Imperial India was a place of excess, where the days of the upper classes were filled with polo matches, afternoon teas and gin-soaked evenings. In the 1920s and 30s, the Indian aristocracy centred around a handful of the wealthiest families who ruled both the state and society and one of the most prevalent rulers at the time was Umaid Singh, the Maharaja of Jodhpur. A man who embodied the idea of the “personal brand” long before iPhones and Instagram, Bhawan ensured that everything he acquired, from his clothes to his stationery, was a reflection of his impeccable taste.

The second son of Maharaja Sir Sardar Singh, Maharaja Umaid Singh governed over Jodhpur state from 1918-1947 and was a celebrated figurehead during that time. He was responsible for a number of key social reforms – including introducing state pensions – as well as enjoying an illustrious military career in the British Army. Singh reigned as a decisive and popular leader, who was as committed to his state affairs as he was to his varied, and often extravagant social gatherings.

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Perhaps best known for building the Umaid Bhawan Palace, which is still considered one of the world’s largest private residences, the Maharaja of Jodhpur enjoyed luxury in all its multifarious incarnations.

In the 1930s, for example, he commissioned Smythson to create him a suite of stationery, hand-bound in a large leather album, which included hand-engraved cards inlaid with Mother of Pearl, hand-lined envelopes and writing paper as well as examples of more bespoke paperwork that Smythson could offer. In one of these albums, alongside the standard offering, Singh was shown examples of Art Deco luggage labels for travel (the sort of which we would love to use now), intricately designed dance cards and custom greetings cards featuring early photographs of royal residences, family photos and even hunting successes.

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As the bespoke luggage labels suggest, the Maharaja of Jodhpur loved to travel, and we imagine he wouldn’t be disappointed that part of his palace has since been transformed into one of the world’s most luxurious hotels – complete with “Millennial Pink” marble baths. While the British government were merging their few failing air companies to form Imperial Airways, which was incorporated in 1924, to transport mail and passengers to the farthest reaches of the empire, the Maharaja of Jodhpur would be frequently chartering planes for sky-high soirees. 

Back in 1932, a time when aeroplanes were still being referred to as “flying boats” in the mass media, Bhawan famously enjoyed inviting his close friends for “Sherry and Cocktails” in the sky – air conditions permitting, of course.

Today, dreams of in-flight sherry might not sound nearly as glamourous as they once did (budget airlines, we blame you), but next time we fly we might try and channel some of the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s flair into our trip. Maybe we’ll wear a cashmere onesie, or even scrap the holiday Instagram posts in favour of sending bespoke correspondence cards to our nearest and dearest. Surely that’s the best type of brand-building there is.


About This Series

Icons: Exploring our long-standing heritage through the people who love us and the products that define us. 

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