This Old Thing: The mystery of this stamp continues

Q This brass gadget has been a mystery for most of my life. I got it from a friend who was working with “some old bones” at an Ontario university in the late 1960s. kind of seal. It measures 5.5 centimeters long x 2.5 cm wide by 3 cm high (2.1 x 1 x 1.2 inches). The pattern on the bottom looks like ribs, heart and gut and the whorls contain matter. The crescent on top resembles the Turkish/Middle Eastern symbols used on countless mosques. Any information would be appreciated.

A. You have a stamp and it most likely comes from the Middle East. But its exact original use is still unclear. I contacted Peter Kaellgren, Curator of European Decorative Arts at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, for help. He led a team of colleagues with deep and varied expertise.

The science team has determined that your “internist” pattern is actually a stylized peacock feather. Topped with an oval “eye”, the feathery filaments connect to the side border of circles or beads. Peacocks live outdoors and in the wild in India and are associated with the Hindu deity Krishna and appear in related iconography. They would also be known in the Ottoman Empire, which controlled the Middle East until almost 1920. Many products were made in Europe for these regions, including Persia (now Iran). It follows that the use of your stamp on the Indian subcontinent is quite possible and that British India could have been the target market.

The stamp from below

The supporting struts, arched across the back of the stamp, are ornamental intertwined blades of grass or bulrush leaves. These relate to the era of Victorian Naturalism, beginning around 1850, as well as Art Nouveau which evolved later, extending to around 1920. Probably made between these dates, the decorative appearance of the stamp implies use as a small personal object rather than a simple and functional one. tool used for factory or large workshop production. The open-topped crescent-shaped ring is not related to Turkish or Islamic culture, but either lacks a wooden handle or is intended to be paired with an accessory.

Competent French and Belgian foundries at the time had the technology to produce this quality of cast iron. The metal appears to be European brass or a bronze alloy, as opposed to Indian-made types, which testing would confirm.

A side view

If the printing on paper, textile or metal and even the embossing of leather for binding have been mentioned, the stamp does not correspond structurally to the blocks and stencils used for these purposes. The edges would be perfectly flat and clean.

A clue to its last intended or original use is the residue, implying a more auspicious use of pressing this pad into a soft material. Once applied, the design could prove ownership, act as a trademark or simply provide traditional decoration.

The residue could provide a valuable clue. The wax would suggest seals on the envelopes; ceramic mixtures would suggest ornamental figurines. Pastry dough for baked goods or candy mixes for confectionery are often stamped. Even henna – a powdered form of the leaves used for dyeing and ensuing ceremonies – is a possibility. An extreme property-marking practice is with swabs of cattle dung – fuel for cooking fires in India – often seen drying on the roofs of modest country houses. A more palatable example is bread dough for flatbreads scored before baking – produced in the Indian subcontinent and Pakistan, where individuals share communal ovens. But the residue could turn out to be just accumulated dust and dirt.

Although the purpose of this stamp has not been determined with certainty, its era and “playground” location have certainly been restricted. Thoughts are welcome.

Many thanks to Peter Kaellgren and his Rapid Action Team, consisting of Deepali Dewan – the Dan Mishra Senior Curator of South Asian Art and Culture; Sarah Fee, Senior Curator, Global Fashion and Textiles from Africa and Asia; Fahmida Suleman, Senior Curator of Islamic Art and Culture; and Anu Liivandi, Assistant Curator of Textiles and Fashion.

John Sewell is an appraiser of antiques and works of art. To submit an article to his column, go to the ‘Contact John’ page at Please measure your part, say when and how you got it, what you paid for, and list all identifying marks. A high resolution jpeg photo must also be included. (Only email submissions are accepted.) *Assessment values ​​are estimates only.*

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