An important inscribed Mughal emerald personal seal set in a diamond encrusted gold bangle and bearing the name of Major Alexander Hannay, an East India Company officer, will be sold on April 5th in Bonhams
sale of Indian and Islamic art.
Estimated to sell for £30,000 to £50,000, the rectangular 18th century emerald is table-cut and was mounted in an enamelled gold bangle in the early 19th century. The three-line Persian inscription on the face of the emerald is in nastaliq script and reads: "Amin al-Mulk Ashraf al-Dawla Alexander Hannay Bahadur Arsalan Jang AH 1185/ AD 1774-5".
Major Alexander Hannay was in the service of the East India Company under William Hastings at the time when the company had transferred its trading role into a more military administrative one. In 1778, Hannay left Hastings service and entered that of the Nawab of Oudh. He managed the district of Gorakhpur, when during this period there were a number of disturbances as a result of his suspected oppression and misconduct.
The Nawab dismissed him in 1781 and would not hear of his return. Hannay also took part in the war against the Rohillas in 1774 and was afterwards examined with reference to alleged cruelties practiced towards these people.
The bangle has passed down through the family to the present owner.
Alice Bailey, Head of Indian and Islamic Art at Bonhams, comments: This is a particularly fine example of an inscribed Mughal gem whose history and known provenance adds to its interest. The glorious Victorian setting is in particularly appropriate and sympathetic to the long-standing Mughal tradition of combining gems and enamelling.
The rulers of Mughal India often ordered their names and titles to be inscribed on rubies, emeralds and diamonds, a practice which originated in Iran under the Timurids (1370-1507). Some of these gems ended up in the collection of the Mughal emperors who continued the tradition. In some cases, as the gems were passed down further names were added below those of the previous owners. Many were repolished, recut and re-set as they were handed down. The inscriptions were executed using the traditional cutting wheel or diamond-tipped stylus.
Engraved seals were widely used amongst foreigners and noblemen alike in India. There are numerous examples of emerald seals inscribed with the names of members of the British administration such as a seal in the Khalili Collection with an inscription to the First Secretary of the East India Company Colonel Paris Bradshaw dated 1222AH/1807-8AD. The practice of using inscribed seals continued into the late 19th century and well beyond court circles.
The inscription on the present emerald on sale on April 5th may possibly be the work of Muhammad Salah Khan, a known seal-engraver working in Faizabad who engraved emeralds for other East India Company officers during the latter part of the 18th century.