When valuing anything from antique sculpture, rococo mirrors or in this case, antique Indo Persian Arms and Armour, there are two main factors to take into account. First is the ‘perceived market value’ and secondly the rarity of the item. The perceived market value is often what Auction houses will do. A Tulwar (sword) with a fine gold hilt and an un-deciphered inscription would often be valued around £1500-2000. The rarity of the item then adds further depth to the valuation. If the inscription is pointing to a Mughal ruler, Sikh noble or any individual of high status, the value will increase significantly. However, these valuations by auction houses simply provide a guide of what the evaluator believes the sword could be worth in the current market. The current market is always keen on swords, particularly those of good quality and with gold or silver work. Though, the supply and demand of such items do cause the prices to rise significantly on a given day. With antique arms and armour, or Oceanic tribal art more cannot and will not be produced, which means the price of specific items is often high, and as the years pass on, they are set to increase.
Specific communities are also in a better financial position and aim to ‘reclaim’ items taken from their native lands. We can see a visible increase in items associated with the Sikh and Mughal Empire. So, since there is a fixed supply of antique arms and armour and more people able to afford luxury items, the price, again, is set to rise. I had the brilliant idea of taking with antique furniture dealers UK wide to help me choose new furniture.
Now, just as one may invest into a property and undertake renovations or refurbishment to increase the value of the property; as collectors, sellers, and investors in arms and armour it is primarily your duty to undertake as much research as possible on the item. Let’s take a recent example of a Tulwar that was entered into Bellmans Auction house (17th September 2020).
The auction house labeled the lot ‘An early 19th-century Indian gold inlaid Tulwar sword, with curved Damascened blade, the gold…’ The description simply stated: ‘An early 19th-century Indian gold inlaid Tulwar sword, with curved Damascened blade, the gold inlaid handle decorated with flowers and leaves, 94cm long.’ However, when one looks at the images of the lot in question, there are clear indications that this is no ordinary Indian sword. The watered steel blade is decorated with gold work and inscribed in several places. The auction house or its previous owner clearly did not translate these inscriptions, and their team valued the sword at a mere £600-£900. On the day of the auction, the sword was sold for £10,100.
Now, you are probably asking yourself, ‘what happened here?’. Well, those bidding knew the real value of the sword, as they must have had the inscriptions translated; and it turned out that this sword was most probably the property of Emperor Jahangir. The buyer who won this sword for £10,100 was to take this exact sword to another well-established auction house, Czerny’s International Auction House (December 19th, 2020), with the complete research at hand. The auction house presented the following information:
dating: first quarter of the 17th Century provenance: India Moghul, Flat, curved, single-edged blade in fantastic laddered Kirk Narduban wootz damask, made not in a traditional way but with oblique scales (much more rare), some areas with pitting. A golden cartouche in the center on the right side, with inscription in Arabic ‘Shehanshah Jahangir Sunh’ and date 1012. Base of the blade engraved in oblique way ‘Bandah e Shah Wiltyat Esfahani’, other two cartouches decorated with golden floral motifs and a third cartouche on the other side. Beautiful, iron hilt, finely decorated with floral inscriptions, inlaid in yellow gold (some parts missing). Signed under one quillon ‘Sarkar Nawab Yunsen Muhammad Khan’. Important arm of a 17th-century emperor. The cartouche in the center of the blade bears the name of the famous Mughal emperor, the word Shehanshah means ‘King of Kings’ or ‘Emperor’. The date is difficult to interpret, you can read 1261 or 1012, but only the second makes sense with everything else. The inscription at the forte refers to the city of Esfahan, famous for its blades in damask. Finally, the inscription on the hilt most likely indicates the name of the ordering party. Sarkar and Nawab are important noble titles. A beautiful arm of great historical importance. length 91.5 cm.
The starting price at this auction house (who now knew the ‘real’ value of this sword) was €38,000, with an estimate of €38,000-45,000. Though the lot was not successful in being sold a second time round, it gives us a lesson on the importance of research – as sellers and buyers. The value, once unpacked, had tripled instantly. The dating by the previous auction house was incorrect, as was the valuation and description. As auction houses, or sellers, it should be considered a duty to unpack an antique and provide as much information as possible; not only to inform the prospective buyer, but to also understand the value of a sword, dagger, shield, etc. Now, this ‘lack of knowledge’ allows for real gain and shows the volatility of the market, as only ‘some’ individuals are aware of real value. This also allows for greater gain on certain items. Here at Nicholas Wells, you will notice that all our Antique Indo- Persian Arms and Armour are researched and catalogued; inscriptions are translated where possible and the items are described in the upmost detail. This allows you – the buyer – to make an informed decision on the items and for you to understand its worth.
This though is one example. In general, the market for antique arms and armour (particularly Indo-Persian arms and armour) is relatively new – so we cannot assess the real increase in value over the years as a whole, but would have to assess each item individually. Though the market is relatively new, it is expanding at great speed. Auction houses are able to list items on their sites or online platforms and allow online bidding – opening their items to the world on one given day. This option was not available say fifteen to twenty years ago.
So, with a large, and quickly expanding market, but a limited supply that cannot meet the demand of the market, it would not be surprising if we saw a quick and high rise of particular arms and armour.
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