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UK government bars export of million-pound Mughal dagger

The United Kingdom government placed a temporary export bar on an 18th century Mughal era dagger and scabbard, worth over GBP 1 million, to allow a British institution or buyer to bid for the rare historic artefact.

​The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds that its departure from the UK would be a misfortune because it was of outstanding significance for the study of 18th century Mughal weapons.
​The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds that its departure from the UK would be a misfortune because it was of outstanding significance for the study of 18th century Mughal weapons. Photo courtesy: Bonhams

The dagger was owned by Robert Clive, the first British Governor of Bengal, and collected during his time in the country.

It is likely to have been acquired by Clive in 1757 following his victory for the East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in Bengal.

“This beautiful example of a Mughal dagger and scabbard has a lot to teach us about both the British in India and the nature of diplomatic gifts at the time,” said UK Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage.

“I hope a UK-based buyer is found so this magnificent item can be studied and enjoyed for years to come,” she said.

Valued at GBP 1,120,000 pounds (USD 1,521,458), experts say the dagger has an unusually formed jade hilt with an "unparalleled" arrangement of precious stones, some of considerable size, whilst the blade is a fine example of Indian watered steel.

Dating back to 1650, the silk brocade cover on the wooden scabbard or cover for the dagger is Iranian, demonstrating the influence of Iran on India throughout the Mughal period.

The fact that this dagger has retained all its components, including the precious stones, is exceptional, according to historians.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) decision to impose a temporary export bar follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).

The committee agreed that this is a “fascinating object” and illustrative of the culture of court etiquette and diplomatic gift-giving observed at the imperial and regional courts in 18th century India.

The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds that its departure from the UK would be a misfortune because it was of outstanding significance for the study of 18th century Mughal weapons.

The decision on the export licence application for the piece will be deferred until October 8. This may be extended until February 8, 2022, if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of 1,120,000 pounds, the DCMS said.

The dagger with watered steel blade, nephrite jade hilt is set with rubies and emeralds in gold. The scabbard of wood covered with silk brocade, the nephrite jade locket and chape is set with rubies in gold, and tassel and threads of silk and metal. The dagger's length is 39.5 cm and the scabbard measures 30 cm in length.

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CtoI News Desk
CtoI News Desk – CtoI

Singapore-headquartered online media company targeting Indians Diaspora across Singapore, US, UK and UAE. Connected to India covers developments around NRIs. Cover arts, political, sports, finance, entrepreneurship, business, movies, dramas, entertainment and other stories for and about Indians living abroad.

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