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Tibetan Nomad’s Silver-Mounted Knife & Scabbard with Turquoise & Coral

Khampa, Western Tibet
19th century

length: 34.5cm, weight: 239g



from the collection of Sir Christopher Ondaatje, UK.

This fine knife and sheaf or scabbard would have been worn by a nomad in western Tibet. The scabbard of wood or horn that has been partly clad in silver that is mounted with ten coral and turquoise cabochons in silver box settings.  The silver panels are engraved with Himalayan scrollwork with engraved key-fret borders and applied ‘pearled’ silver bands.

The stones and quality of the silverwork mark this set out as a particularly sumptuous piece so it would have been reserved for use during important ceremonial occasions and festivals.

The reverse of the scabbard has a long strip of silver that terminates in a loop to allow the eating set to be suspended from the nomad’s belt.

The blade is of single-edged steel that comes to a point.

The blade handle is encased with bone applied with brass rivets, and mounted with a gilded copper cap.

The set includes a pair of wooden chopsticks. These might be later replacements; it isn’t clear. But they fit well and they have a good patina and age themselves.

The knife set has a superb patina; its significant age is obvious. There is some minor, old rust-staining to the blade commensurate with age, and an old crack to the bone cladding on the back of the handle of the knife. The large size of the semi-precious stones used also marks this piece out as special.

The knife is from the collection of Sir Christopher Ondaatje. Ondaatje is of Sinhalese and Dutch ancestry and was born in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known) in 1933. A businessman, writer and Olympian, he is the older brother of author Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, among many works.

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