Elisabetta Marabotto shares a note on a pair of Murshidabad plates that is part of Saffronart’s upcoming Travel & Leisure Auction
London: Lying north of Kolkata on the banks of the Bhagirathi river, Murshidabad, or ‘select city’, was the last capital of Bengal under the Mughals, and was one of their most wealthy and fertile provinces. The city remained the seat of the ‘Nawab of Bengal’ under East India Company rule, even after the capital was moved to Calcutta in 1790. Until the abolition of the title in 1880, Nawabs of Bengal from the Nasiri, Afshar and Najafi Islamic dynasties ruled from Murshidabad. Following this, their descendants were known as the Nawab Bahadurs of Murshidabad.
This pair of silver plates, bearing the coat of arms of the Nawab of Murshidabad, are probably a part of the dinner service of Nawab Amir-ul-Omra, Wasef Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur (1875-1959), dating to the early twentieth century.
The elaborate Murshidabad coat of arms inscribed on the plates includes a shield bearing a column and crossed canons, flanked by a lion and a unicorn. Above the shield, a fish represents the Persian order of emperors, Mahi-Maratib, and is surmounted by a crown and crossed bifurcated swords. Scrolling across the bottom, the banner reads “Nil Desperandum” or “never despair”.
The plates are also inscribed ‘Hamilton & Co.’ on the reverse. Hamilton & Co. was one of the best known British silver firms, established by Robert Hamilton in Calcutta in 1808 under license from the East India Company. Known as the ‘Garrard of India’, the firm mainly produced tableware including complete tea and dinner services in a typical pre-Raj, British-Indian style. This pair of plates is crafted of smoothly polished silver, which almost entirely substitutes decoration, and creates a simple yet fine design that highlights the gadrooned rim.