Rarely in the world of historical artefacts does the name of the collector become synonymous with the subject of his obsession, especially when the subject itself is based around the weaponry of such a significant and prestigious figure as Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore.
Robin Wigington was a gentleman dealer who was born into the world of antiques. His father was the owner of an arms and armour shop in Henley Street, Stratford upon Avon and Robin followed in his footsteps when he opened up his own shop in Poets Arbour, a two-storey establishment built in the 1930s to originally store a private collection of antiquarian books. The shop was a hidden treasure in Shakespeare’s home town and, for a short period of time, it was transformed into a museum to show the personal collection of its proprietor. Robin’s fascination with Tipu started early and he was in an established position to dominate the field, acquiring any piece that could be directly associated to the Sultan by either provenance or inherent decoration.
He assembled the largest and most complete collection of firearms from the workshops at Seringapatam, which he published in 1992 in a lavishly illustrated book titled Firearms of Tipu Sultan. This still stands as a permanent record of the working ateliers of the Sultan during the short period before the storming of the citadel by the British army and the ultimate demise of its patriarch. Through this intellectually amassed collection and its subsequent publication we have a full and thorough understanding of Tipu’s firearms but the few swords that Robin collected seemed to have been relatively ignored. Published in various forms by Robin himself and the various sale catalogues of the collection after he passed away, the swords remain in a confused state of identification.
The collection itself in a virtually complete form was first offered for sale through Sotheby’s on 25th May 2005. Within this sale there were two swords and a detached hilt that were associated directly to Tipu Sultan and a third complete sword which was rightly declared it as ‘Tipuesque’ and as a pastiche created after Tipu’s death.
Tipu Sultan’s Sword and scabbard Ex-Wigington Collection
This brief discussion is centred on one of these swords which is of a rare and unique form, with a blade that incorporates a bubri pattern within the surface and retains a brass hilt of zoormorphic iconography with the tiger as its dominating motif. The blade is the only one if its type known, and is clearly made by a master craftsman with the bubri pattern inherent in the steel throughout its full length. Sotheby’s date this sword to the workshops at Seringapatam, circa 1782-1799 which follows the opinion of its previous owner. Wigington also suggests that it was made for the cabinet of arms which held the Sultans favourite weapons. He goes on to speculate that the gold inlaid inscription which runs along that blade was an adornment added by the British officer that was awarded the sword after the battle.
The emblazoned caption ‘No Me Saques Sin Razon No Me Embaines Sin Honor’ (Draw me not without reason, Sheath me not without honour) is a Castillian motto seen on arms of the mid to late 18th century and its presence on a sword apparently made in its entirety in Seringapatam is extremely unlikely, hence the speculation of it being a later addition. He further adds that the scabbard, a plain iron example made specifically to fit around the unusually shaped hilt, is also European and added later. However, the sword itself lacks the details of Indian workmanship and both the hilt and the blade is more likely to be like the inscription and scabbard, and wholly European in origin.
The hilt is of a form known to be directly associated with Tipu, and the sword thought to have been taken from Tipu’s fallen hand and now in the Royal Collection at Windsor is a perfect example. Another sword with a comparable hilt is in the collection at Powis Castle, originally owned by Lord Clive. Both the Clive sword and the Royal Collection example can be taken as a benchmark in the quality associated with Tipu himself and they share a masterful refinement that is distinctly lacking in the Wigington piece.
The hilt has an insubstantial feel and the form of the tiger seemed insipid and characterless, seemingly modelled directly from the Royal Collection sword but without the finesse of Tipu’s famed atelier.The gilded finish lacks depth and the iconic Tipu elements in the langet, quillons and pommel are flat and unconvincing. The two rivets, piecing the body of the grip, are not seen on Indian arms but are of a more European and Middle-Eastern fashion.
The blade, in its magnificence of manufacture, is not pattern-welded in an Indian style but the bubris have the feel of a European ‘damascus’ gun barrel. Indian pattern-welded blades can be manually manipulated during the forging process to form distinct patterns but these tend to be relatively random, unless the swordsmith has a notable skill. Even so, the pattern retains the overall finish of an Indian blade which is not present in the Wigington sword.
As a whole, the sword seems to be entirely a European concoction, with the elements declared as later additions by Wigington probably of the same late date and origin as the hilt and blade.
The term ‘Tipuesque’ was defined by Wigington as meaning something that bears or takes the shape of the stylised bubri tiger stripe, which was the mark of Tipu Sultan. So he deemed the term to mean a piece directly associated with Tipu within the period of his reign. However, the term has progressed past this early definition and it is now used to distinguish a piece made in Tipu style after the fall of Seringapatam i.e. created in honour of the Sultan but after 1799.
Tipu’s reputation resounded across the British Empire and during his short reign he represented the last bastion of ferocious native resistance that stood in the way of total dominance. The limited number of swords in the captured spoils of war were shared out amongst those deemed worthy, and accordingly an industry was created to satisfy the growing desperate need to have a sword directly associated with Tipu Sultan himself. This sword would seemingly be from this latter period, made to represent what would have been a lavish example of the Sultan’s famed and distinguished armoury. The sword is Tipuesque certainly, but unfortunately only in the more modern definition of the term.
A multitude of thanks are due to my dear friend and Gentleman arms collector and researcher B. who prefers to remain anonymous for this wonderful article.