City Landmarks – Cooke & Kelvey Silverware Shop

Mr. Chatterjee and the Cutlery BoxA legendary showroom patronised by Maharajas and Prime Ministers.

[Text and the picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

They sell such stuff as dreams are made on. Tulips and Hibiscus, bracelets and key-chains, liqueur tankers and cruet sets – all in 92.5 sterling silver.

The modest exterior of the Cooke & Kelvey showroom at Connaught Place stands in sharp contrast to the boastfulness betrayed by the owners of its legendary clocks. Mr. T S Chatterjee, the showroom’s manager for 30 years, remembers his appointment with Rajiv Gandhi. When asked for time, he checked his wrist watch and said, “quarter to nine, Cook & Kelvey time.”

Founded by Robert Thomas Cooke and Charles Kelvey in Calcutta a year after the first war of independence, the establishment was the final word in elegance. No colonial household was considered tasteful without its silverware cutlery. Its silver caskets were presented to the Prince of Wales during his Calcutta trip in 1875. Nurtured by seven successive owners before finally passing into the ‘native’ hands of the Khemka family in 1946, the passion for quality remains unchanged.

Each year around 80 artists, most having picked the craft from fathers and grand-fathers, delicately temper more than thousand kilograms of silver into intricate designs in a Kolkata workshop. The perfection hushes the visitors to speechlessness. Be it the 6-armed candle stand with a lady standing on malachite stone, or a fruit bowl balanced on the backs of three elephants, or the festive Aarti Thali with exquisite blue-and-white enamel work.

“We are proud of this cutlery box,” Mr. Chatterjee said as he opened a large Burma teakwood chest (with mother-of-pearl inlay work). Inside its blue velvety comfort were arrayed 132 glittering silvers. Except the England-made knifes, everything was handcrafted in Kolkata. “Only Rs 5.5 lakhs,” said Mr. Chatterjee. Bargain price for a king!

It is logical that one of the oldest patrons is a former Maharaja, Karna Singh of Kashmir. Sharmila Tagore, from the house of Pataudi, likes to shop for photo-frames. Before leaving for the Dhaka SAARC summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh purchased few artifacts as gifts for heads-of-state. Recently silver trophies were delivered to the Chief of Army Staff. “Chief Minister Sheila Dikhit knows me by name,” Mr. Chatterjee gushed.

However, ‘commoners’ need not feel ignored. “Our range begins from Rs 1000,” Mr. Chatterjee said as he lovingly pointed to a tea-and-coffee set priced over Rs 1 lakh. We both gazed at it with silent admiration till distracted by an equally stunning twisted paper cutter – just Rs 2750!

Where 3, Scindia House, Janpath Ph 23314095