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Heritage The Prince Lives On


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
And the prince lives on
Gargi Gupta / New Delhi June 04, 2011, 0:50 IST
International auction houses are taking a shine to Sikh history

Several interesting fragments of Sikh history went on sale this week at Mullock’s, an auction house in Shropshire, UK.

The highlight of these was a 1911 replica of the British crown featuring the Kohinoor diamond which Maharajah Duleep Singh had presented to Victoria in 1850 as a token of his fealty. A four-page letter, detailing how the Kohinoor was acquired and the kingdom of Ranjit Singh annexed, is also among the lots, as is another dated November 1871 with Duleep Singh’s signature. More historically valuable are letters written by East India House to Duleep Singh and his guardian in Britain, John Login, deciding on their annuity and salary, including the touching detail that the company had no problems if Rs 833.54 from the prince’s monthly allowance were diverted to Login.
Also on sale are early photographs, including an image of Patiala’s Bhupinder Singh by the well-known photographer Carl Vandyk, engravings, lithographs, water-colours in the Company style, miniatures on ivory in the Sikh-style, government gazettes, and so on.

This is the second auction that this 15-year-old auction house has conducted this year offering artefacts from Anglo-Sikh history. On April 19, it had offered a 1839 white-gold brooch with a miniature of Ranjit Singh — it was avowedly the last to be painted in his lifetime; documents relating to Duleep Singh’s conversion to Christianity, his financial settlement; the Anglo-Sikh wars, and more. Remarkably, a number of the lots sold for many times the reserve price, with one painting of a Sikh man fetching £2,200, ten times the asking price.

Clearly there’s a demand for Anglo-Sikh relics in the West, especially those relating to Duleep Singh, whose tragic life, and fraudulent subjugation by the British find resonance even today.

It’s a demand that’s been steadily supplied. Objects associated with Duleep Singh have appeared in several auctions in recent years.

In 2009, a richly-embroidered velvet ceremonial robe and pair of shoes belonging to Duleep Singh were offered by Lyon & Turnbull auction house in Edinburgh. The asking price: £60,000 and £15,000, respectively. The year before, Bonhams sold a marble bust of the Lion of Punjab for £110.400 (base price £50,000-£70,000), while in 2007, one of his son by John Gibson, Victoria’s court sculptor, sold for £1.7 million.

Where did all these artefacts come from? Diverse sources, and given how long Duleep Singh stayed in Britain, there are many sources for objects associated with him. For instance, Duleep Singh’s robe and shoes were sold by a woman who had bought them in the 1950s at Elveden Estate, the 17,000-acre estate in eastern England, where he lived for some time. The Guiness family, which had bought Elveden in 1894 after his death, held a major auction with Christie’s in 1984, at which it disposed of many of his possessions. The Ranjit Singh bust was sold by the grandson of the man who had bought it before Partition from a prominent Sikh family in Lahore.




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