A fine gold bezoar-stone Holder India, 18th Century
Lot 372*
A fine gold bezoar-stone Holder India, probably Gujarat, 18th Century
Sold for £38,400 (US$ 64,543) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
A fine gold bezoar-stone Holder
India, probably Gujarat, 18th Century
comprising two hemispherical sections, each of pierced openwork form with chased detailing, the design consisting of a repeat floral trellis with stylised flowerheads joined by quatrefoil leaf forms, the border of one hemisphere with a band of quatrefoil motif
5.5 cm. diam.; 58 g.


  • Provenance: Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Bowser (1749 - 1833); and by descent to the current owners, a private Canadian family of Scottish origin.

    Bezoar stones are found in the stomachs of ruminants such as lamas, deer, sheep and antelopes, and were said to consist of gallstones and animal hair. The original bezoar stones came from goats found in the mountains of Western Persia. They were introduced to Europe from the Middle East in the 11th Century and they remained popular there until the 18th Century. Its name is actually derived from the Persian word padzhar (pad meaning 'protector' and zhar meaning 'poison'). According to Garcia da Orta, the best ones came from India or Persia; in fact, the word ultimately came to be used to describe the Persian wild goat. An Arabic manuscript, Risalah fi khawass al-panzhar, a treatise on the occult properties of the bezoar stone, dated AH 1067/ AD 1657, can be found in the National Library of Medicine (MS A91, item 5). They were highly-prized for their medicinal qualities, which included being an antidote to poison, a purgative, and even a cure for the plague, in addition to its powers as an amulet. Napoleon Bonaparte, after his final confinement on St Helena, was thought from the analysis of samples of his cranial hair to have been poisoned by arsenic. Legend has it that he had been given bezoar stones, which he promptly threw into the fireplace. Elizabeth I wore rings inset with bezoar stones, as did many rulers of the time.

    The openwork floral decoration can be compared with a silver pandan in the collection of Peter Marks, New York, attributed to Deccan, 17th or 18th Century (Mark Zebrowski, Gold, Silver and Bronze from Mughal India, London, 1997, p. 44, no. 18). Like the present lot, this piece shares a geometric and floral openwork design, reminiscent of Mughal jalis of the period. A variation of this trellis design can also be seen on a brass incense burner also attributed to Deccan in the 17th Century (ibid., p. 155, no. 155a and b); although an attribution to Gujerat in Western India is more likely.

    Four bezoar-stone holders variously silver, silver-gilt and gold, and all with openwork floral grounds can be found in the Hull Grundy Gift at the British Museum, London (Hugh Tait, ed., The Art of the Jeweller. A Catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift to the British Museum, London, 1984, nos. 407-410; and a very fine example in gold was sold through these rooms (Bonhams, Fine Silver and Vertu, 25th July 2003, lot 60).
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