The repository at the Southex Books & Prints Pvt Ltd, in the capital’s South Extension Part II, spans nearly 500 years – from 1630 when the first printed books on India appeared in English to 20th century masters like the signed first copies of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and his complete collection of poems.
“It has been a long journey. We exhibited our collection in 1984 at the World Book Fair after moving from Kolkata to the capital. My father, G.C. Jain, began collecting antiquities – inspired by his association with noted artist Subho Tagore (a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore). The association took shape in 1967,” Rajiv Jain told us.
The Jain family has now brought a part of their precious collection out to celebrate 100 years of the capital.
The rows of vellum, parchment and regular leather-bound books inscribed in gold – some frayed with years and some restored to look spanking new – are complemented by mounted British East India Company art, mostly rare lithographic prints and aquatints dating between 1750-1930.
The Jains cater to an exclusive clientele, which include high-end private collectors like the Imperial Hotel and government institutions like the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) – whose core collection of rare antiquities has been sourced from the Jain’s family archive.
Jain places a large and hefty leather bound volume on a marble table in his temperature controlled archive. It is one of the few existing copies of 66 Prints of the Hindoo of the East With Their Respective Profession, amongst the earliest illustrated volumes in the country in 1799 by Belgian coach painter Francois Balthasar Solvyns.
“The books have survived because most of them have been printed on rag paper (made of cloth),” Jain said. A team of three restorers work for Jain to “preserve his collection”.
His collection of East India Company Art includes several original prints of Thomas and William Daniell’s Oriental Scenery, 80 plates of A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountain by John Gould, Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalayas by Edward Dalton Hooker and many more.
“I am struggling to preserve and build on the collection…and making a livelihood of it. Sustaining it is difficult,” Jain said.