Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword sells for record $17.4M at Bonhams
LONDON – Tipu Sultan’s fabled bedchamber sword sold for £14 million ($17.4 million) at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London on May 23. It had an estimate of £1,500,000-£2,000,000 ($1.2 million-$2.4 million). The result represents a new world auction record for both an Indian and Islamic object.
Bonhams Group Head of Islamic and Indian Art Nima Sagharchi said: “The sword has an extraordinary history, an astonishing provenance and unrivaled craftsmanship. It was no surprise it was so hotly contested between two phone bidders and a bidder in the room. We are delighted with the result.”
Of the many weapons removed from the palace of Tipu Sultan after the fall of his royal stronghold at Seringapatam on May 4, 1799, few have such resonance nor such a close connection to Tipu Sultan, aka the Tiger of Mysore, than the Bedchamber Sword, found in his private quarters after the battle. Unquestionably part of Tipu’s own arsenal, the sword is arguably the finest and most important of the weapons with a proven personal association with the ruler.
As described by Francis Buchanan in his on-the-spot account describing Tipu’s palace immediately after the siege, a sword lay within reach of the Sultan while he slept. (On constant alert against attack, Tipu slept in a hammock suspended from the ceiling of his locked and bolted bedchamber with a pair of pistols and a sword by his side). The weapon is of exceptional quality. The blade, which is inscribed with the phrase The Sword of the Ruler, is particularly fine. It was manufactured by Mughal swordsmiths following the model of German blades introduced to India in the 16th century. The hilt is inlaid in exquisitely executed gold calligraphy with five of the qualities of God and two invocations calling on God by name.
Speaking before the sale, Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art Oliver White said: “This spectacular sword is the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan still in private hands. Its close personal association with the Sultan, its impeccable provenance traceable to the very day it was captured, and the outstanding craftsmanship that went into its manufacture make it unique and highly desirable.”
The sword was presented to Major General David Baird by the army reportedly ‘as a token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault which he commanded and in which Tipo Sultan was slain.’ Baird had led the soldiers on May 4 who finally ended the month-long siege of Seringapatam.
Tipu Sultan (1751–1799) succeeded his father as the ruler of the kingdom of Mysore in south India in 1782. He earned the soubriquet of the Tiger of Mysore from the ferocity with which he defended his kingdom’s interests. He pioneered the use of rocket artillery in wars both against neighboring states and also the East India Company, of which he was an implacable opponent. His reign was also characterized by the introduction of a new calendar and coinage system and other administrative and financial reforms that built on the work of his father, and he transformed Mysore into the most dynamic economy in India.
Bonhams CEO Bruno Vinciguerra said: “This is one of the most astonishing objects Bonhams has had the privilege of bringing to auction. It is a stupendous price for a stupendous piece. I am so thrilled for our teams that worked so hard to deliver this result.”
The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.24.
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