Yours Rarely: On south Delhi's antiquarian store

An antiquarian store in south Delhi run by three generations of a family has seen its business evolve and thrive.
Akshay Jain
Akshay Jain

If you are a lover of old things, of quaint little lithographs or signed first-edition books, south Delhi’s Southex Books and Prints has you covered. The antiquarian store, run by Sanjiv Jain and his son Akshay, has been around for a while now. But, for a store dealing in antiques, they have always been abreast of the latest trends in art.

Their Instagram page details the availability of originally limited-edition lithographs of rare coloured botanical aquatints as well as works on fauna from the 19th century, something that is in vogue in the collectors’ community now. The store has also developed over the years a reputation for being the “trustiest” art dealer in the capital, with the Jains being upfront about the value and condition of the items they deal in.

A rare edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, with illustrations by John Leech, gets this candid notice on their Insta page: that this is “a hard cover with original dust jacket, with some wear on the dust jacket, and some staining on the initial pages, but otherwise a clean copy”.

Going public with Instagram is also making them accessible to a lot of history buffs and collectors who would otherwise might have missed the store nestled in a peaceful neighbourhood in South Extension 2. With rare first editions and signed copies of books, lithographs, maps, and photographs among many other things, the store is a treasure trove for collectors of rarities or anybody interested in having a tangible connection to history.

It is easy to miss the store if you are not looking for it, as no signboards point to its location. From the outside, it looks like any other house in the neighbourhood. But once you get inside, into the large room filled with paintings and illustrations, shelves lined with bulky hardbound books, intricately designed chandeliers hanging over vintage furniture, it is as though you’ve stepped into a bygone era.

The Southex Books and Prints store
The Southex Books and Prints store

From electrical engineering to the antiques business

The Jains’ family business has a long history of its own. Their association with antiques started with GC Jain, Sanjay’s father, who was an electrical engineer in Kolkata. After losing his job in the tumultuous ’60s, GC Jain was persuaded by Subho Tagore, a grand-nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, to get into the business of collecting antiques.

“In 1967, my father started doing business in antiques and curios in Kolkata. He bought these items from zamindars of princely states, and from families and at auctions,” says Sanjiv. When they moved to Delhi and started business at the current location in 1982, they already had a large collection of oddities. But after the move, the greater focus was on books and prints.

The store has first editions of The Constitution of India, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, EM Forster’s A Passage to India, Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha in South Africa and the three-volume set of The Architecture of Sir Edward Lutyens by AS Butler, to name a few in over a thousand first editions at the store.

There are signed photographs of historical figures such as Adolf Hitler, Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mother Teresa and Muhammad Ali among several other important historical, political, religious and sports personalities. There are also rare collections of lithographs, paintings and ancient maps, some dating back to the 1600s.

Where do they source these items from? “From all over the place,” says Sanjiv. “People know us. If they have something they do not want anymore and know that it is of historical value, they either give it to us or sell it to us. We also buy things at auctions across the globe,” he adds.

Being procurers with a measure of value

“If you have something specific in mind, we can procure it for you,” says Akshay with full confidence. The 32-year-old has been taking care of the business with his father for over 12 years now, and is all set to take it forward. “It requires a lot of knowledge and good judgment to deal with antiques. These are not products with MRPs. You have to know their value. Most of the items we have are irreplaceable,” he says.

During the pandemic, when the business was down, Akshay started the Instagram page for the store. On it, he uploads details of the items in the store and potential customers can contact him directly. It is also an attempt at educating the general public about the existence and value of these rarities. “The art works are also an asset. If you look at the last 20 to 25 years, the prices of many of the works we have has gone up manifold in the art market. While paintings are expensive, lithographs and other prints are affordable. More and more young people are seeing it as a good investment and are procuring them,” says Akshay.

Southex Books and Prints also has a dedicated team of professionals who specialise in restoring and repairing antique items. The store caters to art connoisseurs worldwide, and also various museums, galleries, embassies, hotels and government institutions. Antiquities from the store decorate legacy hotels such as The Imperial, Janpath, and those of the Taj and the Oberoi groups. With the business being passed down three generations now, the Jains have established themselves as trusted dealers in antiquities and what might have been once called one of Delhi’s best kept secrets, is now creating quite a buzz on social media.

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