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CNG Islamic Auction 1

Lot nuber 224

INDIA, Princely States. Awadh. temp. Birjis Qadr. AD 1857. AR Rupee (21.7mm, 11.17g, 2h). Struck in the name of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II. Suba Awadh mint. Year 20 = AD 1857.

CNG Islamic Auction 1
Lot: 224.
 Estimated: $ 50 000

India, Silver

Sold For $ 44 000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

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INDIA, Princely States. Awadh. temp. Birjis Qadr. AD 1857. AR Rupee (21.7mm, 11.17g, 2h). Struck in the name of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II. Suba Awadh mint. Year 20 = AD 1857. Obverse: Bahadur Shah Ghazi / Tirazi Siraj-ud-Din / Bazar zad sikka nusrat in three lines. Reverse: Maimanat / julus sanat 2 manus / zarb Suba Awadh in three lines; fish symbol in field. This coin published: Wiggins, K.W. and Sanjay Garg, ‘A Rupee of Suba Awadh in the name of Bahadur Shah Issued in 1857’ and ‘Suba Awadh Coin of Bahadur Shah: Further Note’, Numismatic Digest vols. X (1986), pp. 89-93 and XI (1987), pp. 123-6 . Choice EF. Apparently unique.

Ex Ken Wiggins Collection (Baldwin’s Auctions Ltd Auction 25, 8 May 2001,) lot 53.

Birjis Qadr was born on 20 August 1845.  His father, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, became King of Awadh in February 1847, inheriting a kingdom which was already in decline.  Under the terms of a treaty signed with the British East India Company in 1801, Awadh had ceded half of her territory to the Company while also agreeing to disband her own army, undertaking instead to pay for the maintenance of the British-run army of the Bengal Presidency.  These terms effectively made the Nawabs of Awadh vassals of the British East India Company, and Awadh became a British protectorate in 1816.  However, Awadh remained nominally part of the Mughal Empire until 1818 when, at the instigation of Lord Hastings, Nawab Ghazi ud-Din Haidar declared his independence from Mughal sovereignty and assumed the title of Shah.

The coinage of Awadh reflects these changes: coins struck at Lucknow until 1819 name the Mughal emperor only, while issues from 1819 onwards were struck in the name of Ghazi ud-Din Haidar Shah. By the 1850s, the British saw little need to maintain a nominally independent Awadh as a buffer against the Mughal Empire, and the British East India Company became increasingly keen to assume direct control of this rich and important state. A report published by the British Resident at Lucknow, General William Sleeman, described ‘maladministration’ and ‘lawlessness’ there, and under the terms of the prevailing treaties between Awadh and the British East India Company, the latter was entitled to assume management of the state should the King be incapable of ruling effectively.  It was this proviso which the Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, used to justify his decision to depose Wajid ‘Ali Shah on 7 February 1856.  Modern scholarship paints a more nuanced picture of Wajid ‘Ali Shah, who was certainly more than the ‘fool of a king’ described by Sleeman, but his strengths and interests lay in the arts, of which he was a great patron, rather than being inclined to statecraft. The deposed Wajid ‘Ali Shah left Lucknow in 1856, travelling to Calcutta via Kanpur.

Dalhousie’s annexation of Awadh fed into the prevailing sense of resentment against British rule which culminated in the outbreak of the Indian Rebellion in May 1857.  The rebels quickly captured Delhi and on 12 May went to the elderly Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah, whom the British had kept in Delhi Fort as a pensioner of the East India Company, calling for him to acknowledge and lead them.  At first, Bahadur Shah prevaricated, but he soon accepted that he had little choice but to throw in his lot with the rebels, and duly accepted their allegiance.

In Awadh itself, patriotic resentment against the British was particularly strong in the aftermath of the state’s annexation in 1856.  Lucknow was soon occupied by the rebels, with the exception of the British Residency, where the British community and their supporters held out for more than six months.  With the recently-deposed Wahid ‘Ali Shah now in Calcutta, the leaders of the rebellion in Awadh turned to his eleven year-old son, Birjis Qadr, whom they installed as their nominal leader under the regency of his mother, Begum Hazrat Mahal.  Because the rulers of Awadh had traditionally acknowledged Mughal overlordship until Lord Hastings’ intervention in 1818, a delegation was sent from Lucknow to Delhi to seek Bahadur Shah’s confirmation of Birjis Qadr as the new Nawab of Awadh.  According to the statement given by Hakim Ahsanullah, personal physician to Bahadur Shah and who served as his chief minister during the Rebellion, a deputation of one hundred cavalry led by Risaldar Qudratullah Khan duly brought a petition from Awadh to Delhi, and was admitted into Bahadur Shah’s presence.

Wiggins and Garg (pp. 124-5) preserve a report by Gauri Shankar, a British spy in Delhi, which not only describes Qudratullah Khan’s arrival at Bahadur Shah’s court, but even records the part of the content of the petition itself:

‘A petition of Qudratullah, son of Masru Khan, Risaldar, Lucknow, was received and presented before the King, the contents of which are as follows: “A son of Wajid ‘Ali Shah has been raised to the masnad (throne) of Lucknow on the condition that you may approve the arrangement and issue the coin struck in the name of your Majesty. The coin couplet is as follows: Bazar zad sikka nusarat tirazi / Siraj-ud-din Bahadur Shah Ghazi.”

It appears that a specimen of this coin, which Wiggins and Garg assumed to have been struck in gold, was presented to Bahadur Shah along with the petition.  Hakim Ahsanullah subsequently stated that this piece was later given to the Commissioner of Delhi; if it was preserved in the aftermath of the Rebellion, its current whereabouts are unknown.

Bahadur Shah accordingly gave his approval to the design, which Wiggins and Garg assert ‘would have been introduced on the following New Year’s Day had not other events intervened.’  These ‘other events’ included the recapture by the British of both Delhi (September 1857) and Lucknow (March 1858).  That these coins were clearly so important to the delegation which sought Bahadur Shah’s confirmation of Birjis Qadr as Nawab of Awadh is a remarkable expression of the enduring power of the right of sikka: the formal expression of sovereignty through the right to be named on the Islamic precious metal coinage, which the Mughal emperors had held for centuries. Wiggins and Garg conclude that ‘the coin that was presented to the King was the same as ours, save that the metal was gold while ours is silver,’ and plausibly suggest that this piece represents a trial striking.  As such, it is of considerable historical importance as a physical expression of the assertion of Indian sovereignty during the great events of the Rebellion of 1857. 

The final winners of all CNG Islamic Auction 1 lots will be determined at the live online sale that will be held on 25 May 2022, beginning at 10:00 AM ET.

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