Linked to the forthcoming ‘Splendours of the Subcontinent’ exhibition opening later this year at Cartwright Hall, this blog post has been written by Simon D Metcalf, The Queen’s Armourer with the Royal Collection Trust.
In preparation for the new exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent the objects have been undergoing conservation to ensure they are in the best possible condition for display. As well as being beautifully ornate and richly decorated with gold, enamel and gemstones, many of the gifts given to the Prince of Wales during his tour of India have surprising hidden functions.
The gold walking stick, decorated with a makara (a mythological sea creature) head conceals its true function with its decoration – it is also a gun. When dismantled for cleaning the mechanics of the gun can be seen; the tip conceals a ramrod, the stick unscrews from the head to reveal a barrel and percussion mechanism, and the head contains a spring loaded hammer and pop out trigger.
Also undergoing conservation ahead of Splendours of the Subcontinent are two punch daggers, also known as katars. The first, possibly presented to the Prince of Wales by Ram Singh, Maharao of Bundi has two tiny flintlock pistols on the sides of the grip, making it multifunctional as a dagger and a gun. The second katar also has more to it than first meets the eye – when the cross-bar is squeezed the blade splits into three separate sections.
During conservation both punch daggers have been carefully dismantled, cleaned with a solvent to remove grease and dirt, and had any corrosion removed by careful mechanical cleaning The gold has been very lightly polished before being coated with a protective microcrystalline wax.