DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: This beautiful cannon came into my family as part of a “gun trade” by my father-in-law more than 40 years ago. The person who originally owned it said it was a gift from Pakistan to visiting dignitaries. Is that possible? I am more interested in its history than its monetary value. I believe it is made from solid brass (it is very heavy). The carriage is black wood with brass and silver decoration. There is a brass plate that reads “Zamzama” and “Scale 1 inch equals 1.25 feet, Ordnance Depot Lahore Cantt.” The base is 20 inches by 14 inches.
— D. and I. W. DEAR D. AND I. W.: This is far outside our areas of expertise, but when we got this letter we felt challenged and decided to try and provide some sort of answer. To our collective surprise, we found the answer readily available. The end of the string was the word “Zamzama.”
Zamzama, which means “murmur” or “pealing thunder” in Persian, was cast in 1762 in Lahore, Pakistan, by Shah Nazir, a metalsmith for the Mughal viceroy Muin-ul-Mulk. In real life, the weapon of war is a little over 14 feet long and has a bore (barrel aperture) of 9 inches.
The original was reportedly cast from an alloy of copper and brass. But since brass is made from copper and zinc, the actual metal composition could be closer to bronze: copper alloyed with tin. This, of course, is speculation on our part, but it is said that the people of Lahore funded the making of the cannon and donated their kitchen utensils to help the project.
The cannon is decorated with floral designs plus the names of the monarch and the craftsmen who did the work. On the barrel, Zamzama is called “The Taker of Strongholds” and one inscription in Persian translates as, “A destroyer even of the strongholds of the heaven.” One Persian inscription on the original cannon also calls it “… a mighty fire dispensing dragon.”
Zamzama went into battle in 1762 and was captured. It was passed around for a time, but in the early 19th century (circa 1802) it was used by Ranjit Singh in various battles until it was badly damaged and retired at the siege of Multan (now the fifth most populous city in Pakistan). The cannon was taken back to Lahore (now capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province) and placed at the Delhi Gate until 1860.
Currently, Zamzama can be found in Lahore near the Punjab University and the Lahore Museum. Zamzama is also known as “Kim’s Gun,” because Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim opens with the
protagonist straddling the cannon’s barrel. In addition, Zamzama is also known as “Bhangianwala Toap.”
The model of this famous cannon owned by D. and I. W. was reportedly made from bronze and wood in India. The phrase “Lahore Cantt” refers to the Lahore Cantonment, which is an elite area of Lahore established by the British in the mid-19th century. We have found some indication that the cannon can be fired, but we adamantly do not recommend that anyone try.
This Zamzama model is just a desk or shelf ornament suitable for a home, and a souvenir from the city of Lahore. A similar cannon sold at auction in 2015 for $450, but today, prices for this sort of thing are down a bit.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. If you have an item you’d like to know more about, contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, Tenn. 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for this column, please include a high-resolution photo of the item.
This beautifully made piece was probably a souvenir from the city of Lahore, Pakistan.