Imperial Treasury

The sultans would observe the items in the treasury as if taking part in a special ceremony. In addition to being great works of art, the items also have great historical, monetary, and spiritual value. Since the treasury was, in effect, a memento of the royal family, the sultans showed special care in enriching its collection. The items in the treasury were originally kept in chests and cupboards that would only be opened on the occasion of the sultans’ visitation. It was Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-61) who broke this tradition by putting some of the objects on display; this continued in the time of Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861-76) and Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876-1909). That tradition continues today as the valuable objects belonging to the Ottoman sultans are now on display in the palace’s Imperial Treasury section (Hazîne-i Hümâyûn). Following the conversion of Topkapı Palace into a museum in 1924, the treasury objects were classified and used as the basis of the museum's collections. A large part of the palace treasury is made up of gifts presented at ambassadorial receptions and gifts presented on the occasion of the sultans’ weddings, of births, and of the circumcision festivities of the princes. While such gifts as these would sometimes be brought to the sultan from the four corners of the world, other gifts would be presented by local artists and artisans who would, in exchange for their gifts, receive not only gifts in return, but also promises of support and future purchase of their works. The sultans would also, on occasion, send gifts to foreign rulers; however, for various reasons, some of these would not reach their destination, in which case they would be returned and take their place in the palace treasury. An example of this sort of gift is the emerald dagger and emerald- and diamond-studded bow and quivers sent by Sultan Mahmud I (r. 1730-54).

Among the other works found in the palace treasury are the precious objects of state dignitaries which were requisitioned for the treasury upon their owners’ deaths, and plundered objects. Among the finest of these plundered objects are the belt, armband, and drinking cup of the Safavid ruler Shah Ismail I (r. 1502-24) as well as various metal works of the early Safavid period, such as zinc vessels. Additionally, one important group of objects in the treasury is made up of objects brought from Yıldız Palace following the declaration of the Republic of Turkey.

The Topkapı Dagger The handle and the case of the dagger are made of gold. The handle is ornamented with three big emerald stones as well as a London-made watch. The emerald lid of the watch is also framed with diamonds. The dagger was sent to the Persian ruler Nader Shah as a gift by Sultan Mahmud I. Upon Nader Shah’s death, the Ottoman mission brought the dagger and other gifts back to the palace.

PENDANTS, PLUMES

Jewelled pendants were decorative elements used on thrones, on the domes or ceilings of the sultan’s rooms and on the doors of entrances through which the sultan would pass. Additionally, there were pendants made for the tomb of the Prophet Mohammad in Medina. The pendants commissioned by Sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603-17), Sultan Mustafa III (r. 1757-74), Sultan Abdülhamid I (r. 1774-89), Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807), Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-39), and Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-61) can be recognized by the calligraphic seals and inscriptions found on them. Plumes were perhaps the most important jewels worn by Ottoman sultans and princes. These gold objects bearing emeralds, rubies, diamonds, or pearls would be fastened to turbans together with fine bird feathers. State dignitaries also wore plumes, but more modest versions. Some of the palace’s plumes have remained in the museum’s collection.

A particularly important place in the treasury is held by those items originally sent to Medina by the sultans for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad. Among these items, the most noteworthy are the gold and glass oil lamp made on the order of Sultan Murad III (r. 1574-95) and the solid gold candelabrum decorated with diamonds and an inscription and made on the order of Sultan Abdülmecid. The enamel-on gold censer and rosewater vessel sent by Abdülmecid’s daughter Cemile Sultan are also among these works which were returned to the treasury for protection during the First World War by Fahrettin Pasha, the commander in the Hejaz region.

Treasury Weapons The weapons in the treasury consist of swords, daggers, scimitars, yataghans, bows and quivers, thumb rings (zehgîr), helmets, pistols, heavy rifles and maces. Among these weapons, all uniformly decorated with precious stones, are a number of especially noteworthy items: the inscribed dagger of Sultan Selim the Grim (r. 1512-20), with its quartz-studded handle; the finely worked and inscribed metal yataghan of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-66), which bears the master craftsman’s signature; a pistol presented as a gift by the German Emperor Wilhelm II (r. 1888-1918) and the armor of Sultan Mustafa III (r. 1757-74).

The most important items in the Imperial Treasury are the thrones, which are on display in the treasury’s first room. The Festivity Throne (Bayram Tahtı) (made of walnut wood, covered with panels of solid gold, and encrusted with chrysolite) was used on occasions attended by the sultan. Among these occassions, the most noteworthy are accession to the throne and holiday festivities; this throne corresponds to the description of a golden throne found in records of the 16th century. The Throne of the Eve (Arife Tahtı) of Sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603-17) is a unique example of Ottoman mother-of-pearl inlay. Made of walnut wood and ornamented with tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones, this throne is the work of the architect Mehmed Agha who spent much time doing mother-of-pearl inlay work. Another throne found here is the ebony throne used by Sultan Murad IV (r. 1623-40) in his Baghdad campaign of 1638. Similar in form to the Festivity Throne, it has inlay of mother-of-pearl and ivory. There is also a wooden throne with enameled and gem-studded gold panels which was sent to Sultan Mahmud I as a diplomatic gift by Nadir Shah of Persia. The structure of the throne and the manner in which its gems have been worked show that it was made in India under the Mughal Dynasty during the 18th century. Although most of the works currently in the treasury date from the 16th to the 19th century, there are also objects of Byzantine, Mamluk, and Seljuk origin. Among these are the skull and the hand and arm bones of Saint John the Baptist, inherited from the Byzantines and kept in bejeweled cases; Mamluk oil lamps from the 14th century and the Seljuk sandal wood cabinet of Timur’s grandson Uluğ Bey, which is inscribed and is a masterpiece of woodcarving.

THE SPOONMAKER’S DIAMOND (KAŞIKÇI ELMASI)

The Spoonmaker’s Diamond is the largest and most famous of the historical diamonds in the Imperial Treasury. This 86-carat, pear-shaped diamond is surrounded by 49 brilliant-cut diamonds. Several diamond experts have attempted to prove that the Spoonmaker's Diamond is the historical Pigot Diamond, which was lost at the beginning of the 19th century; however, it is known from a record in a daily accounts book (rûznâme) that the diamond entered the Imperial Treasury by way of purchase at the beginning of the 1680s. Several stories have circulated as to how the Spoonmaker’s Diamond came to be in the palace. The most widely accepted among these is that recounted in the work Zübde-i Vak`aiyât (Summation of Events) by Sarı Mehmed Pasha, treasurer in the time of Sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1648-87). In this work, Mehmed Pasha describes the finding of the Spoonmaker's Diamond during the course of events in the year 1090 (May 1679): “A round stone was found among the rubbish in the district of Eğrikapı and [brought to an] ironmonger, who exchanged the stone for three spoons and left it there among his items. Subsequently, one of the jewelers to whom the stone was shown purchased it for 10 akçe and showed the stone to one of his colleagues. When it was understood that the stone was, in fact, a diamond, the colleague also requested a share in the stone. A dispute then arose between the jeweler and his colleague and the situation was brought to the attention of the head jeweler, who gave to both jewelers a small purse full of akçe and took the stone off their hands. Subsequently, His Eminence the Grand Vizier Mustafa Pasha was made aware of the stone's existence and decided to obtain it from the head jeweler; however, when the situation was brought to the attention of the sultan, he commanded the stone to be brought to the palace. In summary, the stone was uncovered, ascertained to be an unparalleled diamond of the size of 84 carats and finally taken into the possession of the sultan. As a result, the head jeweler was rewarded with the office of gatekeeper as well as with a number of small purses of akche.”

The Ceremonial Flask One important collection in the treasury are the Ottoman-made quartz flasks, water pitchers, rosewater vessels and boxes dating to the 16th and 17th centuries and decorated with gold and precious stones. Also, from the same time, are Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Ottoman jade vessels. In addition to these, there is a gold ceremonial flask that is perhaps the most noteworthy example of classic Ottoman jewellery and gold working: made of solid gold and decorated with precious stones, it was used in the times of Sultan Selim II (r. 1566-74) and Sultan Murad III (r. 1574-95).

GIFTS FOR THE SULTANS

Among the gifts that were sent to the sultans are a throne made in India; two small enameled statuettes decorated with precious stones and sent by the Mughals of India to Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861-76) while he was still a prince; a jeweled sword sent by Muzaffara’d-Din Shah Qajar of Persia to Sultan Abdülhamid II on the occasion of the latter’s silver jubilee on 31 August 1901; a jade Fabergé vessel with jeweled coat of arms sent by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II (r. 18941917); a pitcher, basin, and table sent from France; and an ebony walking stick ornamented with diamonds sent as a gift by the Mughals.