Indore, which once was a meeting point of different royalties and a goldmine of antiques, is now struggling to retain its antiques business due to poor demand and poorer profit margins, say antique dealers and showroom owners.
After the country’s independence, ex-royals and rich business families sold off their belongings for money which later on were traded as antiques . But, now the market has slumped, they say.
Antiques dealer Mohammed Zafar Ansari, who runs a side business for livelihood, said there had not been any sale in past two months. “Earlier, I used to make Rs 20,000 a month. Trapped in Facebook and WhatsApp, the new generation pays monthly installments on new gadgets they buy and have no money left for other things,” he remarked.
Historian Rajendra Singh, who runs antiques showroom Old World Charm, says he received only 15 buyers out of 49 visitors since May 2015.
“Sales are low during rains. People spend money on tourism during summers. Buying antiques is their last priority,” he said.
The decrease in sales has narrowed down the profit margins too. A dealer wishing anonymity said he sold three pairs of a century- old, seven-foot high, hand-carved teak wood pillars with brackets for Rs 65,000. He had purchased them for Rs 45,000, excluding the transportation cost.
Many dealers have switched to the real estate business in the last six year. But there are some who have stayed in the trade as they think the demand for rare antiques remains high in spite of the dipping number of collectors. “I am not driven by money alone. I want to preserve heritage. Being a historian, I can tell story behind every piece. Also, there is a sense of pride that I am doing something different,” Rajendra Singh said.
Despite bleak business prospects, experts are exploring whether Indore can become central India’s hub for antiques sale and promotion. “It has all the potential. But, we have to promote tourism. MP is in early days for heritage tourism, local commercial demand is low and personal use market is small,” said Raghavendra Singh who owns 340-year old Fort Amla, now a heritage hotel in Ujjain district.
Most tourists to Malwa region, of which Indore is a part, are pilgrims who visit Ujjain, Omkareshwar jyotirling temples. “If we can draw even 15% of them to historic places like Mandu, Maheshwar, antiques will be promoted. Local buyers are 0.1%,” MZ Ansari said.
However, those who visit Maheshwar, Mandu are unaware of Indore’s potential. Indore was headquarter of the British Central India (Political) Agency which indirectly governed about 60 princely states and estates of northern Madhya Pradesh for 130 years. Their rulers who visited Indore built bungalows which were equipped with royal comfort.
Besides, cultural exchanges took place due to weddings among princely states of the present day Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. “Thus, a lot of material is available within Malwa,” Rajendra Singh remarked.
In the last six years, Europeans and Australians visited Indore to buy antiques but returned as they needed them in bulk to save on the transportation cost. “Rajasthan has saturated. Indore can fill the vacuum as foreigners are looking for new avenues to buy antiquities. Those in antiques business need to form an association to supply their items in bulk. We’re working in isolation,” Singh said.
“Another way to make Indore the hub of antiques business is to bring them to the city, restore them using original material and sell them,” ruler of erstwhile Barwani princely state Manvendra Singh said. The third way is to make their replicas. “Reputed foreign companies like Holland and Holland go to Jaipur to get replicas of antiques made,” he said.
FAKE VS ORIGINAL
An original 100-year old HMV gramophone fitted with horn and double barrel machine on which 14-15 records can be played costs Rs 25,000.
Its replica sans double barrel machine costs Rs 3000 which can play one record.
What’s on antiques list?
Furniture, paintings, jewellery, books, magazines, automobiles, chandeliers, hand carved wooden pillars with brackets, hand carved wooden doors, royal monograms, coins.