The Usual Jewellery/Silver Suspects

Eavesdropping. Prying on intimate matters. Insubordination to prevailing trends. Wooing money and hearts. And it goes on. Having maintained a low profile for decades, these pieces have suddenly emerged from their lairs and are now under trial on auction  at Saffronart. Rashmi rounds up nine of the important ones from the upcoming Online Auction of Fine Jewels and Silver

1. This Stunning Edwardian Brooch: For Rebelling and Subversion

Estimate: Rs 55,00,000 – 75,00,000

Lot 27: An Important Diamond Brooch

Lot 27: An Important Diamond Brooch

There’s no denying that the central diamond draws you to itself with brutal, hypnotic force.  And look at all those delicately designed full-cut diamonds pandering to its ego. With an air of old-world pride, the brooch reveals it’s nearly a hundred years old. “A true iconoclast,” it beams, referring to King Edward VII who, breaking free from his mother Queen Victoria’s influence, set a new path for fashion from 1901 onwards. Sure, its brethren are just like it—elegant, feminine, intricate—but this one is special, especially since it’s been in the care of an important Parsi family here in Mumbai.

  1. This Period Coin Necklace: For Its Double Identity

Estimate: Rs 10,50,000 – 12,50,000

Lot 3: A Period ‘Kasu Malai’ or Coin Necklace

Lot 3: A Period ‘Kasu Malai’ or Coin Necklace

Seated smugly under the interrogation light, it shrugs and tinkles—it’s adapted over the centuries and picked up our ways. It’s being vague about why it’s called what it is: a Kasu Malai. I assume it’s the Tamil words for ‘coin’ and ‘necklace’. “It could be, but it also could be something else,” it hints rather cryptically. “I’ve been told I’m named after a certain Sanar Kasu.” When asked who this person was, “Some tavern keeper from the Chola days who hoarded too much gold and landed in trouble for it.” How serious was it? “Got the death sentence. Apparently his last wish was that he wanted all pure gold coins to be named after him—the narcissist.”

It doesn’t end there. The malai‘s (literal) two-facedness reveals a script and a seated Balakrishna decked with cabochon rubies, making it a potent candidate.

Edit: Similar coins, showing a seated Balakrishna and a Devanagari inscription on the reverse, date back to the time of king Krishna Devaraya from the 16th century, and were known as gadyanas.

  1. This Set of Pacheli Bangles and Diamond Choker: For Monopolising a Rare Enamel

Estimates: Rs. 6,00,000 – 8,00,000 for each lot

Lots 20 and 21: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles and A Period ‘Polki’ Choker

Lots 20 and 21: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles and A Period ‘Polki’ Diamond Choker

Lot 20: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles

Lot 20: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles

Lot 21: Reverse

Lot 21: Close up of the reverse of A Period ‘Polki’ Diamond Choker

We’ve got a lot to thank the Persians for, and somewhere in that long list is the technique of enamelling. Among all the luscious shades on view is the famed Gulabi minakari or pink enamelling from Varanasi. A layer of pink paint is applied over an opaque white background, and what you most commonly see is flower buds. Just like you do over here. Pink enamelling has almost dwindled out of use now. So your chances of stumbling upon jewellery with Varanasi mina are very, very slim. These bangles and choker are part of the privileged few that get to show off their gorgeous pink enamelling. And also for the next reason….

  1. This Set of Bangles, Necklaces, Ring and Earrings: For Being Privy to Family/Political Secrets

Estimates:
Lot 20 – Rs. 6,00,000 – 8,00,000
Lot 21 – Rs. 6,00,000 – 8,00,000
Lot 22 – Rs 10,00,000 – 12,00,000
Lot 23 – Rs 1,00,000 – 1,50,000
Lot 24 – Rs 5,00,000 – 7,00,000
Lot 25 – Rs 4,00,000 – 6,00,000

Lot 22: An Impressive Pair Of Period Gemset Bracelets

Lot 22: An Impressive Pair Of Period Gemset Bracelets

Lot 23: A Period 'Thewa' Ring

Lot 23: A Period ‘Thewa’ Ring

Lot 24: A Period 'Polki' Diamond Necklace

Lot 24: A Period ‘Polki’ Diamond Necklace

Lot 25: A Pair Of Diamond 'Polki' Ear Pendants

Lot 25: A Pair Of Diamond ‘Polki’ Ear Pendants

They come from the family of one of Ahmedabad’s most influential businessmen…*drumroll*…Seth Mangaldas Girdhardas. Back in the day (sometime in the early 20th century), he oversaw a cluster of mills, was a staunch supporter of Gandhi, and founded a school for deaf and dumb children. Having been with a descendant of the Sheth, they certainly have a lot of stories to share…which they obviously won’t.

  1. This Burmese Silver Box: For Being Unabashedly Opulent in Depicting Mythology

Estimate: Rs 1,75,000 – 2,75,000

Lot 57: A Period Silver Box

Lot 57: A Period Silver Box

You’re wondering why scenes of the Ramayan swarm its cartouches. The Burmese depict their Ramayan scenes with about the same amount of flamboyance we do, but with a Thai twist to them. You spot the headdresses and see what I’m talking about. Not too long ago (1760, to be precise), Alaungpaya, a Burmese king, invaded Siam—or Thailand, as we know it—and brought back families of silversmiths to work for him. This seeped into the designs you see on the box.

….And the list of suspects goes on. Want to see them in person? Drop by our gallery between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm till October 14 (except Sunday).

“There has been no conscious effort to preserve Indian film collectibles”

Film critic, screenwriter and editor Khalid Mohamed speaks candidly with Rashmi Rajgopal about the sorry state of Indian film memorabilia.

Khalid Mohamed.  Credits: oneshotoneplace.com/

Khalid Mohamed
Credit: oneshotoneplace.com

Unlike paintings, film memorabilia seldom receive their due. Everyone knows this, and everyone wants to do something about it, but it’s always the authorities who get pointed at for not doing enough. Three weeks ago, I’d written to two collectors who’d very generously agreed to share their story on sourcing Indian film collectibles with me. When asked why they’d decided to auction their collection, their reply left me unconvinced: “…film memorabilia have immense potential…we would like to create an appreciation for this art form which is one of its kind.” I was hoping to know how they felt about auctioning their collection, and whether they were hopeful it would be received well. They’d clearly spent a lot of time and energy sourcing items from cities across India. There had to be more to this explanation.

So I ruminated on what they’d said. It sounded obvious, yes, but what kinds of stories lurked beneath the surface of the potential of Indian film memorabilia? I called Khalid Mohamed with a few hastily compiled questions on abandoned originals: posters and other publicity material brought out by the production companies at the time the film was first released. Many producers still retained these, but others were indeed left lying around, decaying with time. “The Grant Road and Chor Bazaar markets used to have a good collection of film posters”—whether originals or copies wasn’t clear—“but those are now gone.”

When it comes to government efforts to preserve something significant, we know how it turns out. Any indifference on their part is no news. “Originals by far are very few, and very badly archived,” Khalid explained, quite matter-of-factly. “Obviously at the time not many knew they would mean so much, so there was no conscious effort to preserve them.” Exceptions would be the National Film Archive of India and the Films Division. The latter’s website features an appeal from the government to donate films, manuscripts, equipment and artefacts to the National Museum for Indian Cinema, which opened in Mumbai this February.

Set of 8 lobby cards from Mughal-e-Azam.  Available till 26 June on StoryLTD.

Set of 8 lobby cards from the Mughal-e-Azam collection
Available till 26 June on StoryLTD

“What about the artists who worked on posters and lobby cards? Didn’t they do anything to retrieve their artwork?”

“Why would they? It’s a question of earning a living,” he replied.

Though Khalid tackled my questions convincingly, I sensed a cynicism in his voice as he spoke—the kind that comes through dealing with and resisting an indifference to conserving these originals, and knowing that any efforts would have been the bare minimal, and finally resigning to it. “There just hasn’t been a consciousness in preserving film posters,” he said with a tinge of bitterness. A market demand would surely compel a more conscientious approach to preserving what’s remaining of these originals—the thought came easily to me, but he countered it. “How would you define the market?”

The market, he argues, is unstructured and vague. People want film posters, but it cannot be pinned to any specific demographic. “After Hollywood started selling film memorabilia, we followed in their tracks.” While acknowledging a base of collectors, he believes it’s still a highly niche demand. Certain collectibles hold more allure than others. “Posters of Guide and Mughal-e-Azam are still extremely popular.” The interest is mainly driven by fondness and nostalgia. Khalid is right to an extent; fondness and nostalgia do lie at the base, but perhaps it’s also fuelled by a serious interest in film memorabilia as an art form. Of course, from a sales perspective, this kind of cultural validation holds more appeal over a primal human desire to possess something that evokes a bygone age. It’s almost impossible to uncover true motives, but it is a possibility.

So the best bet to find well-preserved originals would be with directors, film producers, actors, and others in the business who’ve sought out these posters. One would even get lucky at certain theatres. “If you go to Liberty Cinema, you would find a beautiful hand-painted poster of Awara,” he said, while adding other names. “Rishi Kapoor, Raj Kapoor…they had conserved many posters.”

 

From Princely Families to Shop Dealers: Seeking Out Vintage Indian Collectibles

Rashmi Rajgopal in a conversation with two collectors on sourcing and preserving an impressive collection of original Indian film memorabilia

In a culture where posters of Amitabh Bachchan juxtaposed with goddesses and politicians abound on shop-shutters and chipped walls, the garish colours and larger-than-life poses barely make a difference. The noise is overwhelming and too deeply permeated to make you pause and look. Online, googling any of the old ’50s-’80s (and more recent, but those are easier to come by) films churns up eye-catching jpegs. It’s the same story; they’re downloaded and regurgitated back on walls. Occasionally accompanying these images is a tale of abandoned originals, lying forgotten in design studios. When they are finally discovered, everyone takes notice. Stumbling upon originals is pure luck, but putting together a collection of carefully sourced posters, LP records, stills, film synopses and lobby cards requires immense patience and determination. Two collectors, now auctioning their repository of original film posters, among other film memorabilia, share their story.

A lithographic poster of Don (1978)

A lithographic poster of Don (1978)

Amitabh Bachchan in Muqaddar ka Sikandar

A lobby card of Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978)

Could you tell us how you sourced and put your collection together?

In 1998, we once visited a Nawab family in Saharanpur. They had a library which we were keen to buy. In one of their cupboards, there was a pile of B&W stills of films from the ’50s and ’60s. We started going through them out of curiosity and found them visually striking. The family had owned a theatre in town for a while and the collection was from that era. That was our first purchase. Then we chanced upon a collection of posters from the same period in Lucknow. These were of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand films. We were quite taken in by their artwork and very contemporary layouts. The Satyajit Ray collection was bought from a film distributor from Calcutta. In the beginning, we bought a bit hesitantly, being unsure how to go about it, but we soon gained confidence. We learned to recognise originals from reprints. We selected material on the basis of their visual appeal. At times, lesser known movies had some excellent publicity material. For the period from 40s to the 70s we bought everything, rejecting only what was damaged. Preserving them and keeping them safe is a big challenge since paper is fragile and tends to break easily.

A show card of Chinatown (1962)

A show card of China Town (1962)

A Mother India (1957) show card

A Mother India (1957) show card

How difficult was it to obtain so many originals?

We have sourced from various cities like Lucknow, Calcutta, Rampur, Banaras, Mumbai etc. Our sources were mainly old shops, dealers, antique stores, distributors and old families with their private collections. We initially bought what was available. After a few years, we asked people to source specific stars or films. We also managed to train dealers to pick originals with good artwork.

Are there any interesting stories behind some of the lots?

One of our favourite dealers remains an old operator of film machines in theatres. He is a true fan of Bollywood—there wouldn’t be a single film he couldn’t hum a song from, and he would enthral us with stories about old films which we hadn’t seen.

Once when we were in Calcutta, we visited a Thakur family. They had a few paintings we wanted to see. We caught sight of hundreds of LPs and film synopses while at their store. But their grandfather was reluctant to part with his collection, which was now gathering dust. It took us three visits to finally be able to complete the purchase.

Similarly the Raj Kapoor collection (Mera Naam Joker, Sangam, Awara etc.) was with a family who were film financiers and had unfortunately not been able to sustain in the film business, which they said was very risky.

A lobby card of Raaz (1967)

A lobby card of Raaz (1967)

A lobby card of Ashok Kumar's Bhai Bhai (1956)

A lobby card of Ashok Kumar’s Bhai Bhai (1956)

Any particular era in Indian cinema that strikes you in its visual appeal?

The period from the 1940s to the 1980s is the golden period of Indian cinema—movies were made with a lot of attention to minute details. This attention to detail is reflected in the designing of the publicity material. The B&W stills stand out for their light and shadow effect (chiaroscuro). Each photograph was developed with care and precision, making them beautiful and breathtaking. Before the onset of colour printing, these photographs were hand-coloured in lovely hues, displaying the finesse and dexterity of the artist. Soon, mixed media became the norm. There were big collages with hand-coloured photographs, bold headlines and hand-coloured designs making them very contemporary. With the advent of offset printing, lobby cards came to be designed sometimes in sepia or bold and rich colours.

The printing of posters has always been in coloured medium with lithographic technique. However, the quality is special with emphasis on composition and layout, the quality of printing being excellent. These were at times designed by well-known artists like Husain.

A Poster from Satyajit Ray's Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (1965)

A poster from Satyajit Ray’s Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (1965)

An offset lobby card of Razia Sultan (1983)

An offset lobby card of Razia Sultan (1983)

Why the decision to put this collection on auction?

Bollywood film memorabilia has immense potential. Some of them are as valuable as paintings and are very contemporary. We would like to create an appreciation for this art form which is one of its kind.

Closing of Elegant Design

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart New York covers the results of the popular Elegant Design 24 hour sale.

 

A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE ART DECO CHANDELIER http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/AuctionResults.aspx?eid=3658

A MAGNIFICENT AND RARE ART DECO CHANDELIER
http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/AuctionResults.aspx?eid=3658

New York: Tuesday March 25th marked the opening of Elegant Design, Saffronart’s premier vintage interior design sale. The sale was immediately followed by its twin auction, Works on Paper, opening on March 26th. Elegant Design featured 109 important vintage items in interior and decorative art including rugs, silver, and various furniture pieces. Each lot was carefully selected to represent the most pivotal periods in the decorative arts both in India and worldwide. An example of this can be seen in the campaign furniture, depicting the specific needs of the British army in the 18th and 19th century.

 

A CAMPAIGN WRITING TABLE http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/AuctionResults.aspx?eid=3658

A CAMPAIGN WRITING TABLE http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/AuctionResults.aspx?eid=3658

Spanning the most pivotal eras in interior design history, each lot also featured a variety of exquisite mediums and materials. The sale featured pieces made from a variety of rare woods such as rosewood, teakwood, mahogany and padauk wood. Graceful, small items such as A Rare Matched Pair of Kutch Silver Tea Cups (Lot 68) and large statement pieces such as An Indian Mother Of Pearl Door (Lot 105) all displayed a variety of excellent aesthetic detail appropriate for any space. Exhibiting equal parts beauty and function, each lot was an exceptional addition for any collection and home.

A STUNNING AND HIGHLY IMPORTANT EBONY HEADBOARD http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/AuctionResults.aspx?eid=3658

A STUNNING AND HIGHLY IMPORTANT EBONY HEADBOARD http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/AuctionResults.aspx?eid=3658

Due to the wide range of beautiful vintage pieces the sale received extremely positive media coverage from a variety of media publications including Elle India, ArtDaily and DNA India. The top ten valued items from the sale ranged from furniture to silver flatware to lighting fixtures. The highest winning lots included A Magnificent and Rare Art Deco Chandelier (Lot 25) coming in at $18,772 and A Stunning and Highly Important Ebony Sideboard (Lot 33) with a winning value of $9,447. Overall the most popular and sought after items varied greatly in materials, geography and design history. The sale concluded with sixty-six lots sold and a total winning value of $176,469. It is clear from the warm reception and enthusiasm for these beautiful items that vintage design and décor is still a lovely and timeless edition to any buyer’s collection.

 

To learn more about some of the items featured in Elegant Design visit Campaign Furniture: Historical Function and Design and click here for a full analysis of the overall sale.

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