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The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), SOLD for $17.5 million. Source: Bonhams Auctioneers

Why this Warrior Sultan’s Sword Has Just Sold for $17.5million, Most Expensive Sword Ever

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Tipu Sultan's sword was estimated to sell for an inordinate $2.5 million. However, yesterday, this prize weapon was auctioned in London and fetched a staggering $17.5million (£14 million). This not only breaks the highest price paid for a single sword, but also sets a new world record for any Indian/Islamic object.

If you are quick, and do a Google search today, you will find the Sword Encyclopedia list the most expensive sword ever sold as the 18th Century Boateng Saber. Sold in auction twice, originally for $5.93 million in 2006 and for $7.7 million in 2008, it features decorations and inscriptions alluding to the Chinese emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty.

This week, however, Tipu Sultan's legendary bedchamber sword was sold at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London. The prize weapon, which was estimated to fetch between £1,500,000-2,000,000, ended up reaching £14 million ($17.5m USD) at the sale in London breaking the records. So what has made it so valuable?

The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), a fine gold-koftgari-hilted steel sword (sukhela) India, 18th Century (Bonhams)

The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), a fine gold-koftgari-hilted steel sword (sukhela) India, 18th Century (Bonhams)

Outstanding Craftsmanship, Therefore, Highly Desirable

According to Bonhams website, Oliver White, an auctioneer and the Head of Islamic and Indian Art, said the sword demonstrates “outstanding craftsmanship.” This is why White describes the sword as “unique and highly desirable." White added that it is also “the greatest of all the weapons linked to Tipu Sultan still in private hands,” and as such the antique weapon is “truly spectacular,” concluded the auctioneer.

Hilt of Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword. (Bonhams)

Hilt of Tipu Sultan’s bedchamber sword. (Bonhams)

Tipu Sultan, known as the Tiger of Mysore, was an 18th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India. Known in history for his fierce resistance against British colonization, he is famed for using new technologies. Tipu Sultan created various military innovations and economic policies, including the use of rocket artillery against neighboring states and East India Company, who were seen as an extension of the British navy at the spearhead of colonization.

When Tipu Fell, So Too Did India

On May 4, 1799, during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, the capital city of Seringapatam (now Srirangapatna) fell to the British forces, marking the end of Tipu Sultan's rule after his death in battle. With his reign ended, so too did the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, to which time the sword’s provenance can be traced. And with this rich heritage, Nima Sagharchi, Group Head of Islamic and Indian Art at Bonhams said the sword’s history is “extraordinary”.

This unique weapon attracted the attention of two telephone bidders working for antiquities buyers, who engaged in what is described as a “hot contest” for the iconic weapon. Bonhams wrote on the inventory that the sword is unquestionably part of Tipu's personal arsenal, and that it is arguably “the finest and most important of the weapons with a proven personal association with the ruler.”

Portrait of Tipu Sultan by an anonymous Indian artist in Mysore, ca. 1790–1800. (Public Domain)

Portrait of Tipu Sultan by an anonymous Indian artist in Mysore, ca. 1790–1800. (Public Domain)

The Sword of God

The sword, which this week set new world records, was manufactured by Mughal swordsmiths. The blade is inscribed, “The Sword of the Ruler’ and the hilt is inlaid in “exquisitely executed gold calligraphy depicting five of the qualities of God and two invocations calling on God by name.” And while the weapon was forged in India, its blade reflects the design of 16th century imported German examples.

It is known that in 1799 this sword was presented to the leader of the British forces, Major General David Baird, from his troops, to show their “high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault which he commanded,” which saw the death of Tipu Sultan. Tipu is believed to be buried at the Gumbaz, a mausoleum located in Srirangapatna, Karnataka, India, that also houses the tombs of his father Hyder Ali, and his mother Fatima Begum.

This significant historical site is enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year, who are interested in learning about Tipu Sultan's life and legacy. However, the legendary warrior's sword will now vanish into the private collection of an anonymous billionaire, maybe never to be seen again.

Top image: The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan (reg. 1782-1799), SOLD for $17.5 million               Source: Bonhams Auctioneers    

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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