Lot 175. The bedchamber sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), a fine gold-koftgari-hilted steel sword (sukhela), India, 18th Century; 105.9 cm. long; blade 92.9 cm. long; 109 cm. long (in scabbard). Sold for £14,080,900. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Tipu Sultan’s fabled bedchamber sword sold for £14 million at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London today (Tuesday 23 May 2023). It had an estimate of £1,500,000-2,000,000. This is a new auction world record for both an Indian and Islamic object.

Nima Sagharchi, Group Head of Islamic and Indian Art, said: “The sword has an extraordinary history, an astonishing provenance and unrivalled craftsmanship. It was no surprise it was so hotly contested between two phone bidders and a bidder in the room. We are delighted with the result.”

Of the many weapons removed from the palace of Tipu Sultan after the fall of his royal stronghold at Seringapatam on 4 May 1799, few have such resonance nor such a close connection to Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, than the Bedchamber Sword, found in his private quarters after the battle. Unquestionably part of Tipu’s own arsenal, the sword is arguably the finest and most important of the weapons with a proven personal association with the ruler.

As described by Francis Buchanan in his on-the-spot account describing Tipu’s palace immediately after the siege, a sword lay within reach of the Sultan while he slept. (On constant alert against attack, Tipu slept in a hammock suspended from the ceiling of his locked and bolted bedchamber with a pair of pistols and a sword by his side). The weapon is of exceptional quality. The blade, which is inscribed ‘The Sword of the Ruler’ is particularly fine. It was manufactured by Mughal swordsmiths following the model of German blades introduced to India in the 16th century. The hilt is inlaid in exquisitely executed gold calligraphy with five of the qualities of God and two invocations calling on God by name.

Speaking before the sale, Oliver White, Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art, said: “This spectacular sword is the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan still in private hands. Its close personal association with the Sultan, its impeccable provenance traceable to the very day it was captured, and the outstanding craftsmanship that went into its manufacture make it unique and highly desirable.”

WATCH: William Dalrymple speaks about Tipu Sultan's Bedchamber Sword

The sword was presented to Major General David Baird, by the army ‘as a token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault which he commanded and in which Tipo Sultan was slain.’ Baird had led the soldiers on May 4 which finally ended the month-long siege of Seringapatam.

Tipu Sultan (1751– 1799) succeeded his father as the ruler of the kingdom of Mysore in south Indian in 1782. He earned the soubriquet ‘Tiger of Mysore’ from the ferocity with which he defended his kingdom’s interests. He pioneered the use of rocket artillery in wars both against neighbouring states and also the East Indian Company of which he was an implacable opponent. His reign was also characterised by the introduction of a new calendar and coinage system and other administrative and financial reforms which built on the work of his father and he transformed Mysore into the most dynamic economy in India.

Bruno Vinciguerra, CEO, Bonhams, said: "This is one of the most astonishing objects Bonhams has had the privilege of bringing to auction. It is a stupendous price for a stupendous piece. I am so thrilled for our teams that worked so hard to deliver this result."

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Lot 175. The bedchamber sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), a fine gold-koftgari-hilted steel sword (sukhela), India, 18th Century; 105.9 cm. long; blade 92.9 cm. long; 109 cm. long (in scabbard). Sold for £14,080,900. Photo: Bonhams.

the single-edged steel blade with flattened spine becoming double-edged towards the point, gold-overlaid inscription to spine, gold overlaid orb and parasol mark to one side, engraved inscription in English within a rectangular cartouche to the other, the steel hilt of typical tulwar form with dished disc pommel, convex pommel cap with hinged gold loop for sword knot, bellied grip and short waisted quillons curving slightly towards the tip of the blade, the hilt itself canted slightly forward, inlaid in gold with inscriptions in thuluthbubri motifs to the edge, pierced hole to blade; the wood scabbard clad entirely in green corded silk velvet, with three silver-gilt mounts engraved overall with bubri stripes and floral motifs, the upper two with gilded iron suspension loops, the chape with impressed inscription-filled bubri motif (Haider control mark) to each side.

ProvenanceTipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), found in his private apartments following his death.
Major General David Baird (1757-1829), presented by the Army of the East India Company in May 1799, thence by descent.
Dix Noonan Webb, The Baird Jewels and Archive, Including Tipu Sultan's Sword, 19 September 2003, lot 3.
Private UK collection.

The inscriptions are as follows:

Found in his Bed Chamber after SERINGAPATAM was taken by Storm 4th May 1799
and Presented by the ARMY to MAJOR GENERAL BAIRD through their Commander
LIEUT. GENERAL HARRIS, as a token of their high opinion of his Courage and Conduct
in the Assault which he Commanded, and in which TIPPOO SULTAUN was slain.

To the spine, shamshir-e malik, 'The sword of the king';

To the hilt, ya allah! ya nasir! ya fattah! ya nasir! ya mu'in! ya zahir!,
'O Allah!, O the Helper! O the Ever-opener! O the Aider! O The Helper! O The Evident!.

Impressed mark to chape, hayder

The Bedchamber Sword

As the cannons fired their last shots, and the waves of battle receded at Seringapatam, Tipu Sultan lay dead amid a heap of wounded, killed fighting hand to hand in the heat of the action. Major General David Baird, commander of the East India Company forces that day, who had previously spent almost four years in Tipu's dungeons, was led to the body by one of the sultan's courtiers. An eyewitness recorded that "His eyes were open and the body was so warm that for a few moments Colonel Wellesley and myself were doubtful whether he was still alive" - Baird was able to look his adversary in the eye one last time (see Denys Forrest, Tiger of Mysore. The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan, London 1970, p. 293). Later, a sword was recovered from the defeated ruler's private apartments which was subsequently presented to Baird by the Army as a Trophy of his victory. In this way 'The Bedchamber Sword' became the symbol of the late sultan himself – his power and authority yielded to the British General in defeat.

It was recorded by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton that "The Sultan, lest any person should fire upon him while in bed, slept in a hammock, which was suspended from the roof by chains, in such a situation as to be invisible through the windows. In the hammock were found a sword and a pair of pistols." (Francis Buchanan, A Journey From Madras Through The Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar..., London, East India Company, 1807, Vol. 1, p. 72). One can only conjecture that this was the same sword, but considering that it was presented as the Trophy to Baird signifies that it must have been one of his most prized possessions, and its importance would presumably have been known by Tipu's family and retainers at the time the prize was selected. Of all the arms and armour removed from Seringapatam after its fall which have subsequently been sold at auction, the present lot is undoubtedly the most important, with an unbroken provenance taking it back to the final day of the battle itself; moreover, to the bedchamber of the Tiger of Mysore himself. It is almost certainly the most important relic of Seringapatam still in private hands.

The sword itself is a masterpiece of Indian art leaving aside its legendary history. With its wide straight blade and tulwar style hilt, it is of a type known in south-eastern India as a sukhela and typically associated with the sword of state. Furthermore, the fact that the blade is of Mughal manufacture, and perhaps of an earlier date, renders the weapon all the more worthy of its kingly ownership and this symbolic status. The gold-inlaid orb, a motif found on 16th Century German blades of the same design, is surmounted by the Mughal Imperial Parasol which was reserved only for the highest quality blades; the gold-inlaid Persian inscription to the spine reads shamshir-e malik, 'The sword of the king'. Topping off the regal blade is an exquisite calligraphic hilt, amongst the rarest types from the Indian sub-continent, decorated in the very finest gold-inlaid Arabic, listing invocations to God. For despite ruling a predominantly Hindu state, Tipu Sultan was a Muslim and a pious and doughty defender of the faith, his sword befitting the extremely high ranking Muslim he was.

The sword was originally presented to Baird by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) who was convinced that the Major General had the best right to it. It is likely that this was a gesture of reconciliation from the Colonel, who had been made Commandant of Seringapatam the day after the storming, an appointment that had mortified Baird. When word of this gift reached the Prize Committee, however, they insisted that the sword be returned to them as it was not Welleseley's to give. This was, in part, due to the fact that General Harris wished to make it an official gift from the Army to Baird. Subsequently, an order was issued from head-quarters for the general and field-officers to assemble in Harris's tent where the sword was officially presented to Baird as a token of the Army's gratitude to him for his courage in leading the final assault on Seringapatam. After all, it had been Baird who had led the storming party into the deadly breach just hours before the city was conquered.