Sneha Sikand of Saffronart offers a brief history of Period Silver in India
New Delhi: Crafting silver in India dates back several centuries. But what is seen as the golden era of silverware is the colonial period. The time of British occupation in India which lasted from the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century was when silversmiths in India produced some of the most exquisite and luxurious silver tableware.
From tea services, bowls and cutlery sets to card cases and picture frames, silver items came to be associated with prestige and nobility. Initially made by silversmiths as gifting items, they were soon viewed as basic necessities in any well established home.
Historically, silver has been produced in various parts of India and some of the manufacturing houses remain popular to date. The silversmiths or sonars would receive ingots and recycled silver to create items of use by remolding and then a patterner would draw a design over the object. These processes were repeated time and again to get the right finish.
The prominent establishments were divided by region. Kashmir, Madras, Bangalore, Kutch, Lucknow, Bombay and Calcutta became the centers for handcrafted silver – blending traditional designs and patterns with western forms. Madras silver came to be known as Swami Silver because of its frequent depiction of gods and religious festivities. One of the most prominent firms in the area was P. Orr and Sons, a Scottish firm which received several commissions for gifts presented to British crown.
The silver from Kutch in Gujarat was known for having heavily embossed patterns that enveloped the entire surface of the object. Almost always using some kind of dense foliage pattern, Kutch silverware was considered the most popular in the late nineteenth century and appealed a great deal to westerners. World renowned silver craftsman Oomersee Mawjee’s designs were among the favourite of the colonial period.
The patterns in Madras and Kutch silverware could appear quite abstract and would often have more than one standard pattern running within an object. The tea pot could be depicting a foliate patten while the handle would be in the shape of a serpent, or the spout in the form of an animal’s head.
While many would argue regarding the difference and range in the purity of silver from region to region, the labour and aesthetic value of period silver has always been given more importance.
Select Period Silver pieces are currently on view at Saffronart, Delhi till 5 October, 2012