Trea­sure hunt

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - HELAINE FENDELMAN AND JOE ROSSON

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 trea­sures@knol­ 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.

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