Frankly speaking, we were not intending to bother to preview or review the bevy of near misses and worse that comprised the group of ‘collector rugs’ in bozwell's catalog after we perused it several weeks ago. Even tough there were some good buys that, too, was not able to induce us to spend the time and energy to write it up.
However, after reading the review on the hali website, written by their now kicked upstairs, ex-editor at large (no pun intended) daniel, aka hamburger danny, schaffer we decided it was necessary to offer some counterpoint to the typically myopic and agenda driven drivel schaffer delivers.
RK always gives credit where credit is due and we must say his opening words correctly attempted to tell it like it was:
"No one can dispute the fact that Detlef and Christa Maltzahn's sale in Wiesbaden on 19 November was a long way from being the best they had put together, lacking lots with obvious 'star' appeal, or many of the high value 'bankers' that guarantee the overall success of any auction. "
Despite this initial breath of fresh air, to call the rest of his report anything other than stale would be untruthful.
In the past we have stated schaffer, as well as the auction cataloger bozwell himself, are not rug savants -- well at least when it comes to what are now known in rugdom as "important collector pieces". And his review, as well as the descriptive blurbs in the catalog, prove our opinion once more.
Let's see why as we take a look first at Lot 10, an interesting and quirky large fragment from what appears to be a three medallion rug made somewhere in eastern Anatolia (Turkey).
We will also looks at a few others mentioned in the hali review.
Again credit where it is due and honors to bozwell who catalogued it as such but missed it's age by a century or more plus he under-valued it.
Guesstimating it as “end of the 19th century” was a far more inexcusable error, if you ask us, than missing its value -- 3,500 euro versus the 4,400 plus 20% (5,200 about $6,000) it made.
If you ask us again we'd say this was far too low and an astute buyer got to walk away with the bargain of the sale because he had no credible competition.
We absolutely agree with his belief it was older than cataloged and imagine he just couldn't resist those three crivelli stars in the medallions centers, on top of the fact his purchase was dirt cheap.
Considering Heinrich Kirrcheim, the buyer, is only interested in pre-16th century weaving, we can well see why he bought it, even though it surely isn't of that vintage or even close.
Although we'd prefer not to take any positive position on that or any other issue surrounding it until after examining the rug in person, we feel 100% sure his belief it is older is well justified (but it’s probably mid-18th in our opinion).
Besides the fact it was bargain and those crivelli stars aside, for us the most salient factor is the primitively articulated but rarely seen iconography displayed within each the medallion’s concentric rings surrounding the crivelli stars (two with white ground and one, the center one, on a blue ground).
Based undoubtedly on some ancient and now unrecognizable calligraphy this important and tantalizing feature far outweighs any other in our estimation.
”Nuff said except schaffer and bozwell need to retake rug 101, as they clearly need remedial help.
The next lot Shaffer turned his myopic eye and droll penmanship to, Lot 35, is probably the main reason for our writing this commentary.
Again we would prefer to say nothing until we have had the chance to examine it in person but based on the photo we’d be surprised if it were anything other than it appears to be – a very well drawn and finely woven, but undoubtedly late, soumak bag with what is now called a ‘cross’ medallion.
While we recognize the fluidity of the minor border drawing and that in the lively corners surrounding the medallion, the rest leaves us cold, as it is boring and two dimensional.
Just for grins we will show you all what it should look like:
This bag is illustrated in our book “Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic Weaving of the Caucasus” and on the Weaving Art Museum website (http://weavingartmuseum.org). It is the archetype for the group and it hits that third dimension the bozwell piece misses entirely, besides for a host of others that could be enumerated by us.
The pastel coloration often derided by novice collectors because they don’t understand the difference between phony pseudo-pastels (or just late period dyeing materials and methods as the bozwell piece demonstrates) that are the result of inferior dyes and mordanting, and those that were genuinely created and planned as an integral part of the weavings history.
This is neither the time or place to open that can of worms but let us state firmly for the record there are some rare weavings, like the soumak from the Weaving Art Museum site and others we could mention, where the presence of those lighter pastel shade work in tandem all the other aspects of design.
Others (like the bozwell bag) just miss and still others are even less attractive and are well deserving of that derision.
As for both Shaffer and bozwell’s ascribing the bag to the “Moghan” area we’d like them to show us any “Moghan” rug with a similar coloration to that seen in the bag.
We don’t for a minute trust that provenance and would rather suggest for now an undetermined location far south and east of Moghan.
All in all the bozwell bag is, from the photo, a good example, perhaps the best of the later versions of the type, but is it worth the 9500 euro estimate? Well in our opinion not and we breezed past it in our look thru the sale some weeks ago.
Needless to say the result, 27,000 euro plus 20 percent (32,400 euro, almost $38,000) can only be ascribed to fevered auctionitis by either two spendthrift bidders or just one who was bidding against the proverbial fly on the back wall, or was it the chandelier?
Regardless of how the price got kited up to that absurd level, we are sure someone actually gave up a fat envelope of euros to take the “trophy-wife” home that evening, as the bozwell's run an honest auction.
Let’s be clear on something before we go on to the next lot, RK well recognizes the high values great soumak bags are worth and we are not criticizing or diminishing a pricing structure that values them in the tens of thousands of dollars.
But we are questioning the application of it to a bag like bozwell’s that sold for far more than its attributes would demand, at least two or three times what it’s retail price would/should be in our experience.
Horses for courses and while not nag by any means, the bozwell soumak wasn’t, according to us, a Kentucky Derby winner, let alone a triple crown Secretariat.
Again this is not the time nor the place to begin discussion of the slippery topic of what is a rug worth but suffice it to say, and this sale proves the point well that auction prices are rarely commensurate with ‘real’ value, i.e. a normal sale between a willing buyer and seller.
And while any piece of art, especially a weaving, has no ‘real’ value almost every other art area has a far more plausible and realistic pricing structure than antique Oriental Rugs and related weavings, like soumak bags, Turkmen trappings, etc, etc.
As we look at the remaining pieces keep that in mind vis-à-vis our comments.
While schaffer didn’t miss the noting the “world record price” the soumak brought, he did fall flat on his face, well perhaps his girth preceded his nose, by failing to note its not deserving to have.
At the end of his glowing comments about the piece and the price it achieved, no doubt stimulated to curry favor with bozwell and the buyer, schaffer stated:
“So strong was its performance that it completely overshadowed lot 129, an exceptionally good Shahsavan kilim technique khorjin face, with details in metallic yarn, which made €6,000.”
This adds nothing, other than putting his other foot in his mouth, to the credulity of his ability to review this, or any other sale.
When, we’d like to ask hamburger danny has a kelim technique khorjin (saddlebag) ever outsold a soumak technique one of equal, or even somewhat lesser we might add, quality?
No, danny boy, you got it wrong again, bigtime….back to summer school for you and take your buddy bozwell along with.
And by the way, wake up Pluto, 6000 euro (5000 gavel plus 20 percent) is a world record price for a kelim technique bag, at least as far as we know.
The piece is a good one and the typically unbalanced and out of proportion design and coloration nothing more than par for the course for later 19th century work.
We recognize the palette is a naturally dyed one, or so it seems from the photo, but the dyes and dyeing methods used then do not have the nuance of coloration seen in earlier pieces. Forget these later weaver’s inability to properly proportion the design elements to create a “living” piece of art versus a “dead” one
Those caveats aside, we liked it for what it is and believe it was a far better purchase, in all respects, than the soumak bag.
Speaking of good buys, Lot 58, a good looking and rare Arabatchi ensi that sold for 7,500 euro plus 20 percent (9,000 euro about $10,500) was one as well.
We know a few collectors who have bought lesser examples for far more and are a bit surprised at the result.
Perhaps, it wasn’t as good looking in the flesh but we’d more readily believe the audience was sitting on its hands because they lack enough knowledge and therefore are afraid to spend real money, even if they are getting a real piece for it.
Again with a piece like this that clearly is not close to a best of type we would need to examine it in person before saying anything more concrete.
That said, we are positive, and will gladly bet, our assessment it wasn’t a world class example is fact – proportions don’t lie.
But before stating exactly where it sits in the continuum of known examples, again, we’d have to handle it
Lot 59, another good but not great example of a known type of Tekke mafrash, now referred to in the trade as a ‘three panel’, sold for 6,000 euro plus 20 percent (7,200 euro about $8,400).
We know of ones of far lesser charms, particularly one sold last year by a former East Coast rug merchant (who now plies his wares from a shoppe on Jackson Street in San Francisco) at the Tribal show in that city to a client who paid more than double that amount.
So schaffer’s comments it “…sold in the room to a US collector for a very strong €7.200.” are either unknowingly dim-witted or just outright ignorant of the prices these mafrash can and do command.
It, like Lot 10 and others in the sale, were purchased for less than retail and were, as it appears to us from photos, quite good buys, especially since bozwell’s saleroom often extracts an extra pound of flesh from the buyers of the better lots rather than allowing them to win bargains.
Perhaps this, the number of low prices for worthy but not stellar lots, was due to the economic slowdown most European countries, and America as well, are presently experiencing.
However, we’d chalk it up to the fact rug prices -- well those for genuine antique and sometimes those that just appear -- are rising steadily and most collectors and dealers do not possess enough knowledge and intestinal fortitude to buy at the present, and well deserved, levels the best of these are actually able to command.
The last lot schaffer looked at, and one we will bother to comment on, was Lot 108, an excellent example of an early 19th century Tekke torba.
The conservative age guesstimate in the catalog is understandable, for it takes real expertise to differentiate a mid- from an early 19th century example, and this something bozwell’s comments often prove.
Estimated at 5,000 euro, it brought 6,000 plus 20 percent (7,200 euro about $8,400).
Its virtues, which are clear from the photo, escaped schaffer who called it “good looking” (a dumbbell comment from a supposed expurt if we ever heard one).
Obviously they did not escape the buyer and under bidder and we can offer our congratulations to them both for an excellent purchase.
By the way, the conundrum of “what’s it worth” as compared to the skewed results a sale like this often demonstrate would be easy to expound upon. However, RK has neither the time nor desire to do it here and now but let us state for the record and emphasize of the five lots we picked out to write about, only the last one, the Tekke torba, sold for what we consider to be the right price.
The rest were, in varying degrees, either too high or low.
Well that’s how we see it from our vantage point, one we feel has merit and is supportable by fact and not agenda driven hype or pseudo-expertise.