Thailand has a long tradition of silver craftsmanship, with surviving pieces of silver and gold jewellery dating as far back as the Mon-Dvaravati period (AD 600 – 1100). Silversmiths made pieces for the royal family, their court and senior officials. The majority of these items would have been regalia, ceremonial objects or diplomatic gifts, items commissioned as presents for visiting foreign dignitaries. Thai silver is unique; one technique employed is niello work, which is silver with a black matte alloy inlay. It is recorded that in the 17th century, King Naria (1656-88), commissioned a niello cross as a gift for the Pope. More recently, in the 19th century, several niello betel sets and toilets sets were given to the Presidents of the United States and these sets are now in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum. It is thought that Thai silversmiths learnt the art of niello from foreigners – probably the Persians or Portuguese – and, excelling at the art, have created many extremely fine pieces. Thai silversmiths were also influenced by their neighbours in Burma and Malaysia. Many Thai silver pieces from the 18th and 19th century are very similar to peninsular Malay silver and require expertise in this specialism to distinguish between them. Thai silver items include lime containers, betel sets, trays, bowls, water pots, tea kettles and spittoons. Motifs such as the lotus flower, kranok flame, mythical beasts and images of Buddha are also found quite often. Lu, Sylvia “Thailand”, In Silverware of South-East Asia. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989.
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