Indian Colonial Silver

Indian Colonial Silver refers to the silver artworks produced in India mainly for a European clientele from 1790 - when the East India Company began trading business in Calcutta - until 1947 - when India gained the independence from the British Raj.

Initially requested by British aristocrats living in India, Indian colonial silver had mainly practical and daily uses. From tea services to card cases and punch bowls, these objects present recognisable forms as they are meant to be used by Western clients. During the first years of the Raj silverware was generally made in the Georgian style, while later the traditional Indian motifs - such as floral patterns, exotic animals, scenes of farming lives and folklore and religious scenes - gained popularity, creating a unique hybrid between form and decoration. Every region had a peculiar style and distinguishable patterns.

In the early colonial years, silverware was not marked and unfortunately we don’t have records of silversmiths. It is only from 1870s that marking silver became a common practice. Hamilton & Co. (founded in Calcutta, 1808) and Gordon & Co. (active in Madras, 1821 - 1848) were among the firsts marking their objects and were certainly two of the most popular firms of the time.

In 1851 some extraordinary examples of Indian silver were displayed at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London and Indian silver started to be produced in a larger scale. The low labor costs allowed Western clients to buy extremely intricate pieces at very competitive prices.

During the second half of the century colonial silver started to be produced by native Indian silversmiths: among all it is worth to mention Grish Chunder Dutt and Oomersi Mawji. From 1858 - with the beginning of the British Raj - Indian silver is categorized by region of origin, the principal ones being Kutch, Madras, Lucknow and Kashmir.

Nowadays most of the Indian colonial silver production can be found in Europe and it is really in demand among collectors. Some outstanding pieces are displayed in international museums such as the Victoria and Albert.