Friday June 23, 2017 05:07 AM EST

Sandeep Singh Brar | Toronto, Canada
Posted: 12:29 PM | April 10, 2014

Buyer Beware of Sikh Auctions

The recent story of Canadian real estate developer, Bob Dhillon, purchasing the sword of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh at auction last month, for reportedly close to six figures, has been making the news lately and has caused a lot of excitement among the Sikh community.

During the past decade or so, the valuation of Sikh artifacts at auction houses around the world have gone through the roof, far exceeding the objects’ estimated auction value. Auction houses have taken notice of the great enthusiasm and euphoria among Sikh collectors, and are catering to this growing phenomenon.

In 2007, a marble bust of Maharaja Duleep Singh, produced in Rome, in 1859, sold for a staggering 1.7 million pounds, nearly 60 times more than what the London auction house, Bonhams, had valued.

The Sikh auction market is certainly red hot, and therein lays a cautionary flag for potential investors and collectors.

Noticing the extreme selling price achieved at the Bonhams auction in 2007, the premiere auction house, Sotheby’s, tried to cash in on the action a year later. In 2008, they offered for auction a Char-aina (literally 'four mirrors') body-armour side-plate with gold overlay in Gurmukhi and floral decorations, claimed to have belonged to Guru Gobind Singh. There was tremendous interest around the world. And if this auction had proceeded, it would certainly have set a new record.

There was a tremendous cry from the Sikh community that such an important artifact should not fall into private hands. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee called on the Queen to intervene and stop the auction from proceeding.

With all the hysteria surrounding the auction of “Guru Gobind Singh’s armour,” Sotheby’s was forced to clarify that it was NOT the armour of Guru Gobind Singh. Sotheby’s said there had been a misunderstanding and misreading of their auction item description in its catalogue, which only claimed that the armour for sale had a stylistic similarity to a set of armour attributed to Guru Gobind Singh that belonged to the Patiala royal family. Of course, most Sikhs missed this nuance in wording.

Sotheby’s released the following statement: “Sotheby's has not found or been given an evidence to indicate ownership of this piece by Guru Gobind Singh, and we therefore do not deem the piece to be a relic of the Guru…The verse inscribed on the armour-plate had been originally composed by Guru Gobind Singh, although it has no necessary or exclusive connection to armour belonging or attributed to the Guru."

Sotheby’s eventually ended up withdrawing the armour from the auction.

The lesson to be learned here is that we need to be cautious when high profile Sikh artifacts come up for sale at auction houses. We have to make sure that there is extensive due diligence done by knowledgeable historians and subject-matter experts to thoroughly collaborate, authenticate and track the provenance of these Sikh artifacts before well-meaning Sikh collectors get into sky-high auction bidding wars.

This brings us to the current issue of the sale of a sword attributed to Maharaja Ranjeet Singh by British auction house, Mullock’s.

Maharaja Ranjeet Singh's sword

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