History as a collectible

Sepia memories

History as  a collectible

Royal Splendour: ‘Proclamation Durbar’ (1877), a very fine, hand-coloured  lithograph depicting the arrival of an Indian Maharaja’s guests amid much pomp.

We live in a fragmented India today where identity struggles have persisted. The maps displayed in this exhibition however had an entirely different story to tell. During the British era, the southern region was demarcated as Mysore, Carnatic, Cochin, Travancore, Ceylon and Hyderabad. Western India had Baluchistan, Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan. Northern India had Delhi, North Western Frontier Province, Bihar, Lucknow. Eastern India had Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Burma in the extreme east. Fascinating were the spellings of different provinces. 

Patiala was spelt as Puteeala, Tripura as Tipprah, Garo as Garrow, Guwahati as Gowhatty, Nilgiri as Neelgherry, and so on. Another interesting feature of this exhibition was the display of the hard bound copies of Marg, an architecture and art magazine, dating from 1950 to 2000. The magazine selection had articles on art, culture, music, dance and many other interesting cultural facts.

A significant exhibit was the Illustrated London News, August 31, 1861, that published the pictures of  the Surrey XI  which played opposite the Indian cricket team.  There was also a huge collection of books displayed and each book carried almost 200 years worth of history within.

India and its Native Princes by Reusselet Louis contains 317 illustrations and six maps. A History of The Indian Mutiny, is a seven volume collection by Kaye (John William) and George Bruce Malleson (1857-8) among many Raj influenced tome. Dr Robert Brown’s The Countries of the World is a popular description of the various continents, islands, rivers, seas and peoples of the globe.

Mortimer Menpes’ Durbar (413th edition) was signed by the artist. The illustrations in this volumes were engraved and printed at the Menpes Press under the supervisor of the artist. Another work of Menpes was India, published in 1905 where the text was done by Flora Annie Steel.

One interesting book which captured immediate attention  was Curry & Rice by George Atkinson which has 40 takes  on the ingredients of social life in India which was published by W Thacker & Co in 1911.

An interesting aside was that James Forbes, the son of a London Merchant Timothy Forbes was appointed as a writer in the East India Company in March 1765. He was adventurous and independent, an amateur artist who sketched the Indian environment spontaneously and with no training. His work Oriental Memoirs had 29 hand coloured plates and 79 steel engravings. It consisted delectable images of  flora and fauna and also some artistic representations  of the Taj Mahal.

Some interesting books on birds displayed were delightful. Case in point being Robert Fulton’s The Book of Pigeons.

India of yore: William Simson’s, ‘A Street in Bombay.’ (1867)Frank Finn’s Indian Sporting Birds, 1915 publication had illustrations of many species of birds which are probably extinct by now. Dr Karl Russ wrote about the Speaking Parrots  and it was also a visually rich account. David Wooster’s Alpine Plants had some of the most striking and beautiful of the alpine flowers. This book was published in 1874.

There was also a unique display of newspaper advertisements dating from 1924 to 1938 featuring brands like Jacob’s biscuits, Lux, Pears, Yardley, Tangee lip gloss, Odol mouthwash and toothpaste, Kolynos Dental Cream, Good Year, Rolls Royce,  Dunlop,  Burmah Shell Company and General Motors. Most are collector’s items today and offer a window to the world of quaint, old-fashioned advertising.

A remarkable collection  of old photographs captures Pandit Nehru as a young child, later with Indira Gandhi and then there are  some  regal images the Maharajas of Central Indian provinces.

One could also get a glimpse of vintage Bangalore during its most innocent days through classic   black-and -white pictures. The pictures of Lalbagh (the Terrace, Bandstand and more) showed the garden in its nascent glory.

Glimpses of opulent Durbar chambers in Tipu’s palace and the  interiors  of the United Service Club Bangalore  were on display among telling pictures of Ooty, Lovedale Railway Station, Mysore Palace and other landmark buildings.

This exhibition retold historical facts, narrated interesting trivia, documented India’s geo-political past and showed us how far we have come from where we were.

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