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Zobel and Zobel-style silver from Baghdad

These silver items were primarily produced in the 1940s in Baghdad for visiting soldiers to bring back to their significant others, mostly in the United Kingdom and United States. For this reason, they are characterized by femininity, as well as stereotypical scenes of Iraq for foreign consumption.

The items are identifiable based on the Iraqi stamp for sterling silver, as well as quintessentially Iraqi scenes. Many of the items depict almost identical scenes of Iraq including camels, the domes of Murjan Mosque, river boats, and Ctesiphon. Also, the items share very similar styles of filigree, niello, and overall composition. However, almost none share any maker's mark except for one, attributed to "Zobel" — this may be the same maker for all the pieces, although it is likely there were several (perhaps related) makers in Baghdad to keep up with demand.

These silver items stand out for their exceptional beauty, as well as their survival over the years. Jewelry made for local consumption would generally be gold, and even the most exquisite designs are normally melted down each generation because such items are almost exclusively desired for their bullion value. For this reason, similar items made for local consumption almost never exist anymore: these silver items for foreign consumers offer a rare insight into the refinement of Baghdad's metal arts at that time. Also, the presence in some pieces of stones from faraway places means that there must have been robust trade networks supplying stones for local demand, though such items have rarely survived in Iraqi households.

Bracelets are the most abundant items, which reflects both the femininity of the items as well as the need for portability, as they can be unclasped and laid flat for safekeeping in a soldier's belongings. Many of them are marked with the year, perhaps to show that a soldier indeed bought the item new for the explicit purpose of gifting to his loved one. Also, they are often inscribed with a message — a woman's name, or a little love note.

A distant second to bracelets, compact mirrors were also produced. These could also include a photograph of the male, for his dear girlfriend or wife to keep close and admire whenever touching up her makeup.

Interestingly, lockets do not seem to have been as abundant — perhaps because they provide limited space for orientalized Iraqi decorations, as it seems a large part of the appeal was for an item to create a tangible but romanticized reality out of a distant land described through letters and stories.

In addition to jewelry, a number of decorative letter openers and daggers were produced — likely for the purchasing and consumption of the men themselves. However, the niello is almost totally similar to the jewelry.

Typical scenes



Sail boat

Interestingly, I collected a photo which poetically captures what these boats looked like, sailing along the rivers, even generating traffic jams. This scene is no longer relatable, but it must have been a routine scene that became impressed upon the minds of visitors.

Arch of Ctesiphon