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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Phila-Trivia: Portrait of an Early Indian Stamp Dealer

The following is an interesting article written by Jal Cooper and published in the March 1944 issue of "India’s Stamp Journal" (Bombay) about M.K. Essaji - an Indian stamp dealer who sold India first issues by weight.

I introduce today to my readers Bombay’s oldest veteran stamp dealer, or rather the doyen amongst the Indian stamp dealers, in Mr. A.K. Essaji, the proprietor of the Eastern Art Galleries, 33 Apollo Pier Road, Bombay. Few dealers or collectors in any part of the world must have handled the classic materials on wholesale basis as done by Mr. Essaji. Since establishing himself as a stamp and art dealer in 1902 in the famous old Bombay rendezvous of the connoisseurs of art and curios, viz. in the Meadows Street in a small shop on a monthly rental of Rs 2/-, Mr. Essaji must have at least handled over a hundred thousands stamps of India 1854 imperforates.

In fact, Mr. Essaji had a regular wholesale expert trade with English dealers to supply India 1854 1⁄2 and 1 anna values at 6/- and 12/- shillings per 100 respectively, a price at which one can obtain today single copies of this issue! In fact, as he had no time to count up a large lot of India 1854 mixed values including the scarce 4 annas value, he had once shared a deal by weighing out the shares. This was done when he had purchased from a junk dealer in Porbandar some sackfuls of India 1854 stamps numbering about 47,000 for a princely (?) sum of Rs. 240/- in partnership with late Khan Bahadur Padamji of Bombay. As they had no time nor the necessary patience to count up the large lot, they weighed out their shares! This was not all. Mr. Essaji used to cut off the large blocks in singles to enable him to tie them up in bundles of 100 each for his export trade!! An American collector in Bombay rightly exploded when he heard this and was not slow in denouncing Mr. Essaji in round terms. “Brother, he ought to be hanged!” was his painful exclamation. But then, what do you think of a dealer in Bombay who returned to Mr. Essaji a lot of 1⁄2 anna 1854 after two days approval stating that the price of Rs. 30/- was too high for 2,000 copies!! Shades of phantom philately! I believe that this fellow ought to have been shot dead as well as hanged!

Again, what do you think of Mr. Essaji’s another most spectacular purchase of Ceylon Pence issues on original entires? They did not number a few dozens or a few hundreds. No, Sir, they just numbered about 30,000! YES SIR, THIRTY THOUSAND!! This lot was lying about in a Gujerati Bania’s shop in a wooden box which was sold out to a junk dealers’ company (they were four partners) in Parsi Bazaar Street, for a paltry sum of Rs. 5/- as there were rats in the box, and as two of the rats had decided to bury themselves in the graveyard of Pence issues originals. The box was emptied and the contents given a cleansing with phenoid and sun bath!! And in a couple of days the treasure - I cannot name the junk in any other way though they may have contained in them the plague germs which were in abundance at that time in Bombay and have not been able to ascertain from Mr. Essaji if any collector was a victim - was bought by Mr. Essaji for a magnificent sum of Rs. 800/-, as the four partners of the junk dealers’ company wanted half anna each per cover. Mr. Essaji bought the lot with Rs. 50/- down and the balance to be paid in two days - in those days the easy pay as you can installment system did not seem to exist - and the lot was removed to his home to give it a further cleansing and sort out the good ones, as if the Pence issues have some bad ones amongst them! On the very next day, Mr. Essaji sold two covers to Professor Muller of the Wilson College for Rs. 1,000/-!!! I do not know if there was any excess profit tax in existence or even the income tax in those days, because Mr. Essaji has never complained to me in the matter!
Besides these, Mr. Essaji had the good fortune to buy large collections of those days and when I say large I mean it, because once he purchased two trunkfuls of a collection as the collector had everything of philately as in those days, to wit, bundles and bundles of cards and covers and albums galore. This junk was worth in those days in the neighborhood of Rs. 40,000/-, but the price paid by Mr. Essaji was Rs. 4,000/- only, as he explained to me that in those days he never bought a stamp collection unless he was confident of securing several hundred percent profit on his deals! No Sir, he was not a profiteer but he explained that he had to base his profits in tune with his expenses for maintaining his large family. Collectors, in future make sure that you make your purchases from a bachelor stamp dealer!!

But to crown all, Mr. Essaji was the first enterprising stamp dealer to venture to have stamp auctions in India and in fact, he held over half a dozen sales which were finally given up for want of support from collectors. This humble writer acted as his secretary in conducting these sales.

Besides being a stamp dealer, Mr. Essaji today ranks as a foremost authority in Bombay in Persian carpets and Mughal early paintings. In fact, these two are his main trade activities of nearly half a century, whereas dealing in stamps is only his side line! If these were not sufficient, Mr. Essaji possesses a very sound knowledge about early Indian coins, whereas very few in India can equal him in his knowledge and experience of old China, early embroidery, in fact of practically everything which a connoisseur of art loves and respects.

I am pleased to state that Mr. Essaji in spite of his advanced age still possesses a robust constitution to attend to his shop all the 365 days and seems to be going stronger every day like the famous “Johnny Walker.”

If any readers have a doubt about Mr. Essaji’s selling early India 1854 1⁄2 anna and 1 anna values at 6/- and 12/- per 100, I can confidently assure them that it was quite possible as the Stanley Gibbons’ prices in those days were as follows: 1⁄2 anna (any die) 4d, 1 anna (dies I and II) 6d, 1 anna (die III) 5/-.

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