The Good Life

Good as gold

About 200 rare books on Indian art recently changed hands at an online auction

In the age of kindles, e-books and audio books, we’re often unsure if paperback can retain its hold. Well, a recent auction on books on Indian art which raised close to ₹10,000,000 is reason enough to believe that nothing can replace the touch and feel of a book. The over 200 books auctioned online by art purchasing platform StoryLTD’s included limited edition monographs, reviews by early critics, artist-signed books and catalogues. In addition to Indian art, the auction also had on offer books on Sri Lankan and Pakistani artists.

Leading the auction was A Set Of Marg Magazines: Volumes 1 – 64 which was founded by Mulk Raj Anand as a journal dedicated to the arts, and was first published in October 1946. This collection covered issues from January 1947 to June 2013 comprising Marg's early magazines which contained articles by influential writers of the time that are no longer available. Other highlights included Poet of The East And Chugtai, an interpretation by Abdur Rehman Chugtai of the philosopher Iqbal's verses, featuring illustrations by the artist; George Keyt by Martin Russell;  Himalayas - Abode of Light by Nicholas Roerich, his last book published six months before his death in 1947; and a portfolio of Abanindranath Tagore's interpretation of Omar Khayyam published in Paris in 1910, among others.

The total sales were ₹9,793,099 to which Marg’s sixty-four volume set led the sale at ₹1,900,000, “The set is a collection of carefully bound and well preserved issues from 1947. Several early issues are now difficult to find, and this was perhaps the most comprehensive collection of nearly all its issues till date,” says Hugo Weihe, CEO, Saffronart, which owns StoryLTD.

According to the platform, besides Marg, Souza: Important Books, Catalogues and Rare Magazines—also saw fierce bidding, selling for ₹1,200,000, four times its upper estimate of ₹300,000. A set of sixteen books and magazines on Indian artists, sold at nearly seven times the upper estimate of ₹150,000, for ₹997,000. The earliest book on Raja Ravi Varma (c. 1903), and a magazine from 1911, sold at ₹596,000, nearly fifteen times its upper estimate of ₹40,000. Sher-Gil: 8 Books and Magazines, sold at fourteen times its upper estimate of ₹60,000 for ₹840,000. “This lot included some of the earliest magazines and catalogues featuring the artist and her work, and have never been in the market before,” adds Weihe.

Refusing to reveal the identity of buyers, StoryLTD says that this auction garnered tremendous interest from art collectors, museums and curators, and art institutions. Talking about how the most expensive bid was made, “As with most online auctions, there was frantic bidding in the last few minutes during the closing of this lot, with a final sale value of approximately ₹1,900,000," reveals Weihe.