Collecting Indian Antiquities: Know the Rules

With more than 2,000 years of constant cultural milieu, India is a very rich country when it comes to antiquities. It boasts a vast array of stone sculpture, terra cotta, objects made of stone, bone and ivory, jewelry, woodwork, seal, medals, coins, epigraphs, paintings, murals, rock art, manuscripts, textiles and other items that are considered valuable and getting even more valuable by the day.

With collectibles and antiques ruling the roost in the West, the Asian market is not far behind. Although Indian antiquities are in great demand, most have been taken out of the country illegally.

Prior to independence, many antiquities were spirited away by the rulers of India. A number of them were gifted to the British rulers by the erstwhile maharajahs, rulers of princely states and rich people to curry favors. Today, many of these pieces are in private collections and museums outside of India.

Antique ax

Antique ax

For more information on this item, visit GoAntiques.

In modern India, people are unaware of the real value and importance of the antiques. Most of the popular collectibles are furniture, jewelry, ivory carvings, paintings, antique tiger skins, metal and stone statues, etc. and other collectibles of royal families. These are often sold by the descendants.

Innumerable insignificant forts and palaces still have hordes of heirlooms of princely states that existed before India’s independence in 1947. Also, the temple tradition of India runs for hundreds of years. The descendants and caretakers of these institutions have been selling heirlooms and other antiquities both legally and illegally for cash.

17th-century statue of Vishnu

17th-century statue of Vishnu

For more information on this item, visit GoAntiques.

The nouveau riche has become the nouveau collectors in India. But the source of collectibles remains flea markets, select legal auctions and other private collections.

According to the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, under the constitution of India, antiquities such as coins, sculpture, epigraph or anything that has been in existence for the past 75 to 100 years has to be registered with the government. This is especially true if someone wants to trade in these items. A license is required for such trade. Rampant corruption, extensive bureaucracy and red tape make it extremely difficult to get a license.

A genuine collector faces many legal hassles for the registration of antiquities. And as the laws are stringent, corruption is rampant. It is sad to say that circumnavigating the law is an easier option and with the deep-rooted culture and heritage in India, not even 10 percent of the heirlooms and antiquities are registered with the government. It is simpler for people who possess heirlooms or the people who want to collect them to bypass the law.

Ahma girl in Bengal antique photo

Ahma girl in Bengal antique photo

For information on this item, visit GoAntiques.

Because of this, one does not find references to private collectors or their collections. Most of the antiquities in India, which are registered, are in public or private museums. Most of the temples and royal-family collections are also unrecorded.

Thus, when it comes to the rules of collecting in India, families having some heirloom or any antiquity want to keep them to themselves and do not want to bring them to the attention of the government.
Even anything dug up or excavated on a private property, if considered an antique, will be taken over by the state.

With constant demand from abroad for Indian antiques, manuscripts, coins and other highly coveted collectibles from abroad and high corruption within the museums and temple officials in India, it is common knowledge that rampant pilferage takes place to satiate that demand. It should be no surprise that the high demand leads to pilferage, looting, smuggling and carrying away of national treasures.

Indo-Persian matchlock gun

Indo-Persian matchlock gun

Matchlock gun closeup

Matchlock gun closeup

For more information on this item, visit GoAntiques.

With the growing numbers of newly rich people in India and an awareness of investment in antiques by them, it is hoped that the framework of rules for collections, exchange and exhibitions are revised, making more people aware and proud of their heritage while still transacting the collections freely, either exchanging or selling.

Until that happens, unscrupulous individuals will make antique finds and objects a hush- hush job, and museums, rural temples and old forts that dot the country will remain a target for smugglers and looters.

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  1. Sourav says:

    I want to know what are the rules to collect/purchase and sale antique coins personally and what are the rules of bidding of antique coins.

  2. Anita says:

    Hi Saurav,
    There are antique laws in the same section–Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 that relate to collecting coins. However, you can check with the Numismatic Society of India or check out this link:
    http://indiannumismatics.com/helpful-links.php
    That might help.
    -Anita.

  3. anil says:

    i want to know about some pot of shakespere and other items also what are the rules for antiques and i’ve heard abt the christies auctions is it in india or nt

  4. Anita says:

    Hi Anil,
    I am not very clear on the ‘pot of Shakespeare’ but if you want to sell your items, I am sure Worthpoint is the right place :)
    If you are looking to know more about the rules on Indian collectibles, you may read through the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972. There are online copies available.
    Hope that helps!
    Anita.

  5. Sandra Lee Stuart says:

    Hello Anil,

    I’m the features editor at WorthPoint. In answer to your query about the Christie’s auctions, one — The Star Collection: From India to Indonesia — was held this month in New York (http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/searchresults.aspx?intSaleID=22493#action=refine&intSaleID=22493&sid=859c9553-ceef-4585-8635-89f49017aaac). The hammer is coming down today, March 31, in London for another — the Art of the Islamic and Indian World (http://www.christies.com/presscenter/pdf/03122009/113823.pdf).

    Hope this is helpful. Sandra Lee Stuart

  6. Jun Khan says:

    Hi Anita. This is Jun from Bangalore, now settled in SanJose California. I believe my Grandfather, now deceased since 1974, had some antiques, from the TIPU Sulan Era. I did hear from my grandmother that he had them registered after the Indian Independence, i guess after 1947. I have no clue as to which department or arm of the government would that be, so that I can go and check up the records to see if that is true. If you can please help and provide some information as to what department i should approach to check on the registration existence of such items ??? thanks.
    Jun

  7. DG says:

    It is sad to hear that certain artifacts are being wrongfully taken or sold. However, I think it is a great thing that certain Indian antiques (as well as other cultures antiquities) are leaving those countries and finding homes around the world in collections and in public musuems. I am happy that auction houses feature these Indian antiques. In fact I think that collecting antiques and art needs to be encouraged across boundary lines.

    First, these antiques create an interest and appreciation of Indian art and history. If all of the antiquities and art were in India only, how would people around the world learn about and appreciate Indian history? Also, with the recent riots in Egypt, the looting and destruction of much of the art and antiques found in those museums and temples, we can now see the importance of not keeping all of your art and antiques in one location, or country for that matter. What would happen if mass rioting occurred in India and the museums there were looted or destroyed at some point in the future? It is silly to label all art and antiques as “National treasures” in order to horde them in a few museums in a localized region.

    I Think that more antiques and art need to leave native countries, through legal means, so that these items are protected (not all placed in one location), and so that they can generate interest and appreciation of different cultures and history, such as the fascinating history of India. Remember that government ownership is not as important as artifact preservation and historical appreciation!

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  9. Ratul Bhaskar says:

    Hi,
    I think i have some antique coins . And i want sell them . Because i need money . But I am afraid of rules because i don’t know them . Can somebody help me buy showing me a proper purchaser , who can take them by obeying rules , and make me some money also.

  10. Hi,
    I think i have some antique coins . And i want sell them . Because i need money . But I am afraid of rules because i don’t know them . Can somebody help me buy showing me a proper purchaser , who can take them by obeying rules , and make me some money also.

  11. Imran says:

    Hi,

    Can any help me were to i sell my antiques My uncle is an collector.

  12. prdyot says:

    Dear,

    Kindly let me know whether I need any type of licence to sell antique weapons like daggers, swords….

  13. Nima says:

    Hi

    My father have mud coin and mid toys of mohan jodaro which we want to sell. Please infrom if anybody wants to purchase.