The Sotheby carpet sales have traditionally been divided into two parts – ‘collector’ rugs sold in a morning session and ‘decorative’ rugs sold that afternoon. The former usually having a larger attendance than the later one, which is explained by a contingent of dealers that attend both and a smaller group of “decorators than “collectors” that vie for the lots or are just “looking” to see what their gear is “worth”. This spring sale will break that mold and have only a morning session where rugs of both categories will be on the block.
As we all know, prices at auction may or may not be indicative of what one has at home in the closet, on the walls of the living room, or in a bank vault for that matter. The vagaries of general market forces and timing, plus that inestimable ‘auction factor’, preclude any positive correlation between a price realized at auction and what you will get when trying to cash in, or cash out as it might be, of your pieces.
After almost 40 years of watching rugs sell, both at auction and in ‘cold blood’, i.e. privately, RK knows this is perhaps the only one fact about selling a rug that is chiseled in stone – everything else about an antique rug’s value having nothing more solid behind it than a Hollywood film set.
This short preamble aside, let’s now take a look at the few lots we have chosen for comment. However, before dealing with them, let us reiterate how few “collector” rugs sothebys has been able to offer for sale over the past decade. Part of this is due to the “expert” in charge’s inability to progress past the novice level of expertise when it comes to really knowing anything about pre-1850 weavings. This is lamentable for, after all, she’s been there for almost 20 years. But even were she the savant she’s not, face facts folks, if the huge Sotheby vacuum cleaner can’t get a steady supply of great early rugs for their sales, no one can.
RK knows the rug department over there, or any other major auction house, isn’t really skilled and it is only the fact these “experts” have such large organizations behind them that enable them to bring any rugs of interest into their glossy, over-priced catalogs.
OK enough of RK’s the “truth hurts” about sothebys rug department.
Lot 5, the Salor 'S' group kejebe torba, is in our estimation the most interesting “collectible” rug in the sale.
At one time, prior to 1980, Salor ‘S’ group torba, as well as other types, were extremely rare items and now, while they still do not pop up as commonly as mushrooms after a summer shower, they surely don’t have the cachet they had way back then.
The example at sothebys is what RK often jokingly refers to as a single-seater, i.e. having only one large major medallion or ‘gol’. These are the least common variety, with the two-seaters coming next and then, of course, the three-seaters being the most common.
What these posh weavings were originally used for is hidden in mystery but the commonly held explanation – that they were containers for tent poles – has always struck RK as being more fallacy than fact as clearly a smaller one seater could never have been used for such a function.
We find it amusing and ignorant on the rug department’s part to call it a “camel trapping” in the catalog, as the Turkmen had no camels and even if they did how would a large “bag” or panel with a horizontal design like this been used or displayed on one? Ignorance is bliss and clearly the rug department at sothebys is blissful.
There is one thing that is sure, the iconography these Salor torba display has an ancient, archaic look. RK has been thinking about this iconography for years and we have written a bit about it in the past but this is not the time or the place to reveal our most recent thoughts. Perhaps one day soon we will chose to write something here on RK.com to disseminate what we have cogitated.
Before we go on tot he other lots, let us comment the figure of 20 known Salor kejebe torba floated in the catalog description of this lot is, to say the least, quite under-estimated as we have personally seen more than that in the past 25 years. Again so much for the “expertise” the rug department tries so eruditely to muster.
As for the one on offer here? It is reasonably well drawn and articulated and we’d not quibble with the circa 1800 date in the catalog. The estimate also seems right, though we opt for the higher than lower range suggested in the catalog and would even venture to say it will surpass the $30,000 that is the upper number in the catalog. Look for $35,000 or maybe a bit more on sale day.
The next lot we picture is lot 17, a Holbein rug with an “open” kufic border that is undoubtedly its best feature.
About a year and a half ago a European dealer, who by the way thinks he is the king of the rug world, asked us to go “check it out” for him as it was in the shoppe of a very nice mostly new rug dealer on the East Coast. We did him a favor, went there, and didn’t much like the piece when we saw it back then. We still don’t and though we realize Holbein rugs, like ‘S’ group kejebe torba, are pretty rare items we think it is not worth much except as a document. It’s not pretty/beautiful or anything else other than rare. Note bene: Rarity doesn’t equate with historical importance or beauty, which are two ingredients we find lacking in this example.
Lot twenty, a ‘Yomud’ ensi as it is monikered in the catalog, is listed here solely to provide us with the chance to make a comment about later ensi.
Often later ensi, those from post 1850 as well as even some earlier ones, are misshapen or have design irregularities, i.e. are crooked like this one. We feel this is due to the following reason – at this time, as well as previously, ensi were only made by trans-humanant Turkmen groups – those groups that were sedentary did not have ensi as part of their indigenous weaving repertoire. Although this is only a guess it does explain why these we have a number of these misshapen ensi.
Because the trans-humanant groups moved their encampments two, three or even four times a year, it often would have been impossible for a weaver to finish an ensi. Being forced to remove the ensi from the loom and taking the loom down and then setting it up in another location to finish it is, we feel, the most logical explanation for this somewhat frequent occurrence.
That said we have nothing more to say about this lot, as it is basically a “decorative” weaving without historical connection or any other noteworthy feature(s). We find the estimate a bit high and believe it wont even reach the low guesstimate of $3,000.
The Beshir, in name only as it is unworthy of that title, prayer rug, lot 26 has a very accurate price estimate and dating.
Congrats to sothebys – they got something right.
The final lot to go under RK’s ray of truth is lot 43, called in the catalog by the ubiquitous name “Kurdish Long Rug”.
We must confess we have not read, nor do we own, jim burns’s opus on Kurdish weaving. We have thumbed thru the weighty tome and at one point mused with the idea of doing an in-depth analysis of the nonsense and high-falootin’ text burns and his conferee, michael wendorf, produced.
We have known burns since the old days, circa the mid-70’s, and like almost all members of his tribe – he is an attorney – have always found him under-taker or car-salesman agreeable but totally oriented and motivated to only advancing his own self interest and agenda. We have a number of tales to related about burns but frankly he’s just too boring a character for us to find any excitement in dealing with now.
As for wendorf, another member of the lawyer tribe, we have had not nearly the same amount of contact but let us say we think no more highly of him as a human being but, in truth, his abilities and knowledge of rugs eclipse burns’s.
Anyway back to lot 43 and our comments. As for the estimated $5 – 7,000 price and circa 1870 date we have to say both of these guesses sothebys advance in the catalog are inaccurate
Well for starters the rug’s borders, especially the minor ones that are so artfully articulated, do not in our opinion equate with the catalog’s 1870 guesstimate. Plus the plain but elegant medallion interiors of the field and the lack of the usual bunch of busy-work secondary field ornamentation that are so often found in late 19th century weavings seal the deal for us that this rug is probably 25 or perhaps even 50 older.
That said we also know it is possible for the presence of a synthetic dye to invalidate our dating. But we could still explain our dating by the fact an aged weaver, one whose weaving lifetime began 50 years early, could have made this rug and created an artwork that for all intents and purposes was older than the actual year in which it was woven.
So that’s it for this sale. Stay tuned for the look at a upcoming sale that will, we are sure, produce some surprises – something that is absolutely impossible to happen from either the boswell or Sotheby sales.