Q. Indian silver is rarely marked. Is it possible to tell where it was made?
A. Although generally unmarked, most Indian silver is characterised by strong regional designs making it relatively easy to identify where a piece was made.
Bombay. With the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, Bombay became a major trading centre and silversmiths from all over India settled there, working in their own local styles. As a result, it is often difficult to distinguish Bombay card cases from those of other regions. However, certain characteristics, combining decorative styles from different regions, are evident. For example, a Kutch–Lucknow style combining typical Kutch scrollwork with hunting scenes and a Kutch–Calcutta style. Some innovative local silversmiths incorporated Bombay’s urban scene into their designs, but such designs are rare.
Calcutta. As the centre for British activity in India, Calcutta had a flourishing industry producing silver for the British Raj. At first, this catered to British tastes and objects were generally smooth and polished with minimal decoration. However, Calcutta was chosen as the venue for an international exhibition to be held in 1883. Conscious of not having a distinct style of its own, the silversmiths of Calcutta developed a style aimed at matching, if not rivalling, the silver centres of Kutch and Madras. The style they developed depicted rural scenes of Bengali life such as villagers picking fruit, fetching water, and planting or harvesting grain; scenes of festivals and mythology were also incorporated but these invariably also include depictions of rural life.
Kashmir. Since the early nineteenth century, Kashmir was known to the British for
its distinctive textiles, especially its shawls decorated with patterns that became
known as ‘paisley’ — the name comes from the town of Paisley in Scotland where many
shawls using traditional Kashmiri designs were woven. This distinctive, ornate floral
design was used extensively to decorate silverware, including card cases. Three patterns
that were popular were the coriander (a rosette-
Kutch. Card cases from Kutch in Gujarat in the west of India are characterised by
heavily chased designs of all-
Lucknow. After 1857, when Lucknow became part of British India, large numbers of wares were made to cater for British needs. Card cases from Lucknow can be recognised easily by their jungle and hunting scenes incorporating groves of date palms, animals and birds.
Madras. In contrast to card cases from Kutch, the cases produced in Madras in the
southeast of the India are highly ornamented with Hindu imagery of gods and goddesses,
temples, religious processions and scenes of music and dance. This style of decoration
is known as swami ware, swami being a generic term for a god. Its strong ethnic decoration
divided opinion amongst Europeans: some were captivated by the ‘heathen deities’,
whilst others viewed the scenes, often depicting voluptuous, heathen goddesses as
‘debased’. One maker of swami ware was the firm of P Orr & Sons. By the 1870s the
firm had earned such a reputation for high-