In the museum collection there is a varied assortment of ancient and modern metal work in steel, brass and copper. The steel and brass work is mostly from Isfahan, and the copper work(qalamzani) almost exclusively from Kashan.
Among the specimens of steel work one of the most remarkable is perhaps the dervish’s conch made in one piece and beautifully ornamented with engraving and inlaid gold.
This specimen, which is not more than ten or twelve years old, shows that the art in working in damascened steel still attains a high degree of perfection in Persia. Among the older specimens in the museum maybe noticed a brassard the workmanship of which is remarkably fine.
Almost all the arms and other articles in steel (it may be remarked) are damascened, the value of the result depending on the grain and temper of the metal. The most famous damascened steels were those of Isfahan, Khorasan, Qazvin, and Shiraz, at which last places sword blades were chiefly made.
The true damascene is made of a particular kind of iron. After the object is forged it is placed for six or eight days in the furnace of a hot bath, where the greatest attention has to be paid to the even heating of the article. The bath is heated with the dried dung of cows and other animals, which gives a steady and not very intense heat, and is supposed to contain the salts necessary for the formation of true damascene.
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When the article is taken out of the furnace it is left at the temper it has therein acquired. It is then finished and polished. To bring out the grain a certain mineral (of which a specimen may be seen in the museum) is then applied in the following manner. About three parts of the mineral are dissolved in ten of water, over a slow fire in an earthenware or leaden vessel. The object is then slightly heated and a little of the liquid applied with a cotton wad, after which it is washed in cold water. If the damascene does not appear sufficiently the operation is repeated. The object must be thoroughly cleaned and polished before the mineral is applied.
Many of the arms and other metals are variously ornamented with gold and silver, which there are several methods of applying. Incrustation, the most perfect method, is done by cutting channels in the metal into which the gold or silver wire is then hammered. By another method the gold and silver is applied in the form of very fine wire by hammering it on the surface of the article previously slightly scratched to make it hold, the operation being completed by burnishing. The third method is simply gilding with gold leaf which is fixed to the surface of the metal by rubbing and burnishing with an agate or other hard stone. The first of the above methods is seen in almost all the ancient articles, but is now very little practiced. The second and third are still employed.
The most remarkable ornamentation of Persian metal work(qalamzani) however is the carving and engraving, the finest of which, now rather rare, is in relief Good examples of it however may be seen in some of the old arms and armor in the museum collection.
Of brass work there are specimens in the museum of all ages from soon after the Arab conquest until the present day. The oldest article is probably the large mortar with Arabesque carving and Kufic inscriptions found in the ruins of Ray (Rhages). It cannot therefore be less than 600 years old and is probably much more.
A pair of engraved bowls with Kufic inscriptions inlaid in silver are probably of not much later date. The faces of the figures, it will be remarked, are left blank in obedience to the prohibition of graven images, a prohibition which by the way does not appear to have been long respected by the Persians. In the later examples of brass work the prevailing style of ornament consists in minute engravings representing figures of men, animals, and monsters, interlaced with scroll patterns and borders of very various devices, many of which are highly artistic. In the more modern specimens, the engraving is often h jour in addition to ordinary engraving on the surface.
Among the specimens of brass work the following may be specially mentioned. The round flat cups of which there are three in the collection are of a peculiar kind of bronze. From the style of ornament and the kind of writing in the inscriptions, they must belong to the time of the Abbasid khalifs. Some of these cups bear an inscription in small Kufic letters intermixed with another inscription in large characters. Some of them have well executed designs incrusted in gold and silver. The metal seems to contain a certain quantity of gold or silver in its composition thereby imparting to it a peculiar color and giving it a pleasanter sound than ordinary bronze. These cups were probably used in the bath. The fact that some of them have engravings of fishes would, seem to imply that they were meant to hold water. They now serve only for ornament in grocers’ shops, etc.
Bronze ewers and basins are much used for ordinary ablutions, and especially for washing the hands before and after meals. The water is poured over the hands by an attendant and disappears under the perforated cover of the basin.
Two ancient astrolabes ; one of which, the more modern of the two, has the date A.H. 1074. Some ancient astrolabes bearing the names of renowned makers, such as Abdul Ameh , still exist in Persia and are valued at the most extravagant prices.
The work in copper resembles that in brass, although the engraving of some of the best specimens is perhaps somewhat finer. The metal it will be seen is tinned.
At Bonat a large village in Fars, stirrups, bits, etc. of steel are made, many of which are ornamented with engraving or inlaying. The inhabitants of Kerrind near the Turkish frontier are skillful workers in iron and steel as applied to firearms.
The Kalians or water tobacco pipes of which there are several in the museum are now so well known in Europe, as hardly to require description. The Kalian consists of the head into which the tobacco slightly moistened is placed under pieces of live charcoal, which are prevented from falling off by the movable top or guard of a long wooden stem (usually carved and turned) of the. bottle containing the water into which the end of the stem descends : and lastly of the mouthpiece or tube which is inserted into the bottle above the water. The mouthpiece has generally a silver end which is often ornamented with precious stones. The bottles nowadays are usually of glass, but are also, especially in the south of Persia, not uncommonly of carved and otherwise ornamented cocoa-nut shells, in which case the pipe is called Narghileh from Narghil a cocoa nut. The heads are made of stone or earthenware, and those of rich men of silver, gold, steel etc., and are not unfrequently of great value.
The tobacco smoked in the Kalian is of a particular kind, called Tombaku and grows only in Persia, whence a large quantity is annually exported to Turkey. The best quality is produced in the neighborhood of Shiraz in a district where the soil contains a large admixture of saltpetre.
The large flat metal spoon bears the name of Shah Suleiman, a Safavian king who lived in 1666, to whom it probably belonged. The small octagonal boxes are worn as talisman bracelets on the upper part of the arm and contain small Korans of the same form.
The small damascened steel bells with indented edges date from the time of the Safavian dynasty as Chardin says in chap. X, when describing the magnificence of the Persian court : “The king walks alone, surrounded by 8 or 10 very active footmen with plumes or aigrettes on the front of their heads and with grelots on their belts about the size of tennis balls . . . These grelots serve to keep the footmen always well awake: the body of the grelot is cut like the teeth of a comb, thereby emitting a harsh sound.”
The small metal instrument with the wheel probably belonged to Shah Abbas the great (A.D. 1587), as it bears his name in gilt letters.
The metal talismans are very old. The Persians have still great faith in talismans, which exist in the country in every variety of form and material, iron, brass, silver, gold ; stones such as agate, carnelian, jasper ; cloth, paper, etc.
The astrologer’s dice are used for fortune telling etc., the answers depending on calculations made from the points thrown.
Large chains like the museum specimen are suspended in the doorways of mosques, tombs of saints, etc.