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Old 30th October 2017, 10:00 AM   #1
F. de Luzon
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Default Keris with Ivory, Silver and Horn

Hello! This is my keris. The blade is 31 cm long and 1.5 cm wide at the center. The hilt is some kind of ivory, the hilt cup and pendok are made of silver, and the sampir and buntut are made of horn. Is it Sumatran? Also, is it possible to tell its age based on the features?

According to the dealer, it was likely brought to the US at the turn of the 20th century.

Your insights would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Kind regards,

Fernando
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Last edited by F. de Luzon : 30th October 2017 at 01:20 PM. Reason: Added dimensions, clarity
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Old 30th October 2017, 01:43 PM   #2
kai
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Hello Fernando,

Quote:
Is it Sumatran? Also, is it possible to tell its age based on the features?
<snip>
According to the dealer, it was likely brought to the US at the turn of the 20th century.

Any more concrete evidence on its provenance in the US?
It's always tough to evaluate bits of info given by (many) dealers...


Quote:
The blade is 31 cm long and 1.5 cm wide at the centre

This Bangkinang blade does look Sumatran, indeed. It has lost too many details to allow for a more critical appraisal though. If it has been cared for in a western collection for over 100 years, the blade could easily be from the 18th century; blades that came out of Indonesia more recently, can exhibit similar erosion and be much younger (including artificially aged new blades).


Quote:
The hilt is some kind of ivory

The hilt clearly is from Hippo ivory. The style is typical for south(west)ern Sulawesi ("Bugis"); it is also not rarely found with keris from several Sumatran regions. I know of no data whether these got crafted locally or traded from Sulawesi - probably a moot point with so many Bugis/Makassar expats and traders living there and heavily influencing the whole region.


Quote:
the hilt cup and pendok are made of silver

Both appear to be too wide: The pendokok/selut clearly is too large and was not crafted for this hilt; IMHO it also covers too much of the bungkul (rounded base of the hilt). An easy fix would be to ask a silversmith to turn the plain rim over (to the inside - this will make the rim less tall and diameter more narrow). It might be a shame to change a genuine pendokok if it really was antique; however, it does not appear to be a high-end example. The ensemble would look much better IMVHO...

In a similar vein, the upper part of the pendok appears to have a too wide opening for the base of the sampir and both probably were not crafted to suit each other.


Quote:
the sampir and buntut are made of horn

I've seen similar buntut examples from the region. The sampir seems to have some age which could be consistent with it being antique; not surprisingly, it seems to be considerably younger than the blade. The fit is not terribly good - can you discern any hints that it wasn't made for this blade (wear, movement, etc.)?


I'm not convinced that this whole ensemble is original - however, keris bits and pieces have been swapped around for ages, especially on Sumatra with its many neighbouring cultures. Anyway, with a little effort, it probably can gain an even nicer look though!

Regards,
Kai
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Old 30th October 2017, 05:54 PM   #3
F. de Luzon
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Thank you for your insights, Kai!

The sampir is currently detached which may account for the poor fit of the pendok in the picture. Also, the sampir seems to have been made for the keris for it follows the profile of the ganja and there is no movement when sheathed.

I'll put a little Elmer's glue on the sampir and post pictures soon.

Kind regards,

Fernando

Btw, I had the same impression of the pendokok when I saw it in pictures however, it really looks so much better in person.
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Old 30th October 2017, 06:54 PM   #4
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I mostly agree with Kai on his assessment here. I think that you are probably right about the sarong having a better look once you have re-glued it together.
The blade seems to be at least 19th century and could very well be older.
As for the pendokok, while it might appear to be of a better quality in person it is still too large for this particular hilt and looks a bit odd. I would not, however, have a silversmith mess with it. Better, i believe, to simply find a new silver pendokok of good quality that fits properly.
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Old 30th October 2017, 11:29 PM   #5
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All collectors love perfection.

I think that is probably a reasonably correct comment. It doesn't only apply to keris, nor only to edged weapons in general, but to all sorts of collectables --- coins, sea shells, paper weights --- and so on.

But in the case of keris, I am not at all certain that perfection of fit and finish is really a desirable objective. Many years ago I used to be certain that every keris should be a perfect example of fit & finish, and that art should shine through at all costs.

Maybe sometimes this might be desirable. Maybe. But many years of close observation of keris wear and use in keris bearing societies has tended to modify the obsessions of my early collecting years so that I now feel that if a complete keris has been a coherent entity for a reasonably long period of time, it is probably a more sympathetic approach to leave as found and not impose my ideas upon the ideas of previous owners.

Of course, this approach should not be maintained where a keris is found in less than acceptable condition, the first consideration should always be for long term conservation.
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Old 31st October 2017, 02:18 PM   #6
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Hello Alan,

Quote:
All collectors love perfection.

I think that is probably a reasonably correct comment. It doesn't only apply to keris, nor only to edged weapons in general, but to all sorts of collectables --- coins, sea shells, paper weights --- and so on.

But in the case of keris, I am not at all certain that perfection of fit and finish is really a desirable objective. Many years ago I used to be certain that every keris should be a perfect example of fit & finish, and that art should shine through at all costs.

Maybe sometimes this might be desirable. Maybe. But many years of close observation of keris wear and use in keris bearing societies has tended to modify the obsessions of my early collecting years so that I now feel that if a complete keris has been a coherent entity for a reasonably long period of time, it is probably a more sympathetic approach to leave as found and not impose my ideas upon the ideas of previous owners.

Thanks Alan, for emphasising the museum approach!

I agree that keris which have a high chance to represent honest examples of what traditional owners carried in the 19th century or earlier should not be messed with nor "improved" cosmetically unless longterm conservation is compromised! Sorrily, keris in this category are getting fewer and fewer every day due to well-intentioned "upgrading," matters of taste, or mere marketing tricks.

I was hoping for some background info on provenance and agree that this keris should be kept intact if it can be verified (or, at least, made plausible) that this ensemble is antique (or close)...


OTOH, if the pendokok can be shown to be recent (like post-independence), I'd have no qualms to modify (or change) it: At the lower end of quality there may be an endless mix'n'match approach without hope for any traditional rules. However, status pieces usually conform to local aesthetics. I'm sure you can think of keris Jawa assembled from perfectly legitimate parts which would be considered to be an eye sore and unacceptable to wear in public (possibly a Solo ukiran with Yogya wronko or vice versa). I believe this pendokok to belong to a similar category and, thus, would consider exchanging it unless reasonable provenance can be established. If opting for changing it, the current one should still be kept with the keris for future reference, indeed!

Regards,
Kai
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Old 31st October 2017, 01:39 PM   #7
kai
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Hello David,

Quote:
As for the pendokok, while it might appear to be of a better quality in person it is still too large for this particular hilt and looks a bit odd. I would not, however, have a silversmith mess with it. Better, i believe, to simply find a new silver pendokok of good quality that fits properly.

Antique quality pendokok from silver are tough to find! It may be a better strategy to opt for a brass/bronze pendokok of generic Bugis style - should be much easier to find in the correct size...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 31st October 2017, 02:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
Hello David,


Antique quality pendokok from silver are tough to find! It may be a better strategy to opt for a brass/bronze pendokok of generic Bugis style - should be much easier to find in the correct size...

Regards,
Kai

Kai, i never said anything about replacing it with an antique quality silver pendokok. But one can find new ones of good quality fairly easily i believe.
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Old 31st October 2017, 01:34 PM   #9
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Hello Fernando,

Quote:
The sampir is currently detached which may account for the poor fit of the pendok in the picture.

The opening seems too wide (and there also is an unusual "step" between the 2 parts of the pendok) - still, this might either point towards recycling of materials (which always was common practise) or less-than-perfect fitting (also not unheard of though more common with sub-average pieces).


Quote:
Also, the sampir seems to have been made for the keris for it follows the profile of the ganja and there is no movement when sheathed.

The gonjo sinks in too deeply for a keris dressed in general Malay style and the pretty "steep" angle it sits inside also makes me believe the sampir may not have been carved for this blade. Of course, this may also result from the loose sampir...


Quote:
Btw, I had the same impression of the pendokok when I saw it in pictures however, it really looks so much better in person.

I'm glad to hear that! If it really is old, it certainly should not be messed with.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 10th November 2017, 04:58 AM   #10
F. de Luzon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
It has lost too many details to allow for a more critical appraisal though. If it has been cared for in a western collection for over 100 years, the blade could easily be from the 18th century; blades that came out of Indonesia more recently, can exhibit similar erosion and be much younger (including artificially aged new blades).


Hello Kai,

Out of curiosity, is there a way to tell if a keris blade has been artificially aged?

Kind regards,

Fernando
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Old 10th November 2017, 10:06 AM   #11
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Hello Fernando,
I don't think that your blade was artificially aged but it looks older than the dress (pendok and pendokok especially).
I attach a pic of a similar kris from my collection bought in Medan (North Sumatra) in 1996 and originally fitted with an ivory Bugis hilt.
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Old 10th November 2017, 04:15 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by F. de Luzon
Out of curiosity, is there a way to tell if a keris blade has been artificially aged?

I agree with Josť. I have no suspicions that your keris was artificially aged. Often it can be obvious based on the look of the wear patterns. There might be severe pitting, but edges remain unusually sharp or some other unusual contradiction in appearance. When you see blades like these they will automatically look suspicious. But i have heard of blades where the process is done well enough to at least fool a well trained Keris Ahli for a time.
It should also be noted that artificial keris aging isn't always done to fool. Within certain collecting circles (this probably only applies to Javanese keris) an aged look is the preferred look so new blades will receive this process with the buyer knowing that the keris is new. It is only when such blades are presented as antique that we have a problem.
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Old 11th November 2017, 03:20 PM   #13
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Hello Jean and David,

Your insights are very reassuring. Thank you very much!

Jean, that kris is very nice.

Kind regards,

Fernando
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