Press Release

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400 pages, 304 x 254 mm, over 850 colour and 150 black and white illustrations
Hardback £85, Leather-bound deluxe edition £595 (limited edition of 50)
ISBN 978-0-9926315-0-5

Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour is rightly subtitled A Lifetime’s Passion. Robert Hales bought his first antique weapon in Kabul in 1966 when, at the age of 21, he travelled overland to Nepal through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan through India to Kathmandu, where he also acquired antiques from Tibetan refugees. By the time he returned to London, travelling south through Baluchistan, Southern Iran and on to the Middle East, Jerusalem and Petra, his course was set. The passion for antique arms took over Hales’ life and he became a highly respected dealer with a gallery in London for 27 years. He continued to travel widely, from Morocco to Egypt and later to the Far East where he began a love affair with Indonesia and for the kris (an asymmetrical dagger with a distinctive wavy blade).

A recognised authority, Hales’ forthcoming publication Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour is the first to document the range and breadth of this extraordinary field and is enthusiastically welcomed. Donald J. LaRocca, Curator, Department of Arms and Armour at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, said: “Every collector, dealer, and curator will want to have this book and will consult it again and again”. Such a comprehensive reference work has not been published since George Cameron Stone’s A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: in All Countries and in All Times in 1934.

The book is divided into four sections: daggers; swords; firearms; and armour, with the occasional transgression and a useful glossary of terms. It contains weapons from a vast area and includes a wide range of styles. Many were never used in anger but were primarily worn to show the wealth and status of the owner. The skilled master craftsman from the court workshop, with access to the most expensive and precious materials, inevitably produced some of the most exquisite examples of Islamic and Oriental art. Hales kept a photographic record of many of the weapons that passed through his hands, resulting in a rich and extensive archive. As Thom Richardson, Royal Armouries’ Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections, Leeds, says: “As a source of images of the finest Asian weapons, this book is unrivalled and will be an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the subject in the future”.

Over forty years of experience and scholarship has been invested in Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime’s Passion. As his life-long friend and fellow-enthusiast for antique weapons, Jonathan Barrett, says in his foreword: “Bob was fortunate to have been active during a period of relatively plentiful supply; a time that we are unlikely to see again”.

Daggers, which can be objects of great beauty, form the largest category in the book. The subtle elegance of the sinuous khanjarli, the chiselled steel peshkabz and the all-steel Indian dagger contrast with the richly decorated jewel-encrusted examples. A few were made with jade hilts that were popular in Turkey, Iran and particularly in Mughal India, and many of the finest examples were inlaid with precious stones while others were beautifully carved with animal-head pommels, often taking months or even years to complete. Novelty weapons with little or no practical use were produced and concealed daggers are another interesting group. Some weapons are also notable for the magical properties ascribed to them, for example the Burmese dha and the Indonesian kris. Ivory dha hilts are elaborately carved with demonic figures and animals conferring protection upon the owner. The kris differs greatly from other forms of dagger, with multi-layered pamor blades and hilts which were usually intricately carved. They were frequently family heirlooms thought to possess special powers, and believed to bring good fortune in trade, love or war.

Early Islamic swords invariably had straight blades, a style that persists today in most of Oman and the Yemen, the Sudan, Tibet and Southern India. The curved sabre blade developed later as a more effective cutting weapon when used by a mounted warrior. The most common example is the shamshir, found across the Ottoman Empire, Iran and through to India. These were worn suspended with the concave side upwards and were drawn underarm, unlike the Russian shasqua which was suspended with the convex side uppermost and was drawn overarm. Other swords developed for specific purposes include the cutlass with its short curved blade, mainly designed for use on board ship in a confined space. This contrasts with the long and heavy Indian firangi and khanda which have straight blades. However, in some peaceful and stable regions such as Sri Lanka, swords evolved into status symbols. Swords of high value, often elaborately decorated, were used as presentation pieces and diplomatic gifts such as the gem-set Turkish kilij with an inlaid jade hilt reputedly presented to Tsar Nicholas II by the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Another example is the Indian sword presented by Lord Hardinge (Governor-General of India) to the brilliant Admiral FitzRoy who, as a young man aged 26, commanded HMSBeagle during Darwin’s famous voyage. 

Guns were first introduced into Turkey from Europe during the 16th century. The simple matchlock gun spread along the coastal regions of Asia largely due to the activities of the seafaring Portuguese, extending as far as Malaysia and Japan and remained virtually unchanged from the Portuguese 16th-century prototype until the 19th century. In the Indian subcontinent, matchlocks were used well into the 19th century. Pistols and long guns with miquelet locks (a type of flintlock) spread throughout the Ottoman Empire from the middle of the 17th century and remained largely unchanged for over two hundred years. Combination weapons were produced in Turkey such as the double-barrelled flintlock pistol fitted with a silver dagger handle containing a concealed stiletto blade. From the mid 18th until the early 19th centuries, a series of highly decorated silver- and coral-mounted guns and pistols were made in Algeria under Ottoman rule. Some were presented as diplomatic gifts mostly by the Deys (rulers) and Beys (governors) of Algiers, frequently seen as a base for piracy and the slave trade, including one given to George Washington. Several were presented to the British Royal Family and are now in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. The apogee of Ottoman gun-making occurred in the 18th century, when the most ornate guns of the highest quality were produced. The guns that belonged to the great Indian hero Tipu Sultan are particularly evocative. After several successful engagements against the British he was finally killed at Seringapatam in 1799. His emblem was the tiger and its stripes (bubris), which decorate most of his firearms; the finest gun owned by him is one of the great works illustrated in this handsome publication.

Oriental armour differs greatly from its European counterpart. In a hot climate lighter mail and fabric were more suitable than heavier plate armour, although metal was used to make body plates, arm guards and helmets. The earliest mail shirts were made from lines of riveted links, sometimes with additional solid links to provide greater strength. Later mail had butted links, often with attractive patterns formed by the contrasting links of brass or copper against the steel. During the 18th and 19th centuries the decorative hazar-mukhi (‘thousand nail’) technique, whereby tiny copper pins with gilt heads were used in decorative patterns to secure fabric, usually velvet, on armour or shields, was predominantly employed in Rajasthan and other regions of India. This technique dates back to an earlier period and was used in Turkey, Iran and Egypt. In the Philippines, the Moros made armour from brass or buffalo horn plates held together by heavy brass butted links. The most extraordinary survivals are the 800-year-old re-curved bows, leather armour and mangonel sling from the period of the great Muslim warrior Salah al-Din. Shields made from spirals of withies (usually willow or fig) or cane, bound with silk, wool or rattan, were used from Turkey to India from the 15th to 17th centuries. Dome-shaped examples carried by Scythian guardsmen of the Persian kings 2,300 years ago can still be seen on the great staircase at Persepolis, and in Tibet and Bhutan they were still made and used up until the 19th century.