Permanent Collection: Tea & Coffee Pots

  • The partially gilded finial is decorated in the style of an Ottoman turban
  • Engraved portrait of Sultan Orhan Gazi sporting an Ottoman turban
  • The cartouches are unusual in Cutch silverware, and reminiscent of a more Islamic style of decoration

Silver and Gold Coffee Pot, Cutch, India, Circa 1870


Height: 22 cms

This unusual and attractive coffee pot is historically important.  In addition to its popularity in India, Cutch silverware was frequently made for export to the west, appearing in the catalogues of Liberty & Co. of Regent Street, Proctor & Co. of Oxford Street, and similar outlets in Europe and America.  This said, it is rare to find Indian Cutch silver work designed for export to the Ottoman or Middle Eastern market.  The form of the coffee pot is very much in the style of coffee pots encountered in Turkey, north Africa and the Middle East, though such objects, even when imported, were ordinarily of brass.  No other published South Asian export coffee pot that we have seen, either silver or brass, approaches this one for its quality.

In construction, the pot consists of the body with its extended Arabic spout, the handle, and an elaborate, hinged lid.  Both the handle and the lid are partially affixed through a series of screw pins which stand out from the body of the piece.  The extended bottom of the lid fits snugly into the body and the hinge works extremely smoothly, underlining the quality of manufacture.  The lid is surmounted with a glorious multi-level, partially gilded finial in the form of an Ottoman style turban, which in turn sits on a pedestal decorated with a band of applied thin gold or gilt.

The golden and Islamic themes are carried through into the decoration of the body. A further gold or gilt band, held in place with tiny silver pins, encircles the body of the coffee pot just above the waist.  Meanwhile, a principal decorative feature of the body is a series of symmetrical cartouches reminiscent of a more Islamic decorative style.  Both features are extremely rare, if not unique, in Cutch silver.

In keeping with the Cutch style, the coffee pot is densely decorated with a series of scrolling foliate and floral designs within and surrounding the cartouches, on the sides of the spout and in two further bands at the base and around the upper surface of the lid.  Possibly modelled on acanthus leaves, each area of decoration is separated from its neighbours both by very delicate beading, and by further bands of silver either left undecorated, or populated with a range of repeated geometric or floral motifs.  The geometric decoration extends further to the underside of the spout and the handle.  The base of the piece is plain silver.

The unusul nature of both the form and decoration together with the quality of the piece lead us to date the coffee pot to 1870 - 1880, when the style and manufacture of Cutch silver was already well developed, but before it became thoroughly commercialised in a series of western forms.  Hence we attribute the piece to Bhuj, the capital of Cutch, which was the only place Cutch silverware was made at those dates, with just ten families practicing the art.

The silver employed in Cutch work was normally of a very high quality, somewhere between 95% and 98% silver, and therefore higher than the sterling standard of 92.5% used in Great Britain.  This high level of purity meant that the silver was easily malleable, and in order to decorate a piece, silversmiths would punch their designs inwards rather than outwards, the piece being filled with a mixture of wax and resin to absorb the impact of the silversmith’s tools.  This process, with the consequent heating and cooling, might be repeated up to three times to achieve the desired result.

In the latter part of the C19th, there was a well established traffic across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, drawing on centuries old networks of trade and Hajj routes plied by Ottomans, Arabs, Indians and westerners alike.  Much of the bullion used in the manufacture of Cutch silver wares was imported from Mecca, the ‘Swahili Rand’ (East Africa) and Zanzibar as well as Bombay, underlining the links between North West India and the Middle East and Africa.  It is perhaps unsurprising to find occasional pieces making the return journey.  For another object combining Indian and Middle Eastern influences, please see elsewhere in our collection (GNC13).

References and sources:
Dehejia, V. and others, Delight in Design - Indian Silver for the Raj, (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2008; Ocean Township, NJ: Granta Publishing, 2008).
Hajj - Journey to the Heart of Islam, ed. Porter, V., and others, (London: British Museum Press, 2012).
Wilkinson, W. R. T., Indian Silver 1858 - 1947, (London: Wynyard R. T. Wilkinson, 1999).

Provenance:  The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC6

  • A scene from Bukhara perhaps the original home of our tea pot

Brass Teapot with Turquoise Cabochons, Bukhara or Kokand, Central Asia, 1797

Height: 28cms

This cast brass teapot is a very fine example of late C18th central Asian metalwork.   Unusually in Islamic metalwork, the Central Asian teapot appeared as a well developed form in the eighteenth century, prior to which there is no evidence of such objects.  This example has a flattened oval body, of the satrandsh kind supported on an unusually hexagonal, flared stand, a separately cast openwork handle, a spout which extends much of the length of the body finishing slightly above the top of the neck,  and a hinged and faceted lid.  The underside of the base is covered by a decorated, silvered copper sheet.

The body is embellished with two raised teardrop or almond shaped cartouches, also reminiscent of stylised cypress trees.  The cartouches, the base, the lid and the source of the spout are studded with turquoise cabochons, each surrounded by an engraved band, giving an appearance of perspective.  The turquoise is held in place with asphalt.

The sides, front and back of the teapot sport a dense, engraved, interlacing design of foliage and split leaf palmettes, very much in the Timurid fashion.  This design is carried through into the openwork handle.  The field of the body is hatched.  Fittingly for a Silk Road object, the lotus, most itinerant of Asian motifs, appears both in the delicately cast finial buds of the lid and handle, and in the lotus petal decorations found on the underpart of the body and repeated in the minor around the bottom of the base and on the upper part of the spout.  The base and the lid are separated from the main body by slim, geometrically decorated bands.  The end of the spout carries a modest tree of life design.

A band at the neck of the tea pot and the lower half of the sides of the spout carry Arabic inscriptions, the latter including a date which appears to read 1212, giving a Gregorian date of 1797.  This is consistent with dating suggested for a number of similar teapots by Kalter.

Metalwork of this kind has been attributed to a variety of Central Asian cities, with objects from Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva being especially valued for their quality until imports from outside, notably Russia, put pressure on local producers at the beginning of the C20th.  Some features of the teapot, the flattened sides and almond shaped cartouches are suggested by Kalter to be typically of Kokand, though the decorative scrollwork employed is perhaps more typical of objects attributed to Bukhara, and it remains difficult to be certain.  Wherever its origin, this piece is more splendid in its turquoise decoration than any other Central Asian teapot we have seen.  

References and sources:
Abdullayev, T., Fakhretdinova, D., Khakimov, A., A Song in Metal - Folk Art of Uzbekistan, (Tashkent: Gafur Gulyam Art and Literature Publishers, 1986).
Andre, P., The Art of Central Asia, (Bournemouth: Parkstone Press/Aurora, 1996).
Kalter, J., Pavaloi, M. and others, Uzbekistan - Heirs to the Silk Road, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997).
Teague, K., Metalcrafts of Central Asia, (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications Ltd, 1990).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC12