RK has written, and done it without pulling our punch, in the not too distant past concerning the ridiculous and completely unsupportable idea the majority of genuinely exemplary old Turkmen rugs are only 19th century; and from the second half mind you.
This foolish position is held by the most famous and “well-respected” contemporary rug “scholars”, particularly a certain dr. jon thompson. It even more absurdly posits no Turkmen rug is earlier than the 18th century.
Now the dating-game when played in rugDUMB, in and of itself, is a meaningless one and RK well recognizes a late 19th century Belouch can be far more “interesting” and " important" than a Holbein or Lotto.
So, in reality, how “old” a weaving is does not necessarily convey value in RK’s rug world.
But if and when certain Turkmen rugs become recognized as equal in age to the earliest Safavid/Ottoman pieces then, of course, the rug-dating game will have to have developed positive scientific testing for any so-called proof to gain acceptance.
Regardless of this happening, there is no doubt in our mind Turkmen rugs are that old -- we own some and know of others --and while one might say we have staked out the position that Turkmen rugs are “Golden Age”(1450-1550) for personal gain, this is as foolish as slavishly believing there are no pre-18th century Turkmen weavings.
But there is a larger issue here, and it is the one that has motivated us to take this position, not so we can sell our rugs for more. And by the way, please also note: Our core-collection Turkmen rugs have never been for sale, nor will they ever be.
Yes, it is completely obvious, when one carefully examines over decades numerous old Turkmen rugs, that a tiny percentage of them really are different in many subtle but observable ways, not only in structure.
We are genuinely sorry those distinctions can not be digitized, but we can re-present, that’s not a typo, what one of the most diligent and knowledgeable of the early Turkmen rug collectors, Hartley Clark, had to say on the subject of dating circa 1920.
From the introduction:
“This monograph deals mainly with the carpets and rugs made by the Turkoman tribes of Central Asia and adjacent nationalities. Its object is the clear up many misconceptions which exist in respect of these fabrics and to introduce a better nomenclature than the meaningless or erroneous trade names by which there rugs are at present known.”
It’s abundantly clear from the text dating is one of those areas Clark intends his book to address.
Although it’s nothing new to say Clark’s text, published in 1922, is highly worthwhile reading for anyone who is interested in Turkmen rugs, it is well worth re-highlighting Clark dates a goodly percentage of the illustrations as being 150-250 years old, ie 18th century and now older.
Remember Clark is writing in 1922, 87 years ago, so the 150 year old rug is actually today 230 plus years old and the 250 year old one is almost 350!
Clark goes on to posit the fact that he knows of no actual ancient rugs (but recognizes they did exist) because
“…all Turkmen rugs were woven for home use, and were not, like the Persian masterpieces which are known to be upwards of 400 years old; preserved in mosques and palaces, for the simple reason these nomads had no abode more stable than a tent.”
RK is sure there are some other reasons but this is not the place for us to re-open our ideas, so let’s move on after noting Clark’s published beliefs:
1. Turkmen rugs existed 400+ years ago
2. Rugs in his collection were 250+years old.
Here is the rug Clark believed to be the oldest in his collection
Here’s what Hartley has to say about this specimen:
“The plate shows first a grand old example of a Saryk Turkoman rug of the early 18th century.”
Of course today we would not call it a “Saryk” but rather Kizil Ayak, however, RK would agree it is an quite old one of this rather common type.
For us it is not so significant Clark postulates his rug is early 18th, rather it’s that he learned after many years of hunting rugs(more about that soon) some really early Turkmen rugs were extant.
Here another pre-1800 example from his collection:
Would Dr. Thompson, or any other today’s touted Turkmen rug “scholars” date it like Clark has?
So, dear readers, how can we balance what someone like Clark, who was definitely a very knowledgeable writer, said in comparison to what is de rigeur in Turkmen studies today?
Hint: the answer we can’t, no one can.
In the past RK has heard comments from some that Clark was nothing but a foolish naïve, Englishman collector who over-dated his pieces.
Fact is we know Clark is not the only one to be so described, as RK is sure we are also placed by many who clearly have never bothered to read Clark or others, in his camp.
Frankly, we’re honored because Clark knew what Thompson and his followers refuse to acknowledge – certain Turkmen rugs are as old, as important historically, as evocative and, yes, as beautiful as any Classic period Safavid or Ottoman rug.
In discussing the other rug to the right of his “Saryk” Hartley has this to say:
“The other illustration of the plate shows a unique little piece of the Salor Turkomans, probably dating back to the middle of the 18th century.”
In light of today’s scholarship this small rug would be called a Tekke and be considered as nothing more than “airport-art”; a grande tour tourist take home. But when it is examined as best as possible considering it is dot-matrix printed and not large size, some subtle features, like the way the minor borders twist and spin, emerge.
And while these features, or unseen others, might demonstrate this rug is a prototype for those later “copies” we could find it hard to concede Clark correctly dating this one.
Same is true for these two Tekke “mats”,
when they are carefully examined (check out the details below) it is readily apparent they are also “prototype” weavings that are not late 19th century but quite probably first half 19th century.
We trust we have proven a point here, one that not only Hartley Clark and RK support.
Fact is RK admires Clark (and not only for his early dating of Turkmen rugs) more than almost any other rug collector we have met or read about.
Let the following quotes from his book allow him to speak to you as he has to us for the now 40 years we have known them.
“My own collection…(was) laboriously acquired, and there has been much weeding out before the final standard of perfection was reached. I started as a subaltern when stationed at a large garrison town near the North-West frontier of India….In the course of time I developed my taste and acquired knowledge….(and then later) realized the necessity for confining myself to some particular group of Oriental rugs…and…to aim only for the superfine. They alone are a joy forever and worth collecting. I determined to quit once and for all the ruck of mediocre and even good carpets not to touch them even at bargain prices, but to concentrate on acquiring slowly but surely the finest obtainable examples of the types constituting the group in which I was going to specialize. Opportunity and taste alike determined that this should be the Central Asian group. In the course of years I acquired in turn magnificent specimens of Salor, Saryk, Tekke, Yomut, Ersari and Afghan Turkoman rugs.”
The true joy of any collection, apart from its intrinsic worth as such, does and should lie in the fact each specimen in it(self) is a trophy, the result of a careful stalk, as of a stag, secured by the final coup de grace with a minimum expenditure of ammunition. The rich man who acquires a collection, whether as a whole or by separate pieces, merely by the signing of a check is like unto a man who would have a herd of deer corralled for him to destroy with a machine gun. Such methods are too easy, and defeat their own object by destroying the value of the prize to its possessor. In collecting, broadly speaking, one’s chief weapons must be taste and knowledge rather than money, though a modicum of the latter is practically essential.”