Magnificent Jade, Silver, Ivory & Semi-Precious Stone Eating Knife Set
length: 39.2cm, weight: 683g
This elegant eating set offers a small glimpse into the lifestyle of the Mongolian nobility in the nineteenth century. The set comprises a holder, a knife and a pair of chopsticks. It is likely that such sets were commissioned in Mongolia for presentation to dignitaries.
The holder or scabbard comprises seven hand-cut, hollowed-out jade segments enclosed within a silver casing. The jade segments are separated by six bands of silver and then more silver at either end.
The bands are also held in place by two decorative strips of silver that run the length of the scabbard. One band comprise repeated foliate openwork and a central medallion decorated as a flower set with coral and turquoise cabochons. The other a strip emblazoned with silver flowers with alternating coral, lapis lazuli and turquoise cabochons at their centres.
The upper end of the scabbard terminates with a magnificent cast and chased snub nosed dragon. Wedged in the dragon’s mouth is a pierced silver ball or pearl through which is a thick silver ring to allow for the set’s suspension from a belt (the Mongolian
del does not have pockets).The upper end is also decorated with two floral designs set with coral and turquoise cabochons, as well as applied foliate scroll designs in silver.
The other end of the scabbard is encased in silver and is similarly decorated with turquoise and coral cabochons.
The pair of chopsticks fit into the scabbard, each with their own slot. They are of ivory and their tips are encased in silver sheet (silver was thought to have a purifying effect on poison.)
The blade of the knife is of steel. The handle is encased in silver. The lower section has a band engraved with flowers. The supper section is chased in high relief with interlocking foliage around a central flower. The end is set with four turquoise cabochons.
Eating knives and sets of this standard are rare. Another, possibly from the same maker, was offered by Spink of London and is illustrated in the catalogue,
Body, Speech and Mind: Buddhist Art from Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia and China, London, December 1998. One more was offered by Christie’s London in their ‘Important Islamic, Indian and South East Asian Manuscripts, Miniatures and Works of Art’ sale, October 11, 1998, as lot 130. Christie’s attributed their example to 19th century Tibet. We have also had a similar set but which did not incorporate chopsticks. That set is now in a private collection in Saudi Arabia.
The overall condition of this magnificent knife set here is superb; there are no losses, chips or dents and the silver, the blade and the handle all have age-related patina. The set is well balanced – a sure sign of the quality of the craftsmanship involved – it is able to be stood up on its end without support, as well as being laid on its side.
Spink, Body, Speech and Mind: Buddhist Art from Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia and China, London, December 1998.
Mongolian Arts and Crafts, State Publishing House, Ulan-Bator, 1987.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 2750