International auction houses right from Sotheby’s and Christie’s to Indian auction houses like Osian’s, are scurrying to organise auctions that offer rare books.
At the upcoming Osian’s auction many rare Indian works on modern masters such as Raja Ravi Varma, Ravindranath, Amrita Sher-Gil, Ismat Chughtai, George Keyt, MF Husain and FN Souza among others will go under the hammer on July 15 at New Delhi. The entire collection which will include art works and film posters along with these rare books are worth Rs 24 crore.
Investing in books is a trend that is fast attracting people in the country. Brij Sharma, Head of antiquarian books and prints, Osian’s says, “Books can be a good investment today. In the Indian context it has always been true of illustrated books published in the last 200 years.” Sharma is of the opinion that the conventional sources of acquiring these books like booksellers who have very old collections, are just a handful across India. And with personal libraries drying up, there is every likelihood of their value will rise at a fast pace given the ever-increasing number of collectors. Sharma sites two examples; “I have seen Daniells’ Views of Calcutta, a set that has appreciated 12 times in ten years between two London auction houses and Osian’s itself has seen books on, Sher-Gil and Tagore appreciate by three to four times in five years or so.”
“There are many book collectors in India. I recently bought a three hundred years old, pocket book of Christian prayers from Germany. I bought it because I am interested in collecting rare books,” says Kalpana Shah, owner of Tao Art gallery. She adds, “The interest then leads to investment but the collectors of books are primarily passionate about collecting rare stuff and money follows naturally.”
Pervez Damania says, “In the west, there is a huge demand for collecting first edition books. I would like to lay my hands on rare Indian books. If I get to but the first copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book I would be thrilled.”
But the million dollar question is that what kind of books are worth having in the collection. Maithili Parekh from Sothbey’s says, “First editions of popular books, handwritten essays, limited editions are just some.”
Sharma from Osian’s adds, “There are two streams of books favoured by Indian collectors: on Indian art and on British India. Many of the books were published in limited editions; most of them heavily illustrated with tipped-in colour plates on account of technological limitations which today add to their value.”