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Passed down from ages

Last updated: 12 August, 2009
Deepa Natarajan 21:46 IST

It is rightfully said that ‘Old is gold’. No one can vouch for this better than the people who have priceless possessions passed down from ages. ‘Metrolife’ spoke to a few such collectors to find out their love for old items


passionate Athani Mahalingeswar with the Petromax.  Vintage stamp
Dr Sita Bhateja, a gynaecologist is the proud owner of the red Scinde Dawk, which was India’s first stamp.
“It’s made out of red wax and was brought out in 1852 for a short period in the region of Sindh,” she informs. There are three kinds of Scinde Dawk — red, white and blue. The red one is considered to be the most precious of these.
Recalling the time she purchased the stamp, which was in the early 90s, she says, “It was sold by an auction company, that sent me the catalogues. I had to make a trip to London to collect the stamp.” During her visit to the Louvre Museum in Paris, Sita had a funny experience as well. “I fell down the steps and the moment I got up, I didn’t bother to check whether I was alright. I just wanted to know whether my stamp was intact. Luckily, it was packed carefully in my bag,” she laughs.
The stamp, bought by Sita for Rs 8,000 is now worth several lakh. “Though the single Scinde Dawks is more commonly found, there are only two paired Scinde Dawks left in the world. One pair is with me, and I don’t know where the other is,” she sums up.

Old articles

Shiva Shankar is a collector of many antiques. “My mother used to collect old items in the house. She would never throw them out,” says he. “As my sister and I grew up, we started appreciating our mother's fondness for old household articles, some of them belonging to her mother, which she never gave up while inviting modern utilities.” So be it a 50-year-old display table, photos, lamps, lanterns, idols, music instruments and LP records, Shiva’s collection has it all.
These items are not only from Bangalore. “We have been collecting old things from our relatives, friends and neighbours, often volunteering to clean up their dust-ridden lofts. Our search for them has taken us to Chorbazar in Mumbai, Moore Street in Chennai and our own Sunday Market at K R Market area.”
An old picture of Krishna sitting on the lap of Ganesha, a brass comb, betelnut cutter,
75-year-old wooden bride and groom dolls, woodenstick used for beating rice, 40-year-old radio or the stick used for turning curd into butter, which is seldom seen in modern utilities, Shiva’s collection is truly antique. Recalling a funny incident, he says, “A scrap shop owner once threatened to hand my brother over to the police, when he got suspicious about my brother’s regular visits to his shop in search of old things.”

Tipu’s coins
Manjunath is also known as Tipu Manjunath, as he has one of the best coin collections on Tipu Sultan. During his school vacations, Manjunath would go to his grandfather’s house in Mysore. “He was a historian and during my stay, I came across copper coins with a hole. I learnt that they were the one paisa coins also called as washer coins. That made me take a lot of interest,” says Manjunath.

According to Manjunath, the coins during Tipu’s regime are some of the most beautiful ones. “It’s mainly because of the calligraphy. His association with Napoleon and the French made him employ many French artisans, due to which the coins are magnificent,” says the numismatist. Manjunath displays his coins beautifully as well. “Collecting is one thing but displaying the coins is a different art altogether.”

Another coin in his collection that Manjunath really cherishes, is a golden pagoda (coin) issued by Tipu’s father Haider Ali, which has Haider’s initials in Urdu on the front, and a carving of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi on the back. “I can’t think of a better example of communal harmony than this,” he exclaims.

Rare artifacts

Octogenarian Athani Mahalingeswar’s antique collections are fascinating. His extensive collection on heritage coins dating from 400 BC to the present, forms merely one part of it. Mahalingeswar is the proud possessor of the first Petromax lamp in history. “It was left by the English at the Chikmagalur headquarters of the Coffee Board’s and I bought it for Rs 50,” he smiles.

He also has a beautiful Austrian lamp with majestic carvings, which is over 200 years old and extremely heavy. “It was a gift from an English gentleman, who was the chief of the Bengal-Nagpur Railways in 1955,” he says. His calligraphy collection includes nibs, feathers and ink pots of all ages. The most interesting of them being the ink tablets, which used to be dissolved in water in the olden days.
He also has the earliest telegraph, used as a means of communication.

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