The very first stamp of independent India was an aeroplane, the second was a portrait of Gandhi that was printed in Switzerland but couldn’t be used in India, because the gum of the stamp wouldn’t stick in India’s humid climate. Dinesh Kanabar, one of the country’s leading international tax experts, is an encyclopaedia on Indian stamps with an enviable collection of pre-Independence stamps and archival material.
For the 63-year-old CEO of Dhruva Advisors, stamp collecting started in college as a hobby. “My father collected post-Independence stamps and I inherited his collection,” says Kanabar. However, he then became a chartered accountant and everything else took a back seat. It was somewhere in the mid-1990s that he read an article in The Economist which said how the prices of Mongolian vases had increased significantly because China was prospering. The article also referred to how prices of stamps, coins and other Chinese artefacts had increased in price because everyone wanted a piece of Chinese history/ heritage. “It was then that it struck me that I had a stamp collection that I had not looked at for over a decade and that I should see what was happening in the Indian stamp market.” This was immediately post liberalisation and the Indian stamp market was pretty stagnant. Kanabar thought of buying a few stamps but in those days there weren't too many sellers in India. “There was a time when you couldn’t get anything in India but now there are auctions in India as well,” he says. It turned out to be fortuitous because he started bidding at global auctions. “I could remit money from India and have them delivered home. I managed to acquire quite a few collections which people had accumulated over a period of time,” he says.
“Indian stamps is such a vast subject that you can spend a hundred years and few hundred crore but still not cover the entire gamut,” says Kanabar who unlike his father is focussed on pre-Independence, specifically the first Indian stamps in four denominations—half anna, one anna, two anna and four anna—and archival material. Stamps were introduced in the UK in 1840 and in India in 1854. Since four anna was a large sum, the stamps were used rarely. Kanabar has an entire album of four anna stamps with some having a market value of several thousand pounds.
Kanabar purchases his stamps particularly from auctions in the UK. London is a good hunting ground with stores like Stanley Gibbons in London’s West End. Stamps in India deteriorate because of the weather conditions. The moisture impacts them. “When you buy stamps from overseas the condition is pristine.”
Kanabar has insured his collection and keeps them in albums in an air conditioned room 24x7.
In the last five years the value of Indian stamps has boomed. Kanabar says that stamps with an estimate of £6,000 sell at auction for £35,000-40,000, with intense bidding.
“I never meant for my collection to be an investment but it has turned out to be both a hobby and an investment,” says Kanabar.
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