India’s Oldest Surviving Auction House Still Runs At Russell Street In Kolkata!

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Russell Exchange – where everything is saleable

At the third strike of the hammer, you can buy almost everything at this auction house – from period furniture, glass and china ware, cameras to books, a stack of CDs, pocket watches, a tennis racket, a wooden picture frame and much more. You name it and it’s there tucked somewhere in the rustic racks of Russel Exchange

The Auction Siblings

The 77-year-old auction house is run by two brothers – Anwar Saleem and Arshad Salim; and their elder sister, Sarfaraz Begum Shamsi (India’s only female auctioneer) provides a helping hand. They hold a garment auction every Thursday and a general auction very Sunday.

Who can you find there?

These public auctions attract a variety of crowd – mostly resellers, traders, the quintessential antique hoarders and even people who don’t buy but just want a taste of the experience.

The Auction Experience

One Sunday, Team Beacon Kolkata walked into the warehouse to get a first-hand experience at an auction. On the left, you can see piles of antique furniture stacked carefully and on the right, you’ll find antique décor. Look up and you’ll see magnificent chandeliers hanging from above, and for a moment it’ll make you wonder if you walked right into a movie set.

What can you expect to find there?

Walking in, there is a huge table where the items to be auctioned are kept, and at the very end, sits the auctioneer with a list and a hammer. On both sides, people gather to have a close look at the item before bidding for it. A lot of these items are regular household items, brought in by people looking to earn a quick buck.

The way it works

The house charges 20% commission on the sale price of an item you’ve brought in. We watched intently as the auctioneer called “One lot of audio cassettes, 50 rupees!” Immediately someone called for 55, another did for 60. This went on and the cassettes were finally sold to the highest bidder at a price of 200 rupees.

The Russell Exchange also conducts auctions at private residences and lends its antiques to many Indian film sets. None of the items on display have been bought by the house. Sellers bring in the items and the house values them and helps them set up an initial bidding price. Valuation of items is an art in itself – one needs to keep in mind the market rates as well as keep the buyers interested.

Auctioneering is all about presentation, people come in for an experience and eventually get lured in. Bidding provides a certain high, and the charm is almost irresistible. It’s hard for us to not go back to an unusually desolate Russell Street on Sunday and walk in through the titanic doors of Russell Exchange, where the board reads, “Auction here today”.

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