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Finding the right antique

Do your homework before buying antiques in Delhi. Here are places you must check out.

art and culture Updated: Oct 05, 2009 16:46 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

It could be a Maharani’s chunri or her maid’s — for it came down from a Rajwada family. Hemmed in by dusty chandeliers, camel-bone pendants, faded maps, and 19th century books, we’re being persuaded by an antique dealer to buy the royal relic at a throwaway price of Rs 50. We are in a basement shop at Hauz Khas village where antique lovers are enticed by streets decked with film posters of classics like Sholay, Shree 420 and Mughal-e-Azam (and also Slumdog Millionaire). Most traders obtain originals from collectors.

Agents in India and abroad are of vital assistance. Vipin Jain, who deals in books, photographs and lithographs, often purchases online from England. With a first floor stoor in Hauz Khas, his prices are whimsy. The Raj-era photographs, for instance, range between Rs 500 to Rs 4000. “The more difficult the replacement, the higher the price,” explains Jain. Reproductions are another option. Yet these fake old-style telephones, cuckoo clocks, and sailor’s compasses, often produced in Moradabad factories, remain frightfully expensive. One Hauz Khas showroom has a brass replica of the world’s first globe priced at Rs 9,950.

Before being seduced by an object, it is wise to confirm its antiquity with the dealer. While few are genuinely old, most artifacts — Nepali face masks or Oriya statues; hand-played gramophones or leather-covered telescopes are purposely made to look ancient.

However, the Hauz Khas charm pales against the glamour of Sundar Nagar’s collectibles. Its fancy showrooms displaying Rajasthani teakwood bajots, Tamil Nadu temple sculptures, Aligarh-made Natraj figures, and Pakistani brass tumblers simply stun the senses. Perhaps prices there fluctuate with the skin color. At one store, a teakwood cabinet etched with surajmukhi flowers was quoted to me for Rs 15, 000; a little later its price rose by Rs 7000 for Spanish-speaking tourists.

If Sundar Nagar frustrates with high-end prices, cheaper Janpath, at CP, is a limiting option. However, finalise a purchase only after including Paharganj Main Bazaar’s fantastic Kerala Arts showroom in your shopping itinerary. Such precious junk there. The dazzle of the colorful Tibetan cabinet contrasting with the quiet dignity of a Kerala rice box ends up producing delicious dilemmas — to buy this? That? Both? All?