Transcendental Memorabilia

BY: SUN Staff

Jul 30, USA (SUN) — Devotees who are inclined to cruise the Ebay auction site come into contact regularly with a most interesting array of transcendental memorabilia. Given the fact that it’s now been almost 40 years since Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in the West on September 17, 1965, it’s not surprising that a wealth of mementoes and cultural artifacts of his preaching mission can be found around the world. (And at 50 years, these items officially become 'antiques'!) With untold millions of visitors using the site each day, Ebay provides a rich vein of transcendental treasures for those with the time and bandwidth to mine it.

While the Sun staff hates to give away their secrets and create a host of new bidding competitors, we encourage readers who aren’t already familiar with the world of Ebay to cruise in and join the excitement.

So what can be found online that would interest the devotees?

Let’s start at the pinnacle, and work our way down. In a recent Sun article, we shared our story of finding a rare 3-volume set of Srila Prabhupada’s original Srimad Bhagwatams on Ebay, in near mint condition. (We’re still awed by this experience, and can't stop talking about it.)

Many excellent 1st edition books can be found on a regular basis, sometimes individually, and occasionally in complete sets. Sought after books include early Bhagavad-Gita’s, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Sri Isopanisad, and the paperback handout books. We recently won an auction for a 1970 1st edition “Process of Creation”, and when it arrived we were delighted to discover that an inside page bore an original ink signature of Srila Prabhupada.

When collecting the original books, it’s always interesting to see the devotee names inscribed on inside covers. One is often tempted to make contact and return the books to their original owners, although that’s a rather spendy philanthropic activity to engage in.

Book collections periodically come to auction as devotees liquidate their collections in order to fund preaching missions or handle family emergencies. It’s always unfortunate to see collections come up for sale due to the need for emergency funds, as we can be sure the seller is most unhappy to let them go. When substantial collections come online, devotees often inquire as to the reason for sale, knowing it likely means dire circumstances at someone’s asrama. Financial donations often follow these inquiries. One such instance arose in February of this year, when a Canadian devotee put one of Srila Prabhupada’s kurta shirts up for auction. While the bid was won fairly, the item was eventually retracted due to seller remorse… easy to understand.

Such Srila Prabhupada tadiya (personal items such as clothing, rings, etc.) are the least likely to be found for sale. Fortunately, the majority of this rare transcendental paraphernalia is housed in various museum collections, including those at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Sri Vrindavan dham, Melbourne and Mumbai.

While it’s often difficult to find out who the personalities behind Ebay monikers are, we hope that ISKCON, the BBT and the museums are keeping a close eye on Ebay and gathering up important historical items. Unfortunately, it appears that’s not always the case. Over the last year, for example, there have been repeated auctions from an ex-devotee who has sold off original reel-to-reel tapes of Srila Prabhupada’s early lectures. The prices required a substantial cash outlay, so the tapes weren’t scooped up by individual devotees. We can only hope that such items don’t end up with mundane collectors, or worse.

Aside from the books, perhaps the most frequently appearing artifacts on Ebay are posters, handbills, sankirtana invitation cards and the like. These fascinating pieces of ISKCON history are sought after by collectors, and bring surprisingly high prices. Back To Godhead magazines from the 1960’s, and up until the time of Srila Prabhupada’s departure, bring increasingly high prices. We have seen late 60’s to early ‘70’s editions of BTG bring as much as $80 - and even $120 dollars each!

ISKCON, Apple and private label records are available in a steady stream, but the market is flooded and prices remain low. Over the last year or two, a buyer’s market has emerged for 1st editions of Yamuna devi’s classic cookbook, “Lord Krishna’s Cuisine”. Few auctions for these books go unsold, and prices creep steadily upwards.

One can sometimes find old AP/UPI or Reuters wire photos, usually printed on press celluloid with byline and article glued to the back. These great newspaper artifacts often commemorate Srila Prabhupada’s arrival in one city or another, or his speaking engagements or interviews with various personalities. Last year, we were happy to find a set of nearly 100 unprinted negatives of New Vrindaban farm, taken in March '71 by Michael Chikiris, a Pittsburgh Press photographer. When he died, the photos went to auction as part of his estate.

Historical footprints such as these will have lasting value for the devotees, and will preserve a record of the pure devotee’s lila pastimes for generations to come.


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