Tipu Sultan, the last king of Mysore, identified strongly with the tiger, as he once famously remarked that he would rather live one day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep. A collection of arms and armour once owned by the sultan, will go under the hammer at Bonhams, as part of their Islamic and Indian art auction on April 21 in London.
All the weapons in the sale are from the private collection Robin Wigington, who researched on the East India Company’s most tenacious fighter for 30 years. During this time, it was published and exhibited at several key exhibitions. He had noted that “the incorporation of the bubri (the tiger-stripe), is what makes Tipu’s firearms unique.” With estimates ranging from £2,000 to £1,50,000, the sale features gem-set trophy swords, embroidered arrow quivers, exquisite quilted helmets, fowling pieces, sporting guns, pistols, and a three-pounder bronze cannon. Claire Penhallurick, Head of the Indian and Islamic Department at Bonhams, says, “It holds huge fascination for both India and Britain, as it is part of our shared history, and as Tipu Sultan was such an extraordinary man and certainly one of the most creative, innovative and capable rulers of the pre-colonial period. It is a collection of immense importance. The tiger imagery appears on many items in the sale, on guns, pistols, armour and even the cannon.”
Going back to the last part of the 18th century, the highlight of the collection is a spectacular silver-mounted sporting gun from Sultan’s personal armoury, its stock carved with a crouching tiger at its tail, and the barrel decorated with tiger-stripes. Belonging to the period of 1793-1794, it is estimated at £1,00,000-£150,000. Following the fall of Seringapatam, the gun was presented to Lord Cornwallis in London in return for his services in India. There is also a gem-set tiger finial from the Sultan’s royal regalia, that was mounted onto a sword, estimated at £60,000-80,000, and an impressive bronze cannon covered in tiger heads, estimated at £40,000-60,000. Bonhams has previously sold two tiger-headed gem-encrusted finials from the king’s throne, that raised £3,89,600 and £4,34,400.