over the decades, is perhaps one of the very few metro cities in the country which has been able to uphold a coalescence of vintage and modern eras concurrently. A few showrooms and/or auction houses across the city still engage in sales of and/or auctioning of vintage articles and period memorabilia.
However, quite a few of those auction houses and salerooms have shut down over time. Kolkata’s earliest known auction house, Mackenzie Lyall & Co., set up in the 19th century and known once for its opium auctions, closed down. Others, like Stainer & Co., Dalhousie Exchange, Chowringhee Sales Bureau Pvt. Ltd and D Albert & Co., too downed shutters between 1985-2005.
Victor Brothers in Park Street have also announced their departure. The only auction house remaining is the Russell Exchange.
The last of Kolkata’s auctioneers, Russell Exchange, has been in business since 1940. A family pursuit, the auction house is now headed by Arshad Salim and Anwar Saleem. One might find oneself in a different epoch in history walking in through the doors of this auction house.
Myriad furniture made of teak wood like Burma Teak, Central Province Teak and Bernard Shaw Teak provide the setting, while chandeliers hang from the high ceiling, imparting an old-world charm.
One can also find paintings, Chinese and ceramic crockery, and vintage figurines. But period furniture is the plum in the pie.
Sitting in conversation with The Statesman, Arshad Salim delved into the past and current market scenarios of auctions across the country. With the British leaving post Indian independence, anything they were up for selling were snapped up by the well-heeled of the then Calcutta.
“Now, the scenario is a bit different. The quality of commodities has changed over the years. Imported commodities were not easily available back then and hence went under the hammer. But, it’s good to find the young generation’s affinity for vintage items as well. I have customers across the country. Good and valued stuff always sells. Also, film production houses take vintage articles on rent to use them as props”, said Salim.
Russell Exchange conducts auctions every Sunday of various items including vintage furniture, clothes, crockery and even electronic devices. Stepping in, one can still hear announcements like “Going once… Going twice… Going thrice and sold to the gentleman in the white shirt!”
“It’s necessary to be honest in this profession. We charge a commission of 25 per cent. If you’re cutting corners, eventually the customers come to know and that’s when you start making losses,” remarked Salim.
Earlier, a documentary titled The Auction House: A Tale of Two Brothers was filmed on this oldest surviving auction house in the city. James May, television presenter, is to film the Russell Exchange for the third season of his series titled Our Man in India.