UK bans export of 18th century Mughal-era dagger, scabbard worth Dh5.7 million

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Photo: UK government
Photo: UK government

London - Robert Clive, the first governor-general of Bengal Presidency, was likely to have acquired the artefacts after his victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.

By Prasun Sonwalkar

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Published: Sat 10 Jul 2021, 10:42 AM

The Boris Johnson government on Friday imposed a temporary ban on the export of a rare Mughal-era dagger and scabbard valued at £1,120,000 (approximately Dh5,718,434) in the hopes that a buyer could be found within the United Kingdom, and the items remain in the country for research and other purposes.

The temporary ban will run until October 8. It was placed following an export licence application that was made on behalf of the current owner.

The decision on the application 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, officials said.

The dagger and scabbard were likely to have been acquired by Robert Clive, the first governor-general of Bengal Presidency, after his victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the officials said.

They added that the items are at risk of leaving the country unless a UK buyer can be found.

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 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.

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage said: “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. I hope a UK-based buyer is found so this magnificent item can be studied and enjoyed for years to come.”

The minister’s decision to impose the temporary ban follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, which 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.

Despite the undeniable controversial figure of Robert Clive, the object is considered to be hugely important to the study of the history of the British in India, officials added.

The committee member Peter Barber said: “This fabulously ornate dagger and scabbard shed outstandingly important light on the nature of Anglo-Indian diplomatic relations in the mid eighteenth-century and on the personality of Robert Clive.”

He added: “The flamboyantly adorned hilt of the dagger is stylistically atypical of Mughal workmanship. Revealingly, for the mentalities of the time, it may have been altered, and enriched, to resemble what the imperial or princely donor — trying particularly hard to flatter and win influence with its all-powerful recipient — thought looked European and thus familiar to Clive.”

The committee 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.

Provenance of the dagger

Acquired in India by Robert Clive, (1725-1774); inherited by his son, Edward Clive (1754-1839); by descent to George Charles Herbert (1862-1952); by descent to his son Mervyn Horatio Herbert (1904-43); upon his death, it passed to the Styche Estate and Trust until 2014; purchased by current owner.

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