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Gandhi memorabilia worth over Rs 15 lakh to go under hammer

As many as 11 lots of Mahatma Gandhi memorabilia, including signed notes, letters and a khadi cloth, will hit the auction block in the US this month and expected to rake in over Rs 15 lakh.

delhi Updated: Feb 06, 2011 13:28 IST

As many as 11 lots of Mahatma Gandhi memorabilia, including signed notes, letters and a khadi cloth, will hit the auction block in the US this month and expected to rake in over Rs 15 lakh.

The items will be offered in Bonhams auctioneers sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts on February 13 in California.

The auction house said the lots were acquired over several decades by a Los Angeles collector interested in the history of non-violent movements.

Of late, sale of personal belongings of Gandhi has created a lot of controversy and the government has tried in vain to stop a couple of auctions abroad. Bonhams said the Indian government has not approached it regarding this sale.

"Manuscript collectors seek out letters, documents, and historical memorabilia because of their great admiration of a particular person, or because of their great interest in a particular historical moment," Catherine Williamson, Bonhams' US director of Fine Books and Manuscripts, told PTI.

"Most of the great libraries in the world were founded by private collectors, whose collecting activities saved many great rarities from oblivion," Williamson said.

Julian Roup, director of Press and Marketing, said the collector's primary focus has been letters and documents - one of the jewels of his collection is the two-page autograph letter of Gandhi in which he discusses his thoughts on the Catholic faith and other world religions.

In it, Gandhi makes a profound argument for global religious tolerance, "I have been confirmed in my belief that one can grow fully in one's own inherited faith (estimated at $5000-7000)".

"Other manuscripts in the collection include several notes by Gandhi written on the margins of telegram communications from university students in India and supporters in Pakistan, in which he sends words of inspirations or arranges visits, giving a unique glimpse into his daily correspondence ritual (estimated at $800-1200 each)," Roup said.

"Also present is a one-page blood report performed on Gandhi not long before his assassination, indicating that he was generally in very good health (estimated at $5000-7000). A related document was sold by Bonhams in 2010 for $6,100," Roup said.

Perhaps the most unusual Gandhi item in the sale is not a manuscript at all, but a white cotton khadi cloth, with a period note indicating it was hand woven in Gandhi's ashram, "It is the product advocated by him under his program of 'cottage industries', and has come to replace the materials made by Manchester, England, and other manufacturers of the Continent altogether under the nationalist movement" (estimated at $4000-6000).

Accompanying the cloth is a period photograph of students and staff of Lucknow Christian College and a note indicating that the cloth was originally collected and identified by an American missionary to India associated with the college in Uttar Pradesh.

"True students of Gandhi's work know the importance of his efforts to provide economic independence for the poor as a foundation for political independence. This cloth stands as a rare memento of a pivotal moment in modern history," Roup said.

In July 2009, a series of letters and postcards signed and autographed by Mahatma Gandhi were bought in an Sotheby's auction by leading NRIs Sir Gulam Kaderbhoy Noon and Prof Nat Puri almost for double the pre-sale estimates.

Last October, rare photographs of Gandhi, taken during the Quit India movement days, sold for 2,880 pounds, nearly double the pre-sale estimates, at Bonham's "Travel and Photography: India and Beyond" sale.

India is also making desperate attempted to acquire Gandhi's house in Johannesburg, where he had lived a century ago, to convert it into a memorial.

After learning about the sale of the house, where Gandhi stayed from 1908 to 1910 as a young lawyer, state-owned Coal India Ltd. attempted to buy it in 2009 but it was snapped up by a French tourism company in an auction for what was believed at the time to be almost twice the asking price of $3,77,029.

Despite the auction, the house could not be sold as it was not registered. Coal India is now hoping that it would be able to purchase it.