This intriguing object is made from a technique known as bidri, a metalworking technique unique to India in which objects are made from an alloy of 95% zinc and 5% copper coloured a rich matt black and inlaid with silver. Bidri takes its name from the Deccani city of Bidar where it is though to have originated. The object has jewelled mounts and the be-ringed hand and the makara (mythical sea-monster) head unscrew to reveal sharp blades. It was exhibited at the Society of Antiquaries and at the Archaeological Society in the nineteenth century. On both occasions there was lively debate about its function. It was suggested that it could be a pointer for holy manuscripts or a backscratcher for a rich or important person. Its function remains mysterious.


  • Title: Backscratcher
  • Date Created: 1601/1625
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: inlaid; nielloed
  • Registration number: 1895,0608.96
  • Period/culture: Mughal dynasty
  • Material: steel; silver; gold; niello
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Bequeathed by Franks, Augustus Wollaston
Google apps