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Tue 3 Apr 2012 08:38 PM

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Gandhi assassination grass samples to be auctioned

Soil, blades of bloody grass expected to fetch up to $24,000 at auction in Britain this month

Gandhi assassination grass samples to be auctioned
(AFP/Getty Images)

Samples of soil and blades of bloody grass purportedly from the spot where Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 will go on sale in Britain later this month and are expected to fetch £10-15,000 ($16-24,000).

Mullock's auctioneer in western England said it was confident the artefacts were genuine, because they came with a letter of provenance from original owner P.P. Nambiar who collected them after the revered "Father of the Nation" was shot by a Hindu radical.

The samples also matched the account Nambiar gave of the events of 1948 in which he described finding a drop of Gandhi's blood on the grass which he collected.

"I cut the grass and also took two pinches of soil from the brink of the pothole which I wrapped in a piece of Hindi newspaper found nearby," he wrote.

Richard Westwood-Brookes, the auction house's historical documents expert, said it was often difficult to prove whether such artefacts were genuine, and his attribution of paintings to Adolf Hitler has been questioned by art experts in the past.

"In this situation I've got a letter from the guy who collected it - PP Nambiar, and I've also got the pages from his book that he published in which he described collecting this soil," Westwood-Brookes told Reuters.

"So in this situation I don't think there can be any doubt."

He was also confident that a pair of spectacles made in Gloucester, also in western England, and dating from around 1891 had once belonged to the Indian independence hero.

"I did question the vendor on that very carefully, because the optician who made the spectacles came from Gloucester and you immediately think 'How can that be?'."

The steel-rimmed glasses, also valued at £10-15,000, date from the time that Gandhi was in Britain studying law.

During his stay he joined the London Vegetarian Society, through which he made friends from Gloucester, according to the auctioneer's catalogue notes.

Overall, the Gandhi collection that includes signed letters and a prayer book is expected to raise 80-100,000 pounds, although Westwood-Brookes said it was difficult to place a value on some of the more unusual lots.

"That's my honest idea about estimates," he said.

"The letters are much easier to value because there's plenty of auction records which give a good pointer as to what an important Gandhi letter is worth. But how on earth do you put an estimate on a piece of soil?"

The Gandhi collection will go under the hammer on April 17 as part of Mullock's' historical documents, autographs and ephemera auction.

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