Vizagapatam Brass Army Toys of 18th CE at the British museum, Can we recover the lost treasures ?

18th CE brass toys, Vizag, India

.18th CE brass elephant toy, Vizag, India

As far as British India is concerned both the East India company's greedy  officials and after 1858 many rapacious officials of the Raj  looted the Indian treasures. Besides, the heads of the princely states for their parts added to the loot. This was done by way of offering gifts to the visiting royals or high officials to prove their loyalty and  allegiance to the British the crown. The over anxious Maharajahs and Nawabs were  keen to save the crown on their head, their royal properties and treasures, besides their trappings of power. When the Prince of Wales visited India between 1875-76 in order to establish good will with the country and the people, he and his wife travelled widely and met with many Maharajahs,  As a matter of courtesy the future king of England got valuable gifts from the Indian rulers Those amazingly beautiful gifted  items are on display at the English palaces. 

 When we hear stories about the Indian historical and heritage items on display at various  British museum, we feel sad that how ignorant we were in the past and had remained mute spectators to let our rich   cultural pasts go forgotten or undiscovered.

set of brass Army toys of Vizagapatam

18th CE brass Army toys of

18th CE brass Army toys of Vizagapatam

Above images:  A brass statuette of an Indian military elephant and driver finely chased and tooled. The elephant wearing a saddle and headdress decorated with roundels and a shield on the forehead. The driver wearing a helmet and sitting in a compartment on the elephants back. The elephant carrying bows, quivers and powder horns.

The figure modelled and cast using the lost-wax process, often used in India to create images of Hindu deities.   Presented to King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, during his tour of India in 1875-76 by G. L. Narsinga Rao, probably whilst the Prince visited Madras in December 1875. 

 After the Price's return to England  his vast collection of gifts from India was on display publicly, the visitors were aghast and taken aback at the myriad varieties of collection. Among the vast items, the brass figures  with their large heads, squat bodies, enormous weapons, and upright bearing got the attention of the people and they were much appreciated for “graphically illustrating the whole gamut of military swagger in man and beast”

The Ashmolean Museum’s collection has included a set of 18th CE brass toys and at that time the town was famous for  its bronze casting. The models, it is said,  represent the troops of the Sultanate of Mysore at the time, which was ruled by Tipu Sultan (1750-1799),

 Some models include a  lancer with a moustache on a frisky horse, a carabineer, a rocket-man with two tall rocket-launchers, and a cavalier with a curved sword. There are also four-foot soldiers, smaller in scale and less elaborately finished.

The Madras Museum, Madras (Chennai) in mid 1800 received  a set of well-made Brass Toy Soldiers from GL Narasinga Row Garu of Vizagapatam, It is said that they were made  in the 18th century near Vizag for the local Raja. The attractive   set of brass toys, upon the death of the Raja, was split and the figures were dispersed to  some places.  GL Narasinga Row family got into possession of it.  Likewise similar types of toy  soldiers are now exhibited at the Oxford Ashmolean Museum, The Victoria & Albert London, The Madras (Chennai) Museum and the Royal Collection at Sandringham.

The main attraction of the army  toy set  is a majestic looking elephant swinging its coiled swirling trunk.   Atop the elephant are  a mahout guiding the elephant and  a howdah with a figure. The elephant wears a saddle cloth adorned with bells and a headband and a necklace with bells. One can notice   the inscription ‘Vizagapatam’ on the saddlecloth and year 1795 on the headband suggesting   historic and cultural link  with Vizag and the  brass arny set.

 Notes from  the Superintendent of the Madras Government Museum Edgar Thurstonpoint out that  Peddapuram, a town about 80 miles south of Vizagapatam  was  the origin of the Toy Soldiers. It was the capital of a large Zamindari estate. 

The local Raja, Timma Jagapathi Rao Bahadur (d. 1797), for security reasons, had  maintained a large army consisting of cavalry and infantry to safeguard his vast estate. On the advice of an Astrologer, Timma Jagapathi  had the figures made and also held a review of the army each day to reduce threats to his life  and created a toy army to improve war strategy. According to the museum records  the artist and craftsmen were  Adimurti and the brothers Virachandracharlu and Viracharlu respectively . The brass army toys were so good and realistic all of the figures were said to have been sold off at the beginning of the 19th century.

18th CE brass Army toys of Vizagapatam

What is special about these brass Army toys of Vizagapatam is each one is made uniformly  by piece moulding.  Modelled and cast by the cire perdue (lost wax) process, it allows  a greater freedom to include a variety of detail and expression. The artisans can  give better finishing and polishing. So, this process is customizable for different types of metal casting, along with shapes, sizes, etc.This method of manufacturing brass figures is still a common practice in India. In the case of western brass toys it is a standard process and there is no room for polishing or customising,  

In 2018, at a London Antique auction, a single Vizagapatam Toy Soldier figure was sold for £3000.