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Delhi HC: Philatelic Exhibits Like Postage Stamps are ‘Antiquities’ Under Antiquities and Art Treasures Act

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Delhi High Court Law Insider

Bhuvana Marni

Published on: November 05, 2022 at 18:44 IST

The Delhi High Court recently gave its decision that postage stamps, fiscal stamps, envelopes, stamp sheets, and other philatelic exhibits should be considered as “antiquities” under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972.

According to Justice C Hari Shankar, these exhibits are articles, objects, or things of historical significance within the meaning of Section 2(1)(a)(I)(iv) of the Act since philately is a hobby of the “discerning connoisseur,” who values the intrinsic worth of antique stamps and other such papers.

The said provision defines antiquity as any article, object or thing of historical interest.

“In fact, though a select group of collectors may take the trouble to collect such exhibits, their inherent and intrinsic historical value far transcends the covers of the albums that such collectors may maintain. They are, therefore, ex facie ―antiquities within the meaning of Section 2(1) (a)(I)(iv),” the court said.

The court said the expression “historical interest” under the said provision would encompass, within its wide scope, all items which serve as “indicia and indicators of the times that have gone and never to return.”

“Most vintage items, per se, are items of ‘historical interest’. History is but a hark back to posterity, and an effort to appreciate and assimilate, years, decades or centuries later, the lives, trials and tribulations of past times. Items which date back to such past times are, therefore, intrinsically of ‘historical interest’,” the court observed.

Furthermore, Justice Shankar pointed out that it is not exaggerating to describe the submission as preposterous, which claims that exhibits of philately, such as postage and revenue stamps, stamp papers, and other documents older than a century, are not objects of historical importance.

“Such exhibits are of immense historical and, to an extent, even of scientific, interest – and, for that matter, even of historical value. Philately is a hobby of the discerning connoisseur, who appreciates the intrinsic value of vintage stamps and other such documents,” the court said.

It added:

“The very fact that international exhibitions are held for such connoisseurs of the art, indicates, clearly, that philatelic exhibits are of great value. A postage stamp of 1900 vintage which, at that time, may have been used and thrown away would if found a hundred years later, have increased its value a thousand-fold. The historical importance of such exhibits cannot, either, be undermined in any manner.”

The court also noted that philatelic exhibits would be considered antiques under Section 2(1)(a)(II).

Any manuscript, record, or other documents that has at least 75 years of existence and is valuable in terms of science, history, literature, or aesthetics is covered by the aforementioned clause.

It was noted that the term “record” has a larger amplitude while the term “manuscript” relates etymologically and legally to a written document.

According to the court, the only similarity between the terms “manuscript” and “record” is that both terms refer to documents.

The phrase “other documents” had to be given the true scope it was given in the clause, and its ambit could not be constrained by doing “interpretive calisthenics,” it was added as a result.

The court added that the decision would have the effect of making the 1999 Guidelines issued for “organizing exhibitions abroad for lending art objects to private and public museums and receiving exhibitions from abroad” applicable to such exhibits while holding that philatelic exhibits are antiquities within the meaning of the Act.

In order to avoid the authorities from preventing him from travelling with the aforementioned exhibits to Tel Aviv for the 2008 World Stamp Championship Israel, Mittal had petitioned the court for directions.

Additionally, it asked for guidance on how to get him a Temporary Export Permit.

In addition, Mittal requested the direction that since the philatelic materials intended to be temporarily transported abroad for the World Stamp Championship are older than 75 to 100 years, they do not meet the definitions of “art objects” and “antiquity” as stated in Section 2(1)(a) and (b] of the Act.

Due to the 2008 case’s continued pending status until Friday, the majority of the prayers in the writ petitions were ruled infructuous.

Case Title: Ajay Kumar Mittal vs. UOI & Ors.