Inventory no.: 3167

Burmese Paper Knife


Gilded & Carved Ivory Desk Paper Knife

Burma & possibly Sri Lanka

19th century

length: 35.8cm

This very unusual fine paper knife comprises a carved ivory handle, probably originally intended for a Burmese dha sword, and a gilded bronze blade, which is pierced and engraved with trellised, tropical foliage. The join between the handle and blade comprises a lion or tiger head (it is difficult to tell which) on both sides with a dramatic and very well cast leafy flourish that emerges from the back of the feline’s head and over the ivory.

The ivory itself is pierced and is in either the form of Bilu, a fierce monster of Burmese folklore, or the monkey god Hanuman, appropriated from India. The figure has a wide snarl and a mouth full of teeth as well as fangs and a simeon-like head, but otherwise a human-like body, all encased in a carved, open-work foliate trellis.

The blade has a tiny repair (a small crack to one of the joins). The gilding is in crisp condition on one side and more mottled on the other. The ivory handle is in excellent condition.

We have not seen another paper knife like this. The metal blade does not seem to be of European manufacture. The leafy open-work of the blade has more in keeping with Sri Lankan work from the Kandy region. It is possible that the knife was put together there using a Burmese

dha handle. Historically, there have been close ties between Sri Lanka and Burma on account of a shared strand of Buddhism which lead to many religious exchanges between the Burmese and Sri Lankan monkhood. Consequently Sri Lankan items often turn up in Burma, and vice-versa. Alternatively, the metalwork component is a product of Burma but shows a degree of Sri Lankan influence. Either way, the item is visually quite stunning and certainly was intended as a luxury presentation item.


Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994.Provenance:

UK art market

Inventory no.: 3167