Antiques Of A ‘Different’ Kind!

Dilnawaz Mehta is a conservator of old maps, books and documents. She declares that looking after and restoring them to their original glory is a wonderful way of knowing our past! She further adds that the number of connoisseurs of this art are growing by the year! Each year, Dilnawaz holds an exhibition for collectors. This year’s show will be held in December.

By Vimla Patil


Precious Old Books

Tucked away in the sylvan Parsi Colony in the mid-town area of the frenetic city of Mumbai is an old building where Dilnavaz Mehta stores her priceless collection of ancient maps, books, prints and other memorabilia. Dilnavaz’s company, Rare Finds, offers to the discerning collectors of India a unique collection of original prints, old maps and antiquarian books. “This enterprise has grown from the seed of a personal interest. When I was in college, old books on history, social science, geography and art interested me. Wherever I went, I went to the old markets and street vendors to look for manuscripts, which were often tattered and in bad shape. I would buy these and restore them carefully. When my friends and contacts came to know about my interest, they began to order old books on their favourite subjects for their reference or collection. Soon, I became known among book lovers and I began to get requests for all sorts of papers and books. Some people called me to restore their family book collections, which they had inherited from their ancestors. It gave me great pleasure to do this job since I love books any way.

An Old Map of India

“Then I moved on to maps and prints. In the last decades, contemporary Indian art has become so well known that many investors in India and art collectors in other countries have started investing huge monies in paintings. Very few know that India boasts of paintings and sketches from earlier centuries when photography was not even invented. In the beginning of the colonial era, Frenchmen, British army and civilian men as well as Portuguese and Dutch officers and traders came to India in large numbers.

Painting of An Old Street in Thanjavur 1895

Many of them sketched the landscapes and the cities where they worked or travelled. For example, Thomas Daniel and his nephew William Daniel came to India in the 18th century and travelled all over creating 144 paintings of the various sights they saw. Since copies of these paintings could not made a technique of making prints was developed by putting the paintings or sketches on a metal plate. This meant that only a few prints could be made per plate because the metal would wear off and the finer lines would vanish after a few prints were made. Similarly, many French and British artists made maps of the states and regions as they were divided then. These maps, with rivers and cities shown clearly, were very often not drawn to scale. But they told the story of India in that period. They showed the important ports, the cities inhabited by the colonial powers and the names they gave to rivers and cities. In time, I made a data bank of sources and collected such maps and prints and restored them to excellent condition, framing them.

Old Picture of the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel

“Rare Finds are books which have survived many hundreds of years or recent books which have gone out of print. Many of these books are illustrated elaborately, which gives us an idea of how the art of illustration developed in India over the years. Some of the book covers are beautiful. The maps are a geographical, political, geological or statistical pictorial images produced by the print making techniques which existed then. Some maps are decorated with vignettes related to the areas shown on the map and others have decorative borders. Prints are pictorial images, which have been produced by processes like engraving, aquatinting, etching, mezzo tinting and lithography. Few people know that the earliest maps were made by Babylonians in circa 2300 BC. Today, maps are used in military activities, city and state planning and for travel and tourism. They are much more detailed and are studied by every child in the world.

An Old Church in Mumbai

 “Rare Finds is my brain child and through it, I aim at bringing these ‘antiques on paper’ to a large number of collectors at affordable prices. Each piece is handled personally by me and is framed and restored in a perfect manner.”

Dilnavaz sells these artifacts from her home and holds several exhibitions in various cities during the year. “I am also a home-maker and mother,” she laughs, “My husband also works in the business with me and is equally knowledgeable about the art objects. My drawing room is stacked with prints, maps and books. I am lucky to share my interest and profession with my husband. Now, many people know my work and offer me their old books or maps or documents for sale. So business is easier. Earlier, I used to travel constantly in search of such pieces.”


Did you know?

An Old Painting


Dilnavaz was brought up in Mumbai and was educated in the city. “Though I am a microbiology graduate, my interest in art and antiquities has become my chosen profession. I think I am the only Indian in this profession. I am proud of my work and love my collection,” she says.






Dilnavaz holds exhibitions of her collections of old books, paintings, artifacts and documents or maps every year for collectors and interested viewers. This year, her collection named “HINDOOSTAN REVISITED” will be on view at Mumbai’s Cymroza Art Gallery, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai, from 11th to 18th December 2012


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