Tipu’s tiger throne finial to be auctioned in London

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Ten years after being found lying in the vaults of an English bank, a gem-encrusted gold finial plundered from Tipu Sultan’s huge golden throne is being put up for sale in London.

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Auctioneers Bonhams, who describe the finial as “one of the most important Tipu items ever to appear for sale”, have valued it at around 800,000 pounds.

The tiger-head finial was one of eight that stood on each end of a gigantic gold octagonal throne in Seringpatnam, on which Tipu – a legendary admirer of the tiger – would have sat cross-legged, but didn’t because he vowed not to mount it until he had defeated the British.

It was discovered during a routine inspection by auctioneers in the late 1990s, having lain in an English castle for at least 100 years and then in a bank vault.

Only two more of the eight finials are known to exist – one is in the Clive Collection in Wales. Another briefly appeared in a London dealer’s catalogue in the 1970s, never to be seen again, Claire Penhallurick of Bonhams Indian and Islamic Department, told IANS Friday.

The finial going under the hammer April 2 belongs to the family of Thomas Wallace, who oversaw the East India Company, whose army defeated Tipu Sultan in the battle of Seringapatnam (Srirangapatnam) May 4, 1799.

Penhallurick said Tipu’s majestic gold throne was broken up and plundered in such a hurry by the victorious British that little is known about the fate of the remaining throne relics, although a large gold tiger head from the front of the throne platform now resides at Queen Elizabeth II’s home in Windsor Castle along with a jewelled bird.

The tiger head, which is encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, had lain at Featherstone Castle in Northumberland before being hidden away in a bank.

“The British, sadly, weren’t very well behaved in Seringapatnam,” Penhallurick said.

“I would have thought a lot of the other finials have come to Britain. Others could have picked them up in India.

“We hope it goes back to India,” she told IANS.

Tipu, who adopted the tiger as the symbol of his power and kingship, became the East India Company’s most feared foe, famously declaring: “I would rather live one day as a tiger than a lifetime as a sheep.”

Penhallurick described the finial as “without a doubt, of the greatest historical significance as it belongs to the most important symbolic object in Tipu Sultan’s kingdom, his throne, which he refused to mount until he had defeated the British.”