By Drew McLachlan
A set of postage stamps depicting Indian freedom icon Mahatma Gandhi were recently sold for £500,000, breaking previous records for Indian postage and indicating that collectibles from the south Asian country continue to grow in value.
The stamps were sold in a set of four in auction on April 19 by Jersey-based dealer Stanley Gibbons to a private collector-investor in Australia.
Stanley Gibbons sold a single stamp from the same series for £160,000 last year, to a collector in Uruguay.
The 10-rupee stamps depict Gandhi against a purple-brown backdrop, along with the dates of his birth and death.
The stamps were commissioned shortly after India’s independence in 1947 in order to commemorate Gandhi, who was popular as the “father of the nation”.
Before they were released, however, Gandhi was assassinated (in January 1948), leading the series to be issued as a memorial on the first anniversary of independence in August that year.
Only 100 of these stamps, including the four recently sold, had the word “SERVICE” printed over them and were given to the governor general for his official use.
These particular stamps have become some of India’s most sought after postage, with only 13 known to be in existence – including four in the Royal Philatelic Collection and one in the Delhi Postal Museum.
While the hobby of stamp collecting is strong in India, with an estimated two million collectors in the country, historical artifacts, sports memorabilia and art originating from India are experiencing a surge in interest as well.
Daniel Wade, head writer at Paul Fraser Collectibles, points to an increasingly wealthy Indian diaspora in the UK and elsewhere, along with a growing middle class within India, as the driving factor behind the growing value of these items.
“2011 figures from Artprice found that contemporary Indian artists secured 97 per cent of their sales in the US and UK,” he told Eastern Eye.
“But we are slowly seeing increasing numbers of items repatriated to India-based collectors. The reason being that wealth is growing among India’s middle and upper classes.
“This is a trend set to continue.”
“wealth is growing among India’s middle and upper classes.”
Keith Heddle, managing director of investments at Stanley Gibbons, added: “The market for high-quality Indian rarities has been strong for several years and is supported by the on-going desire of the wealthy, Indian diaspora and savvy international clients to own these historic assets.”
The most sought after items, according to Wade, are those connected to Gandhi, whose revered status and Spartan attitude towards personal possessions has generated interest from collectors around the world, regardless of their connection to south Asia.
In 2013, his personal charkha (spinning wheel), which he used while leading the Quit India Movement, sold for £110,000, double the estimated value.
A year prior, a collection of soil and grass stained with Gandhi’s blood during his assassination sold for £10,000. The entire lot of Gandhi artefacts, which also included a pair of glasses worn by the father of the nation, fetched over £100,000.
Paul Fraser Collectibles currently has a set of cutlery used by Gandhi during his incarceration at Aga Khan Palace up for sale, which is expected to sell for £75,000.
Cricket memorabilia has also increased in value due to the growing number of Indian collectors. The bat that Indian captain MS Dhoni used to hit the winning runs of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup finals sold for £100,000 at an auction in London that same year, breaking the previous record for a cricket bat.
“A recent McKinsey Global Institute study suggests India’s middle class will expand from five per cent of the country’s population to 40 per cent by 2027,” Wade said.
“That is a lot more people than before with the means to buy pieces of Indian heritage.”