We check out treasures in our antique hunters’ inventory— from WW2 foldable bicycles to handcrafted furniture and lost J Swaminathan paintings. By Rashmi Rajagopal
While most new items lose much of their original value once they leave the store, good quality antiques by contrast can be a wise investment to be enjoyed on your mantelpiece, your wall, or in the centre of your dining room, feels Deepak Srinath of Phantom Hands, an online antique dealership that widely caters to a growing tribe of young people who prefer to channel their disposable income away from mass-produced factory-made articles towards the fine workmanship and high quality pieces of yesteryears. “People are buying homes much earlier and they want interiors that will stand out,” he says. A client of his bought a rotating rosewood bookshelf with little glass doors for her living room that became a lively conversation piece and lifted the space instantly. However, he points out that everything that is merely old is not necessarily valuable. “There has to be a special design and craftsmanship and clear provenance for an antique to be valuable,” he shares. We talk to a few other collectors and get them to weigh in.
Making a start
30-year old Apoorva Daddha, of Bid & Hammer, finds younger clients want affordable pieces like antique prints and pieces that are also functional, like period furniture, silver and glass shades. Those with higher budgets invest in paintings, tapestries, swords, daggers and collectibles that carry massive price tags.
Srinath echoes Dadha’s opinion and says the younger lot is mostly into collectibles and are ready to spend any amount if they spot something they can add to their collection, be it vintage cameras, old vinyl records or gramophone players. “While the value of antiques does appreciate, it is not as substantial as artwork. Usually, with antiques, the value increases steadily, predictably and slowly,” Srinath adds.
What makes a piece valuable is age, authenticity, rarity and condition. “But most collectors however, consider personal or qualitative elements like aesthetics, desirability, historical significance and very importantly, quality,” says Amar Mangharam of The Vintage Shop (off Old Airport Road). “My favourite pieces include a set of hand-blown Victorian Cranberry Glass centerpieces that date back to the 1800s, my collection of Raja Ravi Varma oleographs printed in the Ravi Varma press in Lonavla, a carved teak French four-poster king bed and an instrument cabinet that houses five sitars in various shapes and sizes,” he adds.
Preethi Prabhu, an antique collector who runs Indya Kaleidoscope, bought a solid Chettinad bed that’s almost 100 years old for `12,000 at a furniture dumpyard, but she puts its actual value at Rs. 80,000. An elegant teak wood chaise lounge in her personal collection with intricate cutwork from the British Colonial era, she says would cost anything over Rs. 85,000 in two years’ time, about `30,000 more than she bought it for six months ago. Collector and dealer Venkatram Reddy, of Basava Ambara (Basavanagudi) talks about his friends who still thank him for coaxing them to buy Tanjore paintings when they were just `750, now on the market for about `2 lakh. Another example is that of a gilded wooden angel he bought in Pondicherry for `25,000. He spotted it a year later at the dealer’s store he sold it to for a whopping `3.5 lakh.
Fresh from the archives
For Srinath, his most recent discovery was a World War II paratrooper bicycle at a dilapidated warehouse in Bangalore. The completely foldable bike by BSA had not been used for almost 40 years. “It needed a little bit of servicing and change of tyres to make it ridable,” shares Srinath adding, “I ride it myself when I have the time.” Available on his website, for those interested, the piece is valued at `98,000. Procured from art galleries in the US, avid collector Danny Mehra’s most prized possessions are his tribal storage chests originally from the Swat Valley, which is currently in Pakistan.
Dadha recalls how a piece by acclaimed British landscape painter JMW Turner from his family’s personal collection was authenticated at the Tate museum. “We didn’t even know we had it. So when we found it, we had to get it authenticated. It was one of those very rare occasions when all the experts and assistants at the Clore Gallery came together and erupted in joy as more often than not, everyone who goes in with a work, expecting it to be Turner’s goes away rather disappointed.” A landscape of Srirangapatnam executed in the 1800s, it is one of the highlights of his young life as a collector.
For some, it’s hard to pick one particular piece that stands out.
Preetha Chandrashekaran, of Dhakshini Antiques (Ulsoor), started by her parents, finds that the thrill is in discovering something worth salvaging. She lists a number of discoveries she made, like a small dilapidated coat stand (about `10,000 to `17,000), a massive, intricately carved wooden door (now worth roughly `1.5 lakh), an old cast iron printing press, (one of the first few ever made), an antique railway station clock with two faces, and even a 400-year-old 1,200-sq-ft tharavadu house, completely made of wood, transported from Kerala to Bangalore, which is currently valued at `30 lakh.
Artefacts from the British Colonial era have quite a following, with Prabhu telling us about a client who once bought an elaborate hat stand complete with a little drawer, handpainted tiles and a mirror, for her foyer, that completely changed how the entry looked and felt. “She called me to tell me how her friends would stand at the foyer and admire it for a while, before they came in,” she laughs.
Eye for a bargain
“Always keep your eyes open,” says Uma Rao of Vermilion House (Benson Town), and cites an example of a 100-year-old lamp she found while driving through the streets of Trivandrum. “I saw it hanging in a store selling utensils. I immediately stopped the car and bought it. It is a brass lamp with a bird balanced on the edge of it.” She recalls another time she spotted a wooden, gold coated figure of Krishna, she had been looking for for ages to add to her collection of gopikas, in a cobbler’s shop. “I bought it from him for just `500. And now it’s probably worth about `50,000,” reveals Rao.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, says Srinath, as it’s a learning experience. “I once bought a beautiful brass box shaped like a bird from Pondicherry that the seller told me was 200 years old. Months later, I found out that it was two years old. But it still occupies pride of place in my home as it is quite stunning,” he reveals. “Also, start with things that you are passionate about. Like a vintage print or a box camera if you’re a photographer,” he adds.
Reddy advises beginners to start with small buys like candle stands, lamps, and wooden panels. “Once you have some amount of experience with smaller articles, you can graduate to larger buys like furniture,” he signs off.
♦ Learn to tell if a piece is genuine by visiting local museums, antique malls, antique stores and auctions at regular intervals before you go scouting in flea markets, garage and estate sales — Preethi Chandrashekaran
♦ Do your research. Read books or online resources before you decide to invest — Uma Rao
♦ Don’t look at it as purely an investment. If you love it, buy it. The investment aspect of it should be just an add on. And furniture with provenance that has not been restored is sure to be a great buy — Deepak Srinath
♦ Collect things that are high in demand but low in availability — Venkatram Reddy
On the hidden trail
♦ Megha Joshi and Devesh Pant of the Purple Pony store (Koramangala) reveal how their most interesting pieces are always found in remote untouched villages in India. For example, an old postcard, browned with age and bearing hand-written text in Hindi with kitschy prints like a colourfully adorned elephant and a brightly hued set of two tablas. Or, Afghani mukka work with intricate embroidery, that has now been framed and preserved, apart from other knick knacks like vintage hooks, figurines, and candle stands.
♦ Fish Galli in Shivajinagar is one place where you are sure to find genuine antique buys, shares Reddy. He discovered an old English mirror about seven feet high and five feet wide with a mahogany frame in the market that he bought for a measly `4,000, that is now valued at Rs. 2 lakh.
♦ Balaji Antiques: Their collection includes Ravi Varma lithographs, bronze artefacts, Mysore and Tanjore paintings and ancient maps. Details: 9342410288
♦ Oriental Haveli: They have a wide range of brass dolls, urns, vases and lamps apart from paintings, lithographs, and teak and rosewood furniture. Details: 25204416
♦ Qurio City Shop: Their shelves are occupied by antique cameras, telephones, vintage posters, Victorian furniture, and vinyl records. Details: 25553914
♦ Mahaveerchandji’s Shop: This store stocks bicycle lamps, stamps, books belonging to the Gandhis and 100-year old temple replicas. Details: 9008250550
♦ Prachin: The place to go if you’re hunting for bronze
and wood statues of deities and oil lamps. Also a great
reserve of tasteful furniture. Details: 41105385