Bidding for books

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Attending a book auction in New York, K.K.S. MURTHY remembers how his father had built up a stock through auctions in India.

I t's winter and the New York weather not very welcoming; still the desire to attend a book auction in Manhattan was so strong that I drove from New Jersey in the cold. I had earlier noticed several books of which I owned copies back in India. So I was curious to check out their value. For example I had a gorgeous copy of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner with Gustave Dore's superb engravings. A similar copy, in excellent condition, was on display at this auction.

Though I had seen book auctions in Bangalore, the way it was conducted in New York was very different and quite complicated. The auctioneer received ever so many phone calls from different parts of the country for certain types of books, especially detective novels. Titles by writers like Ellery Queen, Dorothy Sayers, H.R.F Keating, Jacques Barzun, P.D James and several others were in excellent condition; some were limited editions with the author's inscriptions. Books in the auction were quickly sold to the highest bidder.

Unusual experience

It was an unusual experience to be in the midst of excited bidders. As it was an enormous hall, I could not closely follow the method through which some bidders were deemed successful. However, my attention was on those bidders who were interested in detective fiction. The auction came to a close as I was trying to discover the successful candidates. I looked dazed and was sitting next to an American lady, a successful bidder. She asked if I was from India and which part of the country etc. When I answered her, she invited me to see her shop the next day.

“All the detective fiction... every time they come to this auction room, I will always acquire them, whatever be the hurdle.” She was the owner of the famous New York bookshop, Murder Ink. When I visited the shop, I was charmed by its atmosphere; it looked so much like an antiquarian bookshop: books neatly arranged in shelves (unlike what I had seen years ago at Foyle's in London). As I entered, the proprietor sitting at a prominent corner invited me in and made enquires about book shops in India. I could, of course, purchase only two books a because of the expense. I had never attended any noted auctions like Sotheby's or Christies in London.

Auctions in Bangalore

Book auctions bring back many memories from my boyhood days. Often, my father, then a practising pleader in Andhra Pradesh, would get a call to attend book auctions in Bangalore. Those were the days of World War II. Many foreign families leaving India left behind their precious collection of books with the auctioneer in Bangalore.

On such occasions my father would get a notification to attend these auctions and invariably he would be the highest bidder.Father would collect and store them in my grandfather's residence in Malleshwaram.This happened quite frequently and father's clients in Kurnool had no other option but to ask my mother when father would return from Bangalore.

A casual encounter with a retired director of the Imperial Bank of India was a turning point in father's life. This foreigner prompted my father to start a bookshop in his garage, after having noticed father's exceptional collection of books. Select was ultimately born in 1945; the unique store house of rare and out-of-print books.

The writer is the proprietor of Select Bookshop, Bangalore.



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