Cornucopia Issue 12 Volume 2 1997, John Carswell

Ottoman Silver Marks By Garo Kurkman Mathusalem Publications

Istanbul, 1996

Yet again, a major publication concerned with Turkish art and history comes from the pen of a gifted and diligent amateur. Garo Kurkman is an engineer by profession, yet his passion and enthusiasm for Ottoman silver marks have produced a text and reference work for which all who are interested in Ottoman art will be indebred.

His exhaustive study is based on the evolution of the tugra, the royal cipher used both on documents and coinage, which changes with each reign to incorporate the name of the sultan. The earliest written example is on a ferman dated 724H/324AD, bearing the name of Orhan b. Osman, an Ottoman warlord. This is followed by several incorporating various benedictory phrases such as han, muzaffer, el-muzaffer daima, sah (khan, victorious, ever victorious, shah). A continuous series of imperial tugras then runs from Mehmet the Conqueror right up till 1922 and the birth of the republic.

Used on objects, particularly silver, they are an invaluable source of information for the specific dating of works of art. On coinage, the earliest tugra indentified is that of the Emir Suleyman from 806H/AD1403. Tugras also appear on weights.

Following on the classic analysis of individual tugras by Suha Umur, Osmanli Padisah Tugralari, Kurkman described clearly the various elements of each cipher and includes a chart of his own drawing of each variant. One might regret the absence of analytical drawings for the different marks, but as these are found in Umur’s book and elsewhere, the author perhaps decided to confine his illustrations to unfamiliar material. Here he scores, for this handsomely printed and designed volume illustrates all the points he discusses with detailed photographs of actual specimens. He has an interesting chapter on fake tugras, to help authenticate suspect objects on the art market, and he also points out a number of published misattributions, notably a magnificent silver-gilt bowl which surfaced at Sotheby’s London in 1990 and whose tugra was read as that of Price Alamsah, son of Bayezid II, whereas it is in fact that of Selim I, his younger brother.

Tugras were not confined to Ottoman silver. Foreign silver had to be stamped to give it validity, particularly intriguing is the existence of Maria Theresa thalers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century over stamped in this manner. In turn, Ottoman silver, when exported, was counter stamped with foreign silver  marks. As for the craftsmen, there are detailed charts of maker’s marks, in Armenian script, and town marks, which give some idea of the wide distribution of silversmiths throughout Anatolia and into Syria.

An appendix reproduces in facsimile a number of documents concerned with the royal mint and the trade in silver, and legislation concerning the surrender of silver to the mint in 1788=90 to cover the costs of war. There is also a useful biography and index which complete a work of great value to scholars and collectors alike.

By John Carswell