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

Khampa, Western Tibet
19th century

length: 27.2cm, weight: 208g



from the collection of Sir Christopher Ondaatje, UK.

This fine knife and sheaf would have been worn by a nomad in western Tibet.  It is covered in high-grade silver with brass mounts. The scabbard also is mounted with large coral and turquoise cabochons in silver box settings. The stones mark it out as a particularly sumptuous piece so it would have been reserved for use during important ceremonial occasions and festivals. There are silver panels also of repoussed or chased Himalayan scrolling in high relief.

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

The blade handle is of horn with brass rivets. The central part of the handle has a hole – not for a missing rivet but for a leather strap that would have been threaded through the hole. The end of the handle is encased in silver with a single turquoise cabochon in the tip.

The knife set has superb patina; its significant age is obvious. There is some old rust-staining to the blade commensurate with age. 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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