Historical Reading: The Koh-i-noor Diamond

Dr. James Shigley
Onlookers take in the display of the Koh-i-noor Diamond Display
Onlookers take in the display of the Koh-i-noor diamond with two smaller diamonds at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace in London. The Koh-i-nor was placed in a covered gilt iron cage that excluded daylight and was illuminated with a ring of gas jets and metal reflectors surrounding it. (Courtesy The Illustrated Exhibitor and other sources)

Many consider the Koh-i-noor (“Mountain of Light”) diamond one of the most famous historic gem diamonds. The diamond, known since the 1300s and reported to weight 793 carats, passed through the centuries via various kingdoms in India until British forces conquered the Punjab region in 1849. It was sent to England and presented to the Queen Victoria on July 3, 1850.

Note that over time, the spelling of the name of this diamond has been inconsistent. The spellings as shown in the original sources are retained here.  

How to Use this Reading List

This reading list was compiled to give you an opportunity to learn more about the Koh-i-noor diamond. The early period of the diamond’s history in India has been chronicled by Ian Balfour (Famous Diamonds, 5th edition, 2009), so the following list of articles will focus mainly on information published after it arrived in England.  A number of the articles were published in the 1800s and early 1900s – when many classical gem deposits of historical importance were discovered – and gemology and mineralogy became sciences. The list is presented in chronological order to emphasize the development of ideas over time. The lists are list is not comprehensive, but a compilation of the some interesting gemological information that has often been forgotten or overlooked. 

Many of the articles exist in the public domain and can be found online at digital libraries such as Hathitrust, Internet Archive, or other digital repositories. More recent publications can often be found in libraries, including the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library. Abstracts of these articles can usually be found on the website of the original journal or magazine, and the article itself is often available for purchase from the publisher.

Regarding the GIA library’s holdings and on-site access, please contact the GIA library in Carlsbad.

The Koh-i-noor Diamond, Author unknown, Tales and Readings for the People, Vol. 3, No. 1 (20 January), p. 48, (1849).  A brief discussion of several famous diamonds of Indian origin.

The Koh-ee-noor, Author unknown, Allen’s Indian Mail, Vol. 7, No. 129 (25 July), p. 422, (1849).  A brief report of the diamond about to be dispatched to England as a present to the Queen, and a discussion of its possible history in India.

The Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light,  Author unknown, Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, Vol. 12, No. 291 (28 July), pp. 49-52, (1849).  An account of the Indian history of the diamond, including information on its carat weight.

The Mountain of Light, Author unknown, Punch Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 470, p. 23, (1850).  A brief satirical mention of the diamond, including the statement “… this Mountain of Light which, to look at, appears less of a mountain than a molehill.”

The Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light, Author unknown, The Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor, Vol. 7, pp. 324-326, (1850).  The report indicates that visitors to the Crystal Palace are greatly disappointed by the appearance of the diamond. It includes a description of the new display, which consists of a crimson cloth-lined enclosure and a row of gas jets and metal reflectors that illuminate the diamond from above. Some history of the diamond in India is also presented.

A Wonderful Diamond, Author unknown, Scientific American, Vol. 5, No. 46 (3 August),  p. 368, (1850).  A brief mention of the diamond coming into the possession of Queen Victoria.

Great Diamond, Author unknown, Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 26, No. 327 (24 August),  pp. 345-346, (1850).  A mention of the safe arrival of the diamond in England, as well as a summary of its Indian history and current size and shape.

The Great Eastern Nave – The Koh-i-noor; and Precious stones in the Crystal Palace, Author unknown, The Illustrated Exhibitor, No. 1 (7 June), pp. 19-20; and No. 6 (12 July), pp. 93-95, (1851).  Description of gems on display in the Crystal Palace, including a mention of the diamond being placed in a covered gilt iron cage that excluded daylight, with the illumination coming from a ring of gas jets with the diamond surrounded by metal reflectors. There is also a mention of a large blue diamond belonging to a Mr. Hope that was part of the gem displays.

The Gems, Author unknown, The Illustrated London News, Vol. 18, (17 May and 31 May), pp. 426-428 and 491, (1851).  A description in the Crystal Palace of the exhibit of gems and jewelry, including drawings of the diamond.

The Koh-i-noor – Ancient and modern History, Author unknown, The Crystal Palace and its Contents – An Illustrated Cyclopedia of the Great Exhibition of 1851, No. 1 (4 October), pp. 5-7 and No. 5 (1 November), pp. 68-69, (1851).  Images of the diamond on display in the Crystal Palace and information on its history.

Advertisement: Models of the Koh-i-noor Diamond [for sale], The Illustrated London News, Vol. 19, (1 November), p. 552, (1851).  A brief mention of the sale of models of the famous diamond.

The Koh-i-noor, S. Proust, Fireside Facts from the Great Exhibition, pp. 231-234, (1851).  An account of a visit to the Crystal Palace to see the diamond and other exhibits.

The Koh-i-noor, Author unknown, Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, Part 3, Section 3, Class 23, pp. 695-696, (1851).  A guide for exhibit visitors describing the Indian history of the diamond.

History of the Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light, Author unknown, The True Briton – A Home Friend and Evening Companion, Vol. 1, pp. 152-153, (1851).  Popular account of the Indian history of the diamond, with a mention that, for security purposes during the night, the display could be lowered downward into an iron box covered by an iron plate. The three diamonds were placed on a velvet stand within the gilded cage and viewed through a glass plate.

Tallis’s History and Description of the Crystal Palace, Vol. 1,  John Tallis and Company, London, (1852).  A description of the items on exhibit in the Crystal Palace.

The Koh-i-noor Cut and Come Again, Author unknown, Punch Magazine, Vol. 23, (August), pp. 54-55, (1852).  A satirical report on the recutting of the diamond.

The Recutting of the Koh-i-noor, Author unknown, National Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 5 (November), pp. 443-444, (1852).  A description of the recutting of the diamond into a more modern oval brilliant style to improve its appearance. Various experts, including diamond cutters from Amsterdam, were asked for advice on the recutting process and if it could be accomplished without damage to the diamond. Since this was the largest diamond to be cut in Europe for a long period of time, the outcome was uncertain. Garrard Jewelers in London, the company responsible for maintaining the Crown Jewels, were charged by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to recut the diamond.  Two skilled workmen were brought over from Holland and a special steam engine was installed to power the polishing equipment. The process began on July 6, 1852 in the presence of the Prince and other dignitaries, including Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington), who cut the first facet. 

Observations on the diamond, D. Brewster, Report of the 22nd Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Belfast September 1852), pp. 41-42, (1853).  Report of a lecture on a scientific examination of the diamond in the spring of 1852 at the invitation of Prince Albert prior to its recutting. The diamond was examined in polarized light and with a microscope.

On the Recutting of the Koh-i-noor Diamond, J. Tennant, Report of the 24th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Liverpool September 1854), pp. 75-76, (1854).  Report of a lecture on the recutting of the diamond, which was reduced in weight from 186 to 105.6 carats.

The Koh-i-noor diamond, J. Tennant, American Journal of Science, 2nd Series, Vol. 17, No. 49, pp. 136-139, (1854).  A description of the diamond before it was recut, including its imperfections that could potentially be removed during recutting, and the steps of the process.

Koh-i-noor, M.H.N. Story-Maskelyne, Proceedings of the Ashmolean Society, Vol. 3, No. 33, pp. 59-63, (1855).  Report of a lecture given on February 12, 1855, on the history of the diamond.

Koh-i-noor, Author unknown, American Journal of Science, Vol. 72, No. 65, pp. 278-280, (1856).  Report of the lecture given by M.H.N. Story-Maskelyne [noted above].

Diamonds – The Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light, Author unknown, Wonderful Things, or Accurate and Interesting Descriptions of the Wonders of All Nations, pp. 225-231, (1860).  A discussion of the history of the diamond.

Adventures of the Koh-i-noor, Author unknown, Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, (December), pp. 448-449, (1862).  A discussion of the history of the diamond.

Koh-i-noor, Author unknown, What Do You Think of the [International] Exhibition?,  pp. 135-136, (1862).  The Great Exhibition was only scheduled to last for about six months at its Hyde Park Location.  Beginning in 1852, the Crystal Palace was dismantled and re-erected on a new site in Sydenham in southern London, the location of a new International Exhibition opened by Queen Victoria in 1854. The diamond was again displayed at this exhibition.

Koh-i-noor, J.H. Pepper, Cyclopaedic Science Simplified, pp. 580-582, (1869).  A description of the diamond, including drawings of the gemstone before and after recutting.

The Koh-i-noor Diamond, W.S. Ward, Appleton’s Journal, Vol. 8, No. 173 (20 July), pp. 76-77, (1872).  A description of the history of the diamond and of its recutting in 1852. The author ends with: “… it is a question whether it was money well investing [in the recutting],  since the Koh-i-noor, though a much more brilliant and attractive jewel, has ceased to be an object of interest to the mineralogist or antiquarian; for, in its present form – a brilliant weighing one hundred and six carats – there is no suggestion as to its natural shape, while all interest attached to it by association is now lost with the loss of its identity.”

The Koh-i-noor, Author unknown, Appleton’s Journal, Vol. 10, No. 242 (8 November), pp. 597-598, (1873).  A description of the recutting of the diamond in 1852.

Diamonds – Unpolished and Polished, J.F. Richmond, Nelson and Phillips, New York, facing p. 140, (1873).  Line drawings of the Koh-i-noor before and after recutting.

The Kohinoor Diamond, E. Comyn, Journal of the National Indian Association, pp. 722-724, (1880).  Brief discussion of the diamond.

Some Famous Diamonds, Author unknown, Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review, Vol. 15, No. 9 (October), pp. 725-276, (1884).  Description of some famous large diamonds including the Koh-i-noor.

A Story of the Koh-i-noor, E. Martinengo-Cesaresco, Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 252-254, (1886).  A story of the Indian lore of the diamond.

The Great Mogul’s Diamond and the Koh-i-noor, V. Ball, Nature Magazine, Vol. 43, No. 1101 (4 December), p. 103, (1890).  An analysis to demonstrate that both diamonds are the same.

The True History of the Koh-i-noor,  V. Ball, English Illustrated Magazine, Vol. 8, (April), pp. 538-542, (1891).  A discussion of the history and description of the diamond, and of the possibility that it is the same as the Great Mogul’s diamond. 

The Koh-i-nur – A Criticism, N. Story-Maskelyne, Nature Magazine, Vol. 44, No. 1145 (8 October), pp. 555-559, (1891).  A professional disagreement with the views of Dr. Ball (1890) on the true identity of the diamond.

The Koh-i-nur – A Reply, V. Ball, Nature Magazine, Vol. 44, No. 1147 (22 October), pp. 592-593, (1891).  A continuation of the discussion on the identity of the diamond.

Letters to the Editor: The Koh-i-nur, N. Story-Maskelyne, Nature Magazine, Vol. 45, No. 1149 (5 November),  pp. 5-7, (1891).  A continuation of the discussion on the identity of the diamond.

The Koh-i-nur, V. Ball, Nature Magazine, Vol. 45, No. 1154 (10 December), p. 126, (1891).  A continuation of the discussion on the identity of the diamond.

The English Regalia – The Koh-i-noor, C. Davenport, Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trüber and Company Ltd., London, pp. 57-59, (1897).  Brief description of the history of the diamond with a comment that the significant weight loss during recutting was necessary because several flaws needed to be cut away.

The Tragedies of the Kohinoor, C. Brown, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vol. 26, (November), pp. 51-60. (1898).  A discussion of the Indian history of the diamond and its transfer to the British government.

Babar’s Diamond: Was it the Koh-i-nur?, H. Beveridge, Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review, Series 3, Vol. 7, No. 14 (April), pp. 370-389, (1889).  Discussion of the Indian history and identity of the diamond.

The Romance of the Koh-i-noor, A.S.R. Ghosh, Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 622 (March), pp. 665-669, (1902).  Discussion of the Indian history of the diamond.

The Koh-i-noor in the Toshkhana [treasure trove] of “The Great Maharajah”, E. Dalhousie-Login, National Review, Vol. 68, No. 404 (October), pp. 234-241, (1916).  A discussion of the Indian history of the diamond and its transfer to the British government.

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