The royals of Bhopal were not just great hunters, but had the distinction of being connoisseur of guns.
Even in the early 1900s, they got their ammunitions custom-made from foreign manufacturers.
While the sands of time have run out for both the game and the gamer, it is only these barrels that have withstood the test of time and are now in much demand across the world.
“A large number of weapons owned by the erstwhile royals (of Bhopal) were sold to arms dealers in Mumbai in the 1960s and 70s. These weapons were eventually exported out of India,” says Sultan Shah of Akbar Armoury, one of Bhopal’s oldest arms dealers.
According to another arms dealer, a 12 bore paradox gun, custom made for Nawab Nasrullah Khan in 1913, will soon some under the hammer at an auction organized by a leading arms auction house Guns International. The offset price for the shotgun, according to the auctioneer, has been fixed at $36,950 US.
“The erstwhile royalty were patrons of arms companies, many of which not only made rifles and shotguns on order for royalty, but even customised calibers on demand of the rulers. The weapons are expensive, but as they are linked to royalty their value gets enhanced further,” Shah says.
Well-known for his hunting skills, Nasrullah Khan (1876-1924), the eldest son of Bhopal ruler Sultan Jahan Begum, is said to have shot more than 130 tigers.
He was one of the few hunters in India who had achieved the distinction of becoming ‘nausherwan’ – a hunter who bags nine tigers in a 24-hours span, he adds.
A 350 Rigby double rifle, custom-made for Khan was recently sold through James D Julia, an American auctioneer of antique weapons, at a whopping price to a private purchaser. (The auction house has also not disclosed the price it fetched.)
According to arms dealers of Bhopal, even used weapons manufactured by top British gun makers cost anywhere from £20,000 to £30,000, even when they are not custom-made for royalty.
“Change in licensing rules along with the ban on hunting rendered most of these rifles and guns irrelevant. They, however, continue to command very high prices in other countries where they land up through exporters,” said Faiz Rashid, great grandson of Obeidullah Khan, elder brother of the last nawab Hamidullah Khan.
A punt gun, custom-made for General Obeidullah Khan (1878-1924), the second son of then ruler Sultan Jehan Begum, was recently introduced to potential buyers at Bonhams, another leading auction house in England.
A slice of history
It is not only Bhopal weapons that are sought after by collectors. A 1936 Rolls Royce Phantom III Sports Four Seater, originally purchased by Nawab Hamidullah Khan, the last nawab of Bhopal, was sold through Bonhams recently for $852,500 US.