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Old 25th February 2020, 09:49 PM   #1
vilhelmsson
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Default New Rock Crystal Pesh-kabz

I've recently started collecting Indian arms, and, partly in response to Jens's request for more India related posts, here's a pesh-kabz I picked up recently. Comments welcome!

For comparison, I purchased a nice modern replica off of EBay for the sake of evaluating the chemistry of the two pieces with a portable XRF and better understanding the difference between an antique pesh-kabz and a modern one.

I think it should be self-evident when they are next to each other which dagger is the antique and which is modern. But the antique is the one with the classic, high quality wootz and high clarity rock crystal hilt, and the replica is the one with lower quality wootz and cloudy crystal hilt.

The antique is roughly 50 cm long and the replica is roughly 38 cm long.

The steel of the antique has the chemistry of pre-industrial steel while the steel of the replica has the chemistry of modern steel. The antique is also very sharp whereas the replica is not so sharp.

The seller dated the antique to the 18th or 19th century, and when it was at auction at Sotheby's a few years ago it was dated to the 18th century. The seller of the replica was honest in his representations and said it was modern.

The hilt is of very high clarity crystal with a carved pattern at the upper edge. It's difficult to discern a difference between rock crystal and basic glass because they share a chemistry of SiO2. Both the replica and the antique are a pure SiO2.

The bolster of each dagger is inlaid in gold koftgari, but the gold of the antique is clearly antique gold while the gold of the replica is modern gold. The koftgari on the antique is also much more finely worked and impressive in the details of its floral motifs.

The koftgari on the antique continues down the entire length of the T-section spine.

The scabbard on the replica is simple green felt and I do not depict it below. Since appearing at Sotheby's, the seller has wrapped the original wood scabbard in red antique velvet and it is set with its original gilt-bronze mounts which depict flowers and birds or butterflies or maybe bees?

As a nice bonus, the dagger also makes an appearance in Arms and Armour of India, Nepal & Sri Lanka by Ravinder Reddy (a highly recommended book written from the perspective of and for the collector of Indian, or really any, arms).

Right now, this is probably my favorite piece in my collection. It's just beautiful and substantial.

There are a few public comparables that have sold at auction over the past decade. The most notable public comparable at a museum that I've found is the one at The Met; love the enamel inlay: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/31823

There is supposedly a comparable in the Al-Sabah collection (inv. no.LNS 279 HS; published in S. Kaoukji, Precious Indian Weapons and Other Princely Accoutrements, London, 2017, p.265). I was wondering if anyone could share pictures of this item?

Any nice pesh-kabz's, with or without rock-crystal hilts, out there to share? Or other rock-crystal hilts?
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Old 26th February 2020, 03:56 AM   #2
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Very impressive piece, congratulations! On p.265 of the Al Sabah catalogue there is simply a rock crystal hilt. There are two more crystal hilted pesh-kabz in the same book, one with a hilt of one solid piece and one with a full tang and scales of rick crystal. I took quick pictures of those few pages for reference.

Regards,
Teodor
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Old 26th February 2020, 06:10 AM   #3
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Double posting...

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Old 26th February 2020, 06:21 AM   #4
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Congratulations! Very beautiful pieces.

Classic Indian wootz blade, probably early 19 century, with more recent (probably around 1900) hilt.

Most daggers with one piece rock hilts are not suitable for combat use as the joint between the hilt and the blade cannot withstand strong shocks, and the hilts themselves are prone to cracking. They became popular around 1900 when daggers gained more of a decorative/status role.

My two cents...
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Old 26th February 2020, 11:52 AM   #5
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Congratulations.

Great dagger. I was offered this dagger a few years ago.
But at that time already I was exclusively collecting arms and armor of Afghanistan.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mariusgmioc
Classic Indian wootz blade, probably early 19 century, with more recent (probably around 1900) hilt.

Most daggers with one piece rock hilts are not suitable for combat use as the joint between the hilt and the blade cannot withstand strong shocks, and the hilts themselves are prone to cracking. They became popular around 1900 when daggers gained more of a decorative/status role.


I agree with Marius.
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Old 26th February 2020, 01:03 PM   #6
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I had to go back and forth to figure out which one is which:-((
Do both of them have chamfered edges? Those were often seen on Afghani pesh kabzes , including Mahsud ch’huras. Blades of that nature were produced en masse and hilted and rehilted repeatedly with whatever handle happened to be available for irrespective of their age and origin.

Just looking at the pics, I am not sure whether wootz on the smaller one is modern. Wootz patterns varied enormously and while a classy Kara-taban is highly likely to be old and Persian, the indistinct and undistinguished ones could have been made any time and anywhere. Attaching a handle is the easiest part.

Single piece rock crystal handles had an unsolvable problem: they were designed for beauty, but strong, large, crudely patinated tangs ruined the image. They had to make their tangs short and skinny ( mouse tail), with all the mechanical problems of Indonesian Kris, only worse. I fully agree with Marius: those were status symbols devoid of any practical value short of spearing a strawberry.

I would be very cautious relying on al Sabah book: they apparently had an agenda to date and attribute their collection items according to the wishes of the owner.

Last edited by ariel : 26th February 2020 at 03:29 PM.
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Old 26th February 2020, 02:57 PM   #7
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Here is one of my crystal hilts. Not with a Pesh Kabz blade - but still a nice hilt.
In one of his books Robert Elgood mentions that Belgien exported glass hilts to India.
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Old 26th February 2020, 03:17 PM   #8
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Here is a Pesh Kabz, but without a crystal hilt.
The strange thing is, that I have had it for decades, and never seen this kind of decoration on other weapons. Some time ago I saw a picture on the net of a shamshir with a hilt with a lions head, and decorated in the same way.
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Old 26th February 2020, 04:15 PM   #9
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My crystal hilted...
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Old 26th February 2020, 06:41 PM   #10
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TVV, Thank you for the images! The bare hilt on page 265 is interesting and bears a close resemblance to a hilt in the Victoria & Albert Museum: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O450640/dagger-hilt/.

While acknowledging Ariel's comments regarding a potential Al-Sabah agency dilemma, the very similar hilt in the VAM was acquired at some point between 1829 and 1867, and dated to the early 19th century. Likewise, The Met crystal dagger was acquired at sometime prior to 1927, and they date it to the 18th or 19th century.

According to my brief internet research, the first Belgian exports of pressed glass to India commenced in 1839 by Val Saint Lambert (https://www.academia.edu/37691529/B..._19th_Centur y). The author discusses other pressed glass products, including lamp covers, exported from Europe to India, but does not specifically mention glass hilts. And Elgood's comment re glass hilts coming from Belgium relies on a citation that lamps in certain Indian temples were imported from Europe. An even briefer search for 19th century Val Saint Lambert glass hilts does not turn up anything useful. But I'm not sure that any of this is dispositive of anything with regards to the hilt of my dagger or the hilts in VAM, The Met, or Al-Sabah.

I took a half-hearted swipe at the hilt with a piece of a quartz and it only left a superficial scratch that rubbed off at the touch of my thumb--unlike the permanent gouge the quartz put in the drinking glass at my desk. When I get the chance, I need to take it to a jeweler to test the conductivity.

Quote:
Most daggers with one piece rock hilts are not suitable for combat use as the joint between the hilt and the blade cannot withstand strong shocks, and the hilts themselves are prone to cracking. They became popular around 1900 when daggers gained more of a decorative/status role.

In regards to the above analysis concluding that rock hilts did not become popular until around 1900, I would question this. Hadn't daggers served a largely decorative/status and ceremonial roll at, in particular, northern courts since at least the early 17th century, for example, the Jahangir dagger in Elgood's Rajput Arms & Armour? How much more robust are jade or walrus ivory hilted daggers than a crystal-hilted dagger, with or without a tang? And crystal was quite the fashion in Mughal courts. There is at least one rock crystal hilt in a museum, the VAM example, that can be highly likely dated to at least as early as the mid-19th century. And that particular shape is somewhat common as seen in Jens's dagger above and in The Met example, which suggests that crystal (rock- or glass) was a popular hilt material well prior to 1900.

For me, the attraction of Indian arms is not in their raw marshal utility, but in their beauty. But if marshal utility is your thing, the nicks in the blade of my pesh kabz indicate that a child likely fought some imaginary battles with this dagger!

Quote:
Just looking at the pics, I am not sure whether wootz on the smaller one is modern. Wootz patterns varied enormously and while a classy Kara-taban is highly likely to be old and Persian, the indistinct and undistinguished ones could have been made any time and anywhere.

Regarding the above comment, acknowledged regarding a lesser wootz pattern potentially being of any age, but in this case the wootz pattern on the smaller blade is irrelevant. The steel itself is, without doubt, a very modern stainless steel alloy.

Mahratt, Thank you for the photo. That must be pre-Oct 2015?

Jens, Both of those daggers are beautiful. Your hilt looks like a nice lattice of SiO2, but do you know or have an opinion on whether it's quartz or glass?
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Old 26th February 2020, 07:08 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vilhelmsson
In regards to the above analysis concluding that rock hilts did not become popular until around 1900, I would question this. Hadn't daggers served a largely decorative/status and ceremonial roll at, in particular, northern courts since at least the early 17th century, for example, the Jahangir dagger in Elgood's Rajput Arms & Armour? How much more robust are jade or walrus ivory hilted daggers than a crystal-hilted dagger, with or without a tang? And crystal was quite the fashion in Mughal courts. There is at least one rock crystal hilt in a museum, the VAM example, that can be highly likely dated to at least as early as the mid-19th century. And that particular shape is somewhat common as seen in Jens's dagger above and in The Met example, which suggests that crystal (rock- or glass) was a popular hilt material well prior to 1900.


Right... single-pieced rock hilts existed well before 1900 but from around 1900 they became much, much more prevalent... in other words, they became popular. And this is most likely because they became fashionable collector's items for the European... well, mostly English market.
So yes, you may find a crystal/rock-hilted dagger from the early 19th century here and there... but their vast majority are from around 1900 and later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vilhelmsson
But if marshal utility is your thing, the nicks in the blade of my pesh kabz indicate that a child likely fought some imaginary battles with this dagger!


Precisely!
A child could have made the nicks in the blade...
... but more likely it was rust.
The edge is the thinnest part of the blade and when it rusts, it can go all the way through. So where on a flat surface of the blade rust would leave a pit, on the edge would leave a nick.
The nicks, may also come from real combat use as the blade may have formerly been mounted in a more combat-ready hilt. However, this is highly unlikely because these daggers were used for stabbing not for slashing and the most likely damage may have been a broken or bent tip, not a damaged edge. Even when piercing chainmail, the edge may become more blunt but not nicked.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vilhelmsson
Regarding the above comment, acknowledged regarding a lesser wootz pattern potentially being of any age, but in this case the wootz pattern on the smaller blade is irrelevant. The steel itself is, without doubt, a very modern stainless steel alloy.


Modern, maybe, but definitely not stainless steel! Most likely modern wootz, as wootz is produced these days as well. Some comes closer to the antique, some not, but all the rest is there.

and lastly...

Quote:
Originally Posted by vilhelmsson
When I get the chance, I need to take it to a jeweler to test the conductivity.


Better yet... you buy from Amazon a gem tester for 15 Euro more or less and test it yourself. Quartz is more conductive than glass, pretty much like Amethist or Citrine.
Quartz scratches quartz, like diamond scratches diamond.

Last edited by mariusgmioc : 26th February 2020 at 08:34 PM.
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Old 26th February 2020, 08:47 PM   #12
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Vilhelmsson, yes the hilt has been tested and it is quarts.
One thing is to buy such a testing thing yourself, but try to visit someone dealing in gem stones and ask him/her. I did and we had a long discussion, from which I learned a lot - which I had not done had I tested it myself.

Elgood does not mention lamp shades or anythink else, only glass hilts, and yes, quarts hilts were used before the 19th century.
No one would have believed these weapons would have been good for battle, most surely not the user - but at court they looked fine:-).
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Old 26th February 2020, 09:21 PM   #13
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Jens,

For all practical purposes the last one looks like Afghani ch’hura ( blade) with Indian handle. Nothing surprising: there had never been a sharp impenetrable border between the two areas. A lot of Makhsud lived ( and still live) in Pakhtunhwa province of what is now Pakistan ( formerly part of Raj India).
Such borderline areas are spread all over the World: Central Asian Khanates and Afghanistan, Greeks in Ottoman Anatolia and Bulgarian Turks, Oman/ Baluchistan etc. That’s why attributing ethnic/ cultural objects of 18-19 century to current national borders makes no particular sense.
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Old 26th February 2020, 09:23 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Vilhelmsson, yes the hilt has been tested and it is quarts.
One thing is to buy such a testing thing yourself, but try to visit someone dealing in gem stones and ask him/her. I did and we had a long discussion, from which I learned a lot - which I had not done had I tested it myself.

Jens, this reminds me of a Kurt Vonnegut quote I heard on the radio the other day:

"[When Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore."
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Old 27th February 2020, 01:51 PM   #15
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Ariel,
Yes I know, the weapons are mixed on both sides of the 'border'. Besides from this, imagine how many swords and dagger changed hilts during their 'life' - and often more than once.


Vilhelmsson,
It was interesting talking to the gemmologist, and he checked the hilt for free, as he usually dealt with single stones or with jewellery, so this was new to him.
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Old 27th February 2020, 06:12 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vilhelmsson
Mahratt, Thank you for the photo. That must be pre-Oct 2015?


2012
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Old 28th February 2020, 02:51 PM   #17
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Basically glass is warm to the touch and crystalline materials are cold. Use your lips to see the difference. Glass warm, quartz cold. Any piece of glass can be used a comparison.
Quartz is doubly refractive: if you look through the stone at a spot on the other side the spot looks doubled. Glass does not do this.
Scratch tests are never recommended for precious objects: as mentioned above, glass can scratch glass, quartz will scratch quartz.
Any curious and helpful gemologist can check it and tell you with very little effort, and they should do it at no charge.
I was s professional gemologist for 39 years 😉
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Old 5th March 2020, 02:58 PM   #18
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Marius,
According to the al-Sabah catalogue, your nice crystal hilt, is showing the head of an Arabian breed.
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Old 6th March 2020, 04:20 AM   #19
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I thought about it, but we need an en face picture of the head.
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Old 6th March 2020, 01:54 PM   #20
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You are right Ariel, here are two pictures attached, and according to the text, it is not only how the horse is holding/turning the ears, it also has something to do with the way the head is sculptured.
Presious Indian Weapons, and Other Princely Accoutrements. The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. Thames and Hudson, 2017. The author is Salam Kaoukji.
The one with the rubies is cat. no 67 and the other one is cat. no 67
No 67 is said to be a Marwari horse head and no 68 is said to be an Arabian horse head.
The same pictures can also be found in Treasury of The World, Jewelled Arts of India in the Age og the Mughals. Thames and Hudson, 2001. Here the authors are Manuel Keene and Salam Kaoukji. Nos. 8.18 and 8.19.
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Old 7th March 2020, 04:14 PM   #21
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Very interesting!

However, mine seems to have bigger ears... maybe is a donkey?!
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Old 7th March 2020, 08:15 PM   #22
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We are not looking for donkeys here:-)
The question is: Arabian or Marwari?
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Old 8th March 2020, 09:54 AM   #23
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From the pictures shown in the catalogue, I would say it is an Arabian horse head.
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Old 8th March 2020, 08:01 PM   #24
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Quite likely; I just want to be 100% sure.
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Old 8th March 2020, 09:41 PM   #25
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I see, but how do you want to make quite sure?
The Marwari race seems - according to the catalogue - a mix between the Arabian race and an Indian race. Could be!
Somewhere I read that the Indians - likely rather early - fed their horses with porridge and stuff like that, which 'made sure' that they did not live so long.
So the Indians had to import thousands of horses, every year, from Arabia and Persia. These horses were, of course, without tax, as they were badly needed, and restrictions were made only to sell them to very few rulers - and not to others.
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Old 9th March 2020, 02:38 AM   #26
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I do not know anything about horse breeding, but Marwari/Kathiawari horses shared a specific genetic trait that was absent among the Arabian horses.

If we see signs of it, we can be pretty sure that the model for this handle had at least some Indian blood.

As part of my day job:-) there was a time when I was dabbling a bit into canine/feline endocrinology. The Arab/ Marwari question has nothing to do with hormones, but ... in for a penny, in for a pound. Nothing I would get involved in, but just for the kicks of it!

Such bizarre facts always impress gullible endocrine fellows:-)
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Old 10th March 2020, 01:30 PM   #27
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Cool

Whose knife is it?!
Mine!
Whose horse is it?!
Mine!
So, I should know better when I say that my horse is a donkey!
And judging by the size of the ears, it is pretty obvious. The next best alternative would be a cross-breed between horse and rabbit!
And yeah... grass is readily available in the Netherlands!
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Old 15th March 2020, 03:41 PM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vilhelmsson
Comments welcome!

The bolster and the blade not later than the first half of the 18th century. I know that for sure
And there is reason to believe that this is from Hyderabad.
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Old 15th March 2020, 04:51 PM   #29
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Mercenary,
Please let us know the reasons why you think it is from Hyderabad, and at the same time let us know if you mean Hyderabad in Pakisthan or in the Deccan.
It will be easier for the readers if you tell us the reasons and give us the precise place.
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Old 15th March 2020, 09:22 PM   #30
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This is a fairly unique style of design. Usually items decorated in the same style erroneously dated back to the first half of the 17th century and attributed to the Deccan, less often to the Mughals. I met such a style on objects with excellent provenance no later than the first half of the 18th century. Among some items from Hyderabad (Deccan), but this may be a coincidence.
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