Collecting rare books has still not caught on in India but, according to Rajeev Jain of RS Books and Prints in New Delhi, there have always been “high net worth individuals with good taste and a literary bent of mind” interested in paying good money for old books. The store deals in hard-to-find books across all categories, including old books, signed first editions and autographed books on contemporary Indian art.
An area of specialization is 18th and 19th century travelogues. Jain says that from as early as the 1750s, British and European travellers to India began publishing accounts of their travels. The books contain copies of hand-drawn pictures by accomplished artists. In all, about 5,000 such hand-drawn prints are still around and their subjects are diverse—they include monuments, religious customs, modes of transport, as well as the subcontinent’s flora and fauna.
RS Books also stocks autographed first editions as well as hard-to-find editions on contemporary art.
According to Jain, the value of a book is not just a simple function of how old it is but depends on its content and authorship. “Age counts for only 10%,” he says. An American first edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, published by Macmillan and Co., could fetch Rs1 lakh today, while the first edition of economist George Keynes’ seminal Indian Finance and Currency could fetch Rs75,000. Another hot favourite is the 1832 first edition of John Gould’s illustrated classic, A Century of Birds from the Himalayan Mountains.
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