, where it caused a sensation. Its popularity further reinforced when Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India in 1877.  

    Europeans and Americans either brought it back from India, or, as was the case in England and the United States, bought copies from silversmiths in their own countries. Today Indian silver from the Raj period is mostly found in England and Europe with some pieces still remaining in India.


    Raj period Indian silver was made in both Indian and European forms. Indian forms can be divided into traditional Islamic and Hindu pieces. These includes: kashkuls, incense burners, sprinklers and bowls. For their European and North American customers, silversmiths adopted European forms. These include: tea sets, goblets, tankards and casters.

    After the form was created, the silversmith would begin to embellish the piece. In general, the embellishment was done in Indian style, although occasionally pieces of European form were decorated in European style or in a hybrid of Indian and European.

    Each piece was made to be functional, although emphasis was placed on the embellishment. Occasionally, a piece was embellished to such an extent that its function was affected, became difficult or impractical to use.


    A wide variety of motifs and patterns in Indian silver can be seen, with several regions having their own distinctive style. These styles vary from flower head motifs in low relief to high relief depictions of shawl like patterns. However, the various styles do share certain characteristics.  As stated earlier,Indian silver is usually profusely and densely covered with decoration, the entire surface of a bowl or upper face of a dish is often chased or embossed with patterns or depictions. Other frequently seen features are: a simplified acanthus leaf motif, which is often repeated in a pattern and used as a border; a snake used as a handle or in another form; the absence of a maker’s mark or date mark.

    Further distinctions can be made by discussing each style individually.

    Kutch (Cutch) silver was the most popular of the Indian silver styles and is defined by its scrolling foliate patterns which are clear and crisp as well as intricate and detailed. Amongst these patterns, the silversmith embossed depictions of animals, birds and people. In one teapot, there is a depiction of a dog biting a bear, while an Indian man simultaneously hits the bear from behind. The man’s sword is raised, and his legs are planted on the bears back. This scene captures the excitement of jungle life but is represented in a slightly comic or humorous way. Further along the main frieze of the coffee pot, a tiger is hunting a deer, here the scene captures the exact moment when the deer has just realised what is happening – his expression shows us his hopelessness and resignation as he comprehends that escape will not be possible. 

    Often the depiction in Kutch silver are humorous and beautiful. A second example, which displays the silversmith’s appreciation and attention to the natural world, can be taken from a large salver. On this salver, birds of all sorts are seen amongst the Kutch foliate. The birds are hanging, walking, sitting and flying around this jungle of flowers displaying their plumage or calling out in song.

    On some pieces of Kutch work there are no human or animal  depictions, and the interest is in the well-executed foliate patterns. Some of the best pieces of Kutch work were created by the well know silversmith, Oomersi Mawji, who was later joined by his sons. His work is stamped with an ‘OM’ maker’s mark, often followed by the word Bhuj, the city he came from.  Other prominent silversmiths also stamped their work, although most pieces do not have any maker’s mark and the presence of a maker’s mark is not a requirement for high quality and 

    A second style of silver, from Kashmir, also incorporates foliate patterns, although it varies greatly from the Kutch style. Kashmiri work is softer, less sharp and more condensed. Located in North West India in the Himalaya Mountains the region has exquisite natural beauty which has been extolled by rulers and travelers for centuries. Drawing from the trees and plants in these beautiful surroundings, the silversmiths used motifs of chinar leaves, poppy plants and other local fauna to adorn their work. Influenced by the Middle East and the Islamic world, arabesque line work is also seen. With a closer look one can recognise fine scrolling patterns which, the connoisseur will note, closely resemble the shawls created in Kashmir.  Not surprisingly, this has become known as the shawl pattern.

    Style by Region

    Kutch – region located in west India, featuring scrolling, foliate birds or animals. The style is sometimes referred to by its capital, Bhuj.
    Kashmir – a region in the extreme north, intricate shawl pattern and foliate designs featuring elements of the chinar leaf, poppy plant and arabesque motifs.
    Alwar – located in north-east India, not many pieces were made in this style, it depicts animals and landscape with detailed texture.
    Calcutta – a city in the west of India which was an important centre of trade in British India, silversmiths adopted styles from other regions in India and also depicted the buildings and small factories of the city and surrounding villages.
    Lucknow – located in northern India, depicting foliate motifs, jungle life and village scenes.
    Madras – located in southern India, produced silver in the ‘Swami’ style, with deities and Hindu religious scenes depicted in relief.

    Joseph CohenWhat is Indian Silver
    Animals on Silver Jigger

    Silver and Animals

    Joseph Cohen Silver 19th century, silver, sri lanka 721 Views

    F rom the time the seals of the Indus valley were made, south asian artists have included animals in their work. There are many instances in 19th century silver where depictions of animals are incorporated into the decoration. From religious to naturalistic, tender to playful, animals are represented in a variety of ways, varying poses and using various techniques.

    This Indian silver Jigger from Alwar, features an assortment of animals and birds commonly found in India. The silversmith probably chose these popular animals so that his customers would be familiar with them and able to easily recognize and appreciate them. One of the animals is the chital or spotted deer. This graceful deer is widespread and found in the grasslands and wooded regions of India and Sri Lanka. Chital live in small groups and have a life expectancy of 9-11 years. On this Jigger, the chital is depicted in a standing pose with the texture of its coat and spots clearly marked as well as the long antlers.

    Chital Deer on Jigger
    Chital Deer on Jigger
    Chital Deer
    Chital Deer, photo by Yathin S Krishnappa

    A second animal which is commonly depicted is the black tailed fox. This fox is smaller and paler than its European relative. Also known as the Bengal fox, it is the most common species of fox found in the Indian sub-continent. It can be identified on this cup by its pointy ears and bushy tail.  The Bengal fox lives in burrows in open grassland. On this cup, in typical Alwar fashion, the texture of the fox’s coat and tail are engraved in fine detail.

    Bengal Fox on Jigger
    Bengal Fox on Jigger
    Bengal Fox
    Bengal Fox, photo by Chinmayisk

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    Joseph CohenSilver and Animals