This superb iron flask was used by Tibetan nomads to hold locally-produced beer known as chhaang. It is the finest example we have had.
Such vessels appear to be modelled after Chinese porcelain moon flasks. They were made in Chamdo in Eastern Tibet, which was a famous metal working centre.
The sides are flat (with a central indented roundel), originally to allow such a flask to be strapped to the side of a pack animal such as a horse or a yak.
It has finely-cast brass mounts, and both sides are over-laid in gold and silver with a central longevity symbol surrounded by scrolling leaf work in silver interspersed with flower motifs in gold.
This decoration is achieved by lightly scoring the iron surface of the flask and then hammering on gold and silver, which are softer metals, onto the surface. (The process is known today as damascening, after the city of Damascus, which was once renowned for this technique.)
The brass spout comprises a long-snouted makara. The snout spout has six flattened sides. The ‘S’-shaped handle is in the form of a Himalayan dragon. Both the spout and handle are in brass, as is an intricate stopper with an elegant, tall lotus bud-like finial. The stopper is attached to the flask by means of a particularly well-made and complex brass chain.
The British Museum has a similar example that might well be from the same workshop, and which it attributes to the 17th century. Another example is in the Newark Museum and illustrated in Reynolds (1978, p. 52). An example in the Victoria & Albert Museum is attributed to 1700-1850.
The flask is in fine condition with an excellent patina. The flask sits flatly. The gold and the silver damascening shows little wear and is very good condition.
Overall, this is a particularly beautiful example, in excellent condition.
Reynolds, V., Tibet: A Lost World: The Newark Museum Collection of Tibetan Art and Ethnology, The American Federation of Arts, 1978.