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Walking down one of Bangalore’s oldest streets in the Chickpet neighbourhood feels like a classic Indian scene stereotyped in so many movies - people, traffic, cattle, and a happy dose of colour and noise intermingling with each other. In a by-lane off this street, up a flight of stairs, is an oasis of calm – the quaint store, Balaji’s Antiques and Collectibles.
(Mr. D.G Balaji, owner of Balaji's Antiques and Collectibles)
Wandering inside the store transports one to another space and time. Collectibles, furniture and objets d’art from different periods vie for space on the many shelves, walls and the floor. For a store that specializes in vintage articles, the atmosphere is hardly intimidating. Instead, the space, and the owner, Mr. D G Balaji, beckon you to explore and experience the joys of finding something storied and exquisite.
Tales from the Past
Balaji’s Antiques wasn’t always a store for vintage articles. It began as a shop selling what is today one of the symbols of antiques – gramophones. “My grandfather founded the very first gramophone store in the state called Seethaphone Co.,” says Balaji. “It was my father who actually started collecting vintage articles.”
Over 35 years ago, when Mr Veerendra Heggade, the administrator of the Dharmasthala temple wanted to start a museum for the temple’s devotees, it was Balaji’s father that he entrusted with the task of sourcing artifacts. Over the years, Balaji and his father sourced articles ranging from trains, cars and aircrafts to antiquities for the museum.
Balaji recalls the many thrilling expeditions his father embarked upon, in his quest for vintage artifacts. “In the early 90’s, my father bought an entire vintage train from Kolkata,” says Balaji. “He slept in the train every night for three months until it was transported to the museum, to prevent the parts from being stolen!”
(A glimpse of Virala, Balaji's new store in Cooke Town, Bangalore)
It was thanks to his father, that Balaji developed a deep love for vintage collectibles. “I sold my first collectible in the 80’s when I was in the 10th standard,” says Balaji. “It was an Omega watch which I bought for Rs. 1,000 and sold for Rs. 4,000.” After this sale, Balaji was hooked to the trade. While his father only collected for the museum, Balaji took collecting to a different level and established Balaji’s Antiques in the 1990’s, with just a table and nothing more.
Building Vintage Relationships
Today, Balaji is an example of the adage “once you touch an antique, it won’t leave you”. He has acquired and sold innumerable collectibles, and amassed a world of knowledge on antiquities. He still follows his father’s sound advice – one, having no theme while collecting, as it will lead to boredom and two, never deciding on the destination while embarking on a journey to acquire collectibles.
His friends tell us that Balaji gets so enamored by artifacts while shopping, that often times he goes back to his car and sits on his hands to prevent himself from shopping for more. They also talk about his uncanny ability of identifying valuable artifacts and remembering details about every article in the shop.
“Knowledge is the most important thing in this business,” says Balaji. “It’s the first thing I ask novice collectors to acquire. In fact, I tell them not to buy anything till they’ve done adequate research.”
For Balaji, building long lasting relationships is as important as sales. And so he spends a lot of time educating clients, always stressing on the importance of looking for genuine artifacts and avoiding replicas.
(Left: Pentacon Six TL SLR Camera from the 60s-70s; Right: Billy The Kid Toy Pistol from the 50s-60s. Available on Artisera)
Balaji observes that over the last three to four years, he has seen more serious collectors, who specifically look for registered antiques. He also sees Indians buying Indian art and artifacts, which he finds very encouraging, as earlier, the novelty was around western or foreign things.
(Mr. Balaji showing us an exercise weight used centuries ago)
Predicting the Future
Balaji believes in preserving the ambiance of the store, as it the keeps the element of discovery alive. There are wonders in every nook - music boxes, cameras, campaign furniture, World War II armour suits, paintings, toy Morris cars, and tin toys. There are some offbeat ones too, like mercury filled glass Christmas decorations called kugels, sulphide marbles, and exercise weights used by women centuries ago.
(A rare piece of campaign furniture, made of teak with original brass English hardware, dated between 1890-1900)
With so many articles from our childhood being sold as collectibles today, one wonders what are the collectibles of the future. And who can better predict than Balaji himself? “An iPhone 4 and 4s will be very valuable in the future, as they are the last phones that Steve Jobs launched,” advises Balaji. “Toys, especially limited edition ones like the Lego Star Wars collection, will always be valuable and so will lithographs, gramophones, comics, maps and 780 rpm records.”
(Left: An iPhone 4 unveiled in 2010, Right: Star Wars Lego Set, first released in 1999)
Whether it’s the idea of collecting without a theme in mind, or to buy things you like, instead of what the market dictates, the importance of doing in-depth research, or having a clear differentiation between collectibles for investment and those for decoration – the sound advice from someone as experienced and yet grounded as Balaji is invaluable, and his precious words of wisdom are guaranteed to linger on in our ears for a long time.
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