Shagreen in the Bâbur-nâma

Christine Bell

Shagreen in the Bâbur-nâma

(62nd Meeting, Friedensau 2019)

Shagreen is documented in the Bâbur-nâma as early as 1503 in connection with quivers and saddles available in Ferghana. Its rough and hardwearing surface provided a better grip than other materials and therefore became a popular feature of footwear, weapons and saddles. Shagreen made it easier pull a knife out of its sheath or a sword from its scabbard and wield these more precisely. The handle of a bow covered in shagreen made shooting an arrow easier and more accurate.

What exactly is shagreen and what materials were used to manufacture it? Although it is generally accepted that the term originated in Central Asia, the question still arises as to where this material actually came from? Was it imported from Eastern Asia or was it home-grown in Central Asia – a region known for its proficiency in leatherwork? There are no easy answers to these questions because there is not much old shagreen in existence, but sources from China and Japan provide interesting answers to some of these questions.

Shagreen was a material that had wide-reaching global connections in the past and even today influences surfaces featured in practical items such as binoculars, instruments and cameras.