The goo-goo dust flowing from the Blau moniker and end of the year rug-buying madness has now settled on the sales in New York and the results are in.
From all appearances, excepting several noteworthy belly-flops for certain pieces, like Turkmen trappings and genuinely early but distressed Anatolian rugs, the market for old rugs at auction is alive and kicking.
RK intends to take a somewhat more critical look at this phenomena sometime soon but this will have to wait, as now we are occupied with finishing this post-sale commentary and several other time-consuming activities.
Just let us mention regardless of buoyancy of bidding and record prices achieved at auctions like these, the far more important market building and maintaining business of dealer-to-collector and dealer-to-dealer sales are suffering in a major way.
Soon we fear we may once again experience another major decrease in the number of dealers and interested parties who buy and sell old rugs outside the confines of a saleroom, like what happened about 15 years ago.
While this might appear on the surface to be nothing much, trust us, it’s a big deal and, hopefully, we will get a chance to discuss this sometime soon.
As for the sotheby and Christie sales? We were not very surprised sotheby's Blau sale did extremely well – after all there were all those hard-wood floors in all those expensive new and remodeled homes to cover and covered they shall now be thanks to Mr Blau. Also, we should add, with some help from lots purchased at Christie and the regular Sotheby sale that followed Blau’s.
We are not very interested in the decorative market, whether or not the rugs are real antiques or not, so we will forgo examining the substantial prices buyers paid to have one of Blau's "collection" pieces, or any of the others on offer elsewhere, under foot in their palaces but we will look at a few lots we pictured in our preview and a few we didn't.
Like we suspected, there was little contest for the "Bellini" rug (lot142) at sotheby and it sold for a paltry 14,400.
Great buy for some astute paddle-holder and we offer our unmitigated congratulations.
The same disappointing result befell lot 160, stupidly titled by sotheby's cataloguer "four Anatolian fragments. These rather small and curious fragments made a dumb as a box of rocks $5,100.
It is no wonder this happened because the cataloguer missed their importance by miles and miles.
Rather than RK beating that dead-bush leaguer, we suggest interested readers do some due diligence and art historical comparison on their own. Do so and you all might learn what that cataloguer missed – these frags are important and contribute some significant insight into the origination of several key Anatolian carpet patterns.
Beyond any doubt our favorite piece in the any of the East Coast Winter sales was this Yomud-group torba
It was so much larger than the others belonging to this rare group of white-panel mafrash that it deserved to be called gargantuan -- just one more fact Mr Scribbles, sotheby’s myopic cataloguer, missed by those proverbial miles.
What was also overlooked was its extreme artistry and beauty, not to mention the good chance it was the archetype for this rare group of Turkmen trappings.
The fact it did not sell (it was estimated at healthy but not unreasonable $18-$22,000) can be most likely ascribed to many reasons – the one we’d offer as most plausible was the real and dire lack of expertise the Turkmen collectors, who have the withal to purchase expensive pieces like this, are able to muster.
We are sure had the catalog entry been written by someone with a real command of the idiom, and not some rug-hack like sotheby drummed up, this piece would have caught someone’s attention and then made its estimate and even more.
It surely deserved to according to us.
However, no matter who wrote the entry or what they wrote, nothing could have saved the next lot, number 174, from suffering a similar fate – remaining unsold.
This so-called Eagle-group torba, which carried a $40-$60,000 estimate, was everything lot 173 wasn’t – a rote, droll, poorly proportioned, late and garish example – the only factor they both share is their rarity of type.
As stated, nothing could have saved it from its fate, not even halving the estimate and reserve.
Funny but the cataloguer spent more wordage trying to kite the Eagle than the far more significant king-size Yomud mafrash – too bad because that turkey of a torba could never have soared while the mafrash, had been given some gentle and intelligent encouragement in the catalog, might have ended up hitting the stratosphere.
Should any Santa Claus out there want to call up sothebys and make a successful offer for the torba, know ye well we will be glad to accept it as a Christmas Gift.
Yeah right: Ho, ho, ho
Another Turkmen that did reasonably well, selling for 7,200, was lot 189.
The elegant round-shape the main gols
displayed was rare but it was more the righteous age, 18th century according to us, and glorious coloration that combined to get it successfully off the block.
Frankly, we believe it should have sold for more but, once again, it was the lack of real expertise Turkmen collectors with fat-wallets possess that kept this piece under the $10,000 mark – a place we well know it belongs.
Also, had the cataloguer strained to write something cogent, instead of nothing, Lord knows one of those wallet-bearers might have realized how significant a purchase this chuval was and gone higher for it.
Buyers faced the same blank-stare from the cataloguer about lot 190, an early Saryk chuval in a somewhat distressed condition.
However here the mystique and rarity of first period Saryk weaving, the period this chuval is from though it should be placed at the end and not the beginning of this august grouping according to us, got it off the block at a very respectable, and a bit too much in our eyes, $20,400.
We do not mean to denigrate the buyer or the under-bidders for competing; let’s just say good old auction fever might have been the reason for sending it up and well over the $15,000 level we’d have called it at.
Another lot that sold for too much, as far as we are concerned, was this so-called Caucasian Embroidery
Stiff and two-dimensional, this one had none of the outstanding characteristics the best of these embroideries possess – fantastic coloration and intriguing even mysterious design.
While the coloration here was not bad, neither was it remarkable. Added to the rather meaningless ex-little lord franses’s textile gallery/hugh moss provenance and, as it appeared to us, almost totally reworked black stitching in the field, this lot nonetheless made $24,000.
Once more, we are not trying to give anyone a post-sale headache but we do call the shots as we see them and paying $24,000 for this somewhat late in the genre silk needlework is just too much as far as RK is concerned. Period and let’s just leave it like that, OK?
One of the few deserving but under-performing lots at sothebys from our vantage point was lot 306 a so-called Caucasian palmette and sickle-leaf gallery carpet, which made $72,000 compared to the $60,000 high end of the guesstimate.
Truly, this rug was overpoweringly amazing and, when we saw it in the preview, we were stopped instantly in our tracks.
A great weaving in quite respectable condition for its age, we think it should have sold for twice the price it reached. But it is clear RK’s tastes are not those of many others -- lucky for some of them we are totally absorbed in our area and not the “decorative market” otherwise important antique pieces like this would not sell as reasonably as they do to the groups of dealers who then flock around the post-sale feeding troughs like flies at a fourth of July picnic.
We could cite other pieces worth mention but as time is short we will close this out with the following statement.
RK has never believed auctions are good for market making. The increasing importance and growth of dollar sales resulting from selling rugs at auction has done nothing, well in our opinion at least, to establish anything that could in reality be called a market for historic Oriental Rugs and related weavings.
Yesterday, sothebys sold almost 9 million dollars worth of rugs and when you add that humongous figure to what Christie and Freemans did in their sales, it approaches the 10 million dollar mark.
On the surface that makes the rug market look frightfully buoyant and healthy. However, looks are often deceiving and such is the case here, as many dealers all over the country, and those over-seas as well, have all reported to RK how abysmal sales are and have been for sometime now.
We all know the reasons, right and wrong, many buyer spend only at auction sales and, although many of them and others believe those arguments hold water, RK knows they are specious and often blatantly false.
One day soon the emperor’s new clothes aspect of rug auction buying will roar through the market and RK also knows when this does happen we all will hear the loudest lamenting cries from those who were sucker-punched into believing all those under-bidders will be running with cash in hand to buy all those lots they missed out on and, on the day yesterdays buyers chose to re-sell their goods, the same auction mechanics will do their thing as they did on the day of purchase.
Sorry to break your cute soap-bubbles, boys, but that rarely happens – take a look at the past 20 years of performance and you will see why RK makes these statements.
Yes, certain rugs sell well at auction but auctions do not make markets and making a genuine market for historic Oriental Rugs, and not a phony- baloney auction one, is something RK knows we must do to create any real and sustained growth in appreciation for these art-works – be they historic, decorative or what-ever.