Place of Origin: Southern Arabia
Of extremely high quality, this matchlock musket shows characteristics associated with Southern Arabia and rivals a similar one believed to be in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1). The Museum’s example was presented to King George V in 1911 by the Abdeli Sultan of Lahej, while another in the Royal Collection was presented by Sultan Hessen in 1811 (2).
The breech of this musket is covered in panels of decorative silver, two having Arabic inscriptions:
مك (مالك؟) احمد صالح الاسطح (؟) / ربيع آخر (كذا) سنة ١٣٠٢
“Owner (?), Ahmad Salih al-Astah (?). Rabi‘ Akhar [sic] year 1302 (January–February 1885).”
This style of matchlock is sometimes described as Indo-Arabian due to the large, rounded butt which South-Indian (Coorg) muskets adopted due to the influence of many centuries of trade with Arabic merchants visiting the Malabar Coast. Our example’s butt is actually a separate piece of wood, attached to the stock and beautifully inlaid with rows of triangular and disc-shaped mother-of-pearl. The stock is also profusely inlaid, this time with silver shapes of varying sizes and designs, while the forend is embellished with alternating brass and mother-of-pearl discs. The twisted Damascus barrel is octagonal in shape and secured to the stock with ornate barrel bands. Two belt rings with a double silver rope can be seen: an extremely rare feature. The matchlock’s ignition mechanism is still operational, the flash pan still has its pivoting rain-cover and the original silver-tipped ramrod remains concealed in its place beneath the barrel.
To fire the gun the barrel was first loaded with gunpowder and a lead ball was rammed tightly on top using a ramrod. The pan was then primed with gunpowder. Next, a match (a thin rope previously soaked with saltpetre, then dried) was placed in the match holder. The end of this match was lit, which then smouldered until it was lowered into the pan by squeezing the trigger. The match then lit the priming charge, which in turn ignited the main charge situated in the breech via the touch hole. As the gunpowder burned instantly (exploded) a huge volume of gas was produced which fired the lead ball from the barrel.
Provenance: European Art market.
(1) Elgood, The Arms and Armour of Arabia, 1994, p.42, no’s 4.6-4.8.