Prize possession: the ‘silver coffer’ of Tipu Sultan and the Fraser family

Longair, Sarah and Sharp-Jones, Cam (2017) Prize possession: the ‘silver coffer’ of Tipu Sultan and the Fraser family. In: The East India Company at home, 1757-1857. UCL Press. ISBN 9781787350298

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This chapter focuses on an intricately-decorated filigree casket currently on display in the Addis Gallery of Islamic Art at the British Museum. Inside the casket are six small bottles, a ladle and a funnel that bears a minute Persian inscription on the rim. Two documents written by one-time owners of the casket – one an undated letter, the other an incomplete note – give tantalising and fragmentary references to the casket’s provenance from the palace of Tipu Sultan (c.1750-1799) in Seringapatam (present-day Sriringapatna). The case study recognizes and explores the many symbols embodied in a single object, and the shifting meaning and value associated with it in different continents and contexts, providing a view into cultural encounters and appropriation in both India and Britain.

The various pieces of material and documentary evidence that accompany the casket have allowed us to track how it changed hands before its donation by Col. Henry Fraser to the Museum in 1904, focusing on the particular attention paid by family members to the transfer of the casket between generations both in India and England and its role as a family relic and as a tie to the imagined community of EIC families addressed in other family case studies in The East India Company at Home project.

The casket’s association with Tipu Sultan and his father, Hyder ‘Ali, as described in the accompanying documents and illustrated on the funnel with the stamped Arabic ‘H’ (ح) within a stylised tiger stripe, led us to explore the enduring significance to Tipu Sultan. We discuss how this object might represent collections and connoisseurship as a means of establishing dynastic legitimacy not only by EIC families, but also within the court of Mysore. Furthermore its placement in the Islamic gallery alongside objects related to Mughal India prompts questions about the interpretation and representation of imperial stories within the British Museum.

Keywords:Imperial History, South Asia, Material culture, Tipu Sultan, East India Company
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V242 Indian History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:27626
Deposited On:20 Jun 2017 11:54

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