In Antique Land


In Antique Land
In Antique Land
Alina Sen
he antics of Lara Croft and Prof.
Indiana Jones have often, if
somewhat over dramatically,
brought the world of antiquities into our
lives. But to the ardent collector, neither
Angelina Jolie nor Harrison Ford is a patch
on the passion that a sword of Tipu Sultan
ignites or the devotion a rich Pahari
miniature generates. Collecting is all about
passion as collectors will tell you.
In an interview, Nicolas Chow, the Head
of Sotheby’s Department of Chinese
Ceramics & Works, Hong Kong, says:
“Before you start collecting, get a sense
of what you like. Perhaps it is the tactile
quality of a little jade carving, the fine
painting on a piece of porcelain, or an
exquisite carving on a piece of lacquer. If
nothing creates an emotion, I don’t think
you should be collecting.”
Exquisite artifacts
Timeless treasures
When it comes to antiques of yore,
Kishore Singh, a former journalist and
editor, now a full-time consultant at the
Delhi Art Gallery, tells us that with the
announcement of the privy purses, shiploads
of ancient art, jewellery and exquisite
artifacts were sold by India’s erstwhile
royalty. Some in an attempt to keep their
high maintenance lives, yet others “to
fund a lifestyle in the French Riviera.”
Dinesh Vazirani, Director, Collectibles
Antiques India, helps us understand the
mystique that surrounds antiquities. To
him, the difference between collecting
contemporary art and antiques is that
“contemporary art is still being produced
in the country, but antiquities by definition
are not, and therefore their supply is
finite. This makes these objects rarer
and more difficult to come by, and the
collecting process slightly more involved.”
If you are feeling the first stirrings of a
want spiraling in your gut and a sudden
craving to Google ‘how to buy antiques
in India,’ Mr. Vazirani may have just made
your quest simpler with these tips.
Around the world, Indian treasures
abound such as the ‘mirror diamonds.’
They were mined at the famed Golconda
and fashioned into a necklace, which
surfaced at a Bonham’s auction in April
this year. They were offered for private
sale for $20 million. Then there’s the
heirloom jewellery the Spanish Rani of
Kapurthala sold to settle in France after
her divorce from the Maharaja. The
tales of Indian wealth and their loss are
immense as is the hope that one day we
will have and hold what is ours.
The past has rich offerings in
store for you. Come to antique
land and take home a piece of
priceless history.
Emotions were not only created, they
also swelled into national pride when five
of the Mahatma’s personal objects,
including his iconic eye glasses, were
auctioned by their owner, James Otis.
We cheered as Vijay Mallya rose to the
occasion and made a ‘bid for the country.’
And at the cost of $1.8 million, he brought
home the Mahatma’s belongings. Every
dollar fervently blessed by the patriot.
To say the world of the antique collector
is a labour of love doesn’t even begin to
describe it. Collecting it would seem is
like a gathering of exquisite pieces from
the glittering diorama of the past – right
from the Indus Valley to the Guptas, the
The 5 must-dos for a
novice antique collector
Research thoroughly and prepare your budget
accordingly. Read books about antiquities and
visit museums with antiquity collections to get
thorough information about the subject.
The best way to learn is by seeing and observing.
Fine painting on porcelain plates
Find a licensed antique dealer to associate
with. It’s necessary to buy from a licensed
source and as far as possible buy registered
antique objects.
Buying genuine antiques
in India
Cholas, the Buddhist Gandharva school,
the Mughal period and to several midepochal art just too rich and numerous
to list here.
Antiques in India must only be acquired
from licensed antique dealers. Auction
houses such as Collectibles Antiques
India are licensed by the Archeological
Survey of India to deal in antiquities.
Kishore adds that in the must explore
category are also Natesans and Phillips
Antiques who have been in the business
since 1860 and 1930 respectively and
have made a name for themselves in
dealing with authentic antiques.
Don’t restrict your purchases to large objects
alone. A piece can be small, yet interesting
and important.
Buy what you like. The most important point
to keep in mind is to buy antiquities that you
would like to live with.
After purchasing an object keep reading
up about it. It is an interesting process and
keeps the interest alive. It also helps you
document each object better.
Indians who collect antiques
Portrait of Emperor Humayun sold in a public auction conducted by Collectibles Antiques (India) Pvt. Ltd.
Most of the old business families in India
collected antiquities in the sixties and
seventies. New age antique collectors
in India are several young and vibrant
individuals who are very passionate about
the subject. Most of them are discreet
as supply is limited. They expect the
antiquities market in India to change in a
manner similar to the Chinese market.
Buying mistakes best avoided
Collectibles Antiques India
Don’t look for ‘cheap’ buys. Gone are the
days when people would own objects
and not know their true worth. Stay clear
of flea markets on issues of authenticity
as well as source. Kishore adds that it is
always worthwhile to buy from sources
that can furnish you with the paperwork
regarding the piece you are buying.
They are licensed antique dealers based
in Mumbai. Through online auctions
and private sales, they hope to broaden
access to India’s rich artistic heritage
and establish a new base of antiquities
collectors and patrons in the country.
The company’s inaugural online auction
of ‘Select Indian Antiquities,’ held in
December 2011, featured 15 lots,
including pieces representative of the
Pallava, Chandela, Chola, Nayak and
Solanki dynasties, and it was a 100%
sale. They also offer private sales and
host regular online auctions of Indian
antiquities, accompanied by physical
catalogues and previews. For queries,
e-mail at [email protected]
What the Chinese are
In 2010, Bainbridges, a firm of auctioneers
in the U.K., made headlines when an
unnamed Chinese collector bought an
imperial Qianlong vase for £43 million.
Ivan Macquisten, editor of Antiques Trade
Gazette, U.K., told the Observer, “There
is a burgeoning collector base emerging
from China, with huge sums to spend
on reclaiming the nation’s heritage.” It is
understood that most of the collectors
are individuals who have made their
wealth from China’s huge export trade
which continues to boom.
Within China, along with the rush to bring
back what is theirs, is a growing demand
for antique furniture, especially European
antiques. As quoted in the Daily Mail,
a carved English bookcase, which was
bought for £980 at a London auction,
was sold later for £10,000 in Beijing.
There have been many such buys leading
auctioneer Tom Keane to say that he was
astounded by the prices the Chinese are
willing to pay to own antique furniture.
The fish motif from the now famous vase
Popular antiques from the
Indian sub-continent that
have sold in global markets
In the international market, the best of
pieces get sold through private sale as
the supply is limited. And because a great
piece has immediate buyers the seller
does not need to wait till an auction. In
the auction market some years ago, a
fantastic Chola seated Brahma sold for
over $4 million. Recently, a large Chola
bronze sold for $1.8 million.
Sculpture crafted in
stone and bronze during
the reign of the Cholas
is popular with antiquity
collectors because
of its high degree of
craftsmanship and
shape detailing.
Books to help buyers
understand and navigate the
domain of collecting antiques
Books: South Indian Bronzes by
Sivaramamurti; Art of India by
Sivaramamurti; Indian Miniature Painting
by R.K. Tandan; Living Wood by George
Michell. Websites of museums such as
the British Museum, the V&A Museum,
Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum
etc. also have plenty of information.
Paperwork/rules and
regulations for buying
antiques within the country
and importing them
For all Collectibles Antiques India auctions,
bidders must have a valid Indian address
(for registration and delivery). All the lots
included in their catalogues are registered
with the Archaeological Survey of India
and are accompanied with a registration
certificate showing their trail of ownership.
Bhudevi (Lot 11) is a Chola granite sculpture
from the 13th century, estimated
between `14,00,000 - `18,00,000.
The winning bid was for `22,80,000.
Bhudevi and Bhairava sculptures were sold at the
Inaugural Select Antiquites Auction organised
by Saffronart, December 2011.
Antiquities cannot be exported out of
India. Following the auction and prior
to the delivery, there is a transfer of
ownership procedure for the antiquities
as required under the Antiquities Act
of 1972 that all buyers must comply
with.This is simply to transfer the
ownership from the seller to the buyer.
The Archeological Survey of India (ASI)
provides a transfer form that needs to be
filled and submitted. The process helps in
documenting antiquities in the country.
Bhairava (Lot 12) is also a Chola granite sculpture from the 13th century,
estimated between `3,50,000 - `4,50,000.
The winning bid was for `8,85,000.
Antiques always in demand
Buying Indian
Antiques: Be on the
right side of the law.
According to the
Antiquities andArt
Treasures Act, 1972,
delivery or carriage
of antiquities
outside India is not
permitted. All buyers
of antiques must
register their pieces
with the ASI within
15 days of purchase.
This is facilitated by
the auction houses
that are registered
with the ASI.
There is a consistent demand for various
ancient and classical Indian artistic
traditions ranging from miniature paintings
and Tanjore paintings to sculptures and
objects in metal, stone and wood. Kishore
adds that Chola sculptures and bronzes
along with busts of the Buddha from the
Gandharva School of Art have always had
a national and international demand.
The million dollar question –
what kind of prices does one
account for?
Depends on what kind of objects you
wish to acquire. Is it wood, bronze, stone
or miniature paintings? A collector with
an outlay upwards of `50 lakhs a year can
build up a good collection over a period
of time. However, if you were to collect
small bronzes or wood, the outlay would
be lower. Patience is a must as supply is
scarce. So more than money, it is interest
and a keen eye that matter.