After the Washington Turkmen show in October, 1980 RK had little to do with thompson since we felt he had purposely avoided putting any of our Turkmen pieces in the show for several reasons.
First, and obvious, was his desire to buy them; second was the fact a number of our pieces were better than those in the show; and third he did not wish for us to gain any further notoriety, as we were competition for him in a number of ways.
Shame we did not realize what a snake and selfish, piss-poor, ‘friend’ thompson was until after he had succeeded in his little game of marginalizing us…oh well we have never really been motivated to push ourself into the rug game other than as an interested party, who liked the rugs more than the business of selling them or being a member of the growing hierarchy of rugDUMB.
We did, however, not like being sand-bagged by thompson, but what goes around also comes around as the following story suggests.
RK was, from 1978-1990, basically living in Europe and during this period we spent about 9 months each year there and 3 in the USA.
We always preferred Paris to London and after 1980 we were mostly there looking for great early rugs and enjoying the sensory pleasures of “La Ville Lumičre” (the city of light).
In late February 1981, while there, we got the feeling we should go to London for no real particular reason other than that feeling.
So, on the afternoon of March 2nd we hopped on a plane from Charles De Gaulle, arrived in Heathrow, rented a car, drove into London, checked into our favorite hotel on the Green Park, had a nice dinner with a girlfriend and went to bed.
The next morning we had breakfast with her in the tea-parlor of the hotel, went over to St.James’s, parked the car and took a look at Christie’s and sotheby’s sales-rooms to see what was happening, as in those days there would often be rugs sold along with furniture, as well in specialist rug only sales.
Nothing seemed too interesting for the next days but while perusing the catalogs for upcoming sales in sothebys on New Bond Street we spied this catalog.
Leafing through it casually, as there were no rugs, only textiles and costume, when we got to the last page, page 71, we were stopped in our tracks.
Frankly, we were so surprised and amazed we’re pretty sure our eyeballs must have seemed to pop out of their sockets at what we saw.
RK knows many of our readers don’t realize one of the first collections we made was of rare and early Kashmir shawls, and at this point in time, and since 1978, we were involved in trying to interest several museums into having us curate a masterpiece Kashmir shawl exhibition.
In fact early in 1980 we had been gently lobbying louise mackie, who was
then the head curator at the textile museum, to speak with us about our plan for a shawl exhibition, with not much success.
Finally, she acquiesced and invited us down to Washington, not so much to discuss that, but to ostensibly, we thought, see pictures of our Turkmen pieces for possible inclusion in the upcoming exhibition and catalog.
We remember well that morning visit in April 1980, and after mackie quickly looked at the 8x10 prints of many of our pieces, we got the feeling she didn’t know dork about what a good early Turkmen rug was all about.
She almost immediately put the pictures down and, after making some naďve comments, surprised us by picking up the pictures of our shawl collection which we also brought and intently began looking at them for quite some time.
“You have quite a collection here” she said “how long have you been collecting Kashnir shawls?”.
We told her since the late 1960’s and then we began to talk about early Kashmirs, about which she clearly had done her homework.
Little did we know, or realize, mackie was
working on doing her own shawl exhibition and she was pumping us for information, which we gladly divulged as we interpreted her interest as one that would lead to our curating a show at the textile museum.
We spoke for several hours about shawls and during this time we freely spoke about our research and interest in early kani shawls.
Kani is the Indian name for what in English is called 2x2 tapestry-twill, the technique that produced the greatest and most exceptional Kashmir shawls.
When we left we had the false impression mackie was going to recommend to the museum’s board that RK curate the shawl exhibition we had been working on, as well as recommend to thompson several of our Turkmen pieces for the exhibition.
Sand-bagged again, as nothing ever came of that discussion except about 18 months later, well after the Turkmen exhibition was over, a letter from Mackie asking us to “lend” our shawl talim to the textile museum for their Kashmir shawl show.
We have that letter somewhere but, at the moment, don’t have it handy.
We do, however, have a digitized photo of the talim, which is a weaver’s diagram for weaving a shawl, as well as a sample of the shawl it dictates.
We discovered this incredibly rare item while in India in February 1980 and although the story of how and where we found it is highly interesting we are not going to dish it out here – you’ll have to wait for that autobiography we have mentioned.
Shawl talim and sample of the shawl it describes
We wrote mackie back and declined the offer to “lend” our talim, and several years later the textile museum did do a Kashmir shawl exhibition, which naturally RK had nothing to do with.
This was not the first time a museum curator used our interest and information to go round us and do their own exhibition.
But back to Thompson, sotheby Belgravia and lots 564 and 565.
After seeing the catalog for the Belgravia sale we immediately drove over to the salesroom to view the two Kashmir lots.
We knew these two shawls, lot 564 was almost complete with both ends and most of the plain center and the other, lot 565, only one complete pallou end, were not 18th century but mid-17th.
Also they were incredibly rare, as shawls of that period were unknown on the marketplace, at least since the late 1960’s when we started looking for them.
The prices in the catalog were also in error, and ridiculously low.
We knew there probably would be some stiff competition for them so we sought out the auctioneer who would be on the podium that day and arranged a signal with him so we could bid without anyone knowing we were bidding.
The auctioneer was a seasoned and highly experienced salesroom hand and he immediately knew what we had in mind and after asking us who we were, and then checking to see we were known by sothebys, made arrangements for us to have a paddle number so he could bid on our behalf.
We told him we would be in the back of the room, in good view, and would be holding our right hand on our glasses so he would know we were bidding.
When we took our hand down from them, this would be the sign we had stopped.
He agreed this was a good signal, and before we left he asked us for an anonymous name so he could call it out if we were successful.
We said “you suggest a name” and he asked us where we were from.
We said “New York” and he said “OK I will call you Mr York” and we said that’s fine.
The auctioneer’s name was Charles but we can’t remember his last name, not that it matters.
The next day, the sale day, we arrived at the sale well into it, as the only two lots we were interested, 564 and 565, were at the very end, the last two in fact.
The sale started at 2pm so we probably arrived around 4pm and there still were about 200 lots or so to go.
When we walked into the sales-room, which was filled with ladies who were textile and costume dealers, we saw, standing at the rear, guess who?
Right, jon thompson, who was next to a short and rather good-looking Indian woman, whose name we still are not sure of.
We believe it was krishna riboud, who we never met but spoke to on the phone several times.
Regardless of who it was, it is not germane to the story, and the only reason we mention it is for completeness.
We walked into the back of the salesroom, as we never sit down at an auction, preferring to stand to be able to see the action and, of course, to make sure the auctioneer can easily see us, whether or not we have worked out a signal, or would just bid by holding up our hand or a paddle.
After about ten minutes or so we walked up to thompson and the Indian lady and said hello to him.
He looked rather surprised to see us, especially when we remarked “Hey, what are you doing here?”
He then immediately said “I have come to buy” without saying anything before or after that sentence.
We said “ Great, best of luck”
He then sorta looked weirdly at us, as we added “You know when I was in New York last year my mother was cleaning out her closet and getting ready to get rid of some of her old designer clothes, purses and shoes.”
When we asked her what she was doing she told us she was going to “…give them to the maid.”
We then told thompson, as he listened to our story, we said to her “Don’t do that, as old clothes, purses and shoes were worth money and you could give them to sothebys and they would sell them for you.”
In fact just then as they were selling a dress we said: “That’s one of my mom’s dresses and I'm here to see what they sell for”.
We then walked away from thompson and went outside the sales-room as there were still about 150 or so lots to go.
We walked back in a few times, and when it got near the end of the sale we took up a position right in center of the back of the room.
Charles, the auctioneer, finally got to lot 564, and after opening the lot at 50 pounds the bidding went to about 180, and thompson was the bidder holding up his paddle, still with the Indian lady at his side.
So Charles then looked at us, we had our right hand on our glasses and he bid 200; thompson then bid again, and Charles naturally upped the bid since he knew we were still bidding.
The bidding quickly progressed, thompson against us, 300, 600, 1000, 2000, 3000 and so on until thompson stopped at 6,600 pounds.
The salesroom had thinned out quite a bit since this was the very end of the sale, but there still were about half the seats occupied and when the hammer dropped at 6,600 the room was silent, so silent you could have heard the proverbial pin-drop.
Charles banged down his hammer and said “SOLD to Mr York”.
Of course thompson did not realize we were bidding and he was madly looking around to see who might have been the bidder.
Nor did he know we had just bought the almost complete 17th century shawl as Mr York.
Charles then put up 565, the last lot in the sale, the complete fragmented end.
Again he opened the bidding at 50 pounds and, again, thompson looked like he had it for 120 pounds.
Charles then looked over at us and we had our right hand on our glasses, so he bid on our behalf.
Now, it was, once more, thompson against someone he couldn’t see bidding but Charles kept at it -- 150, 200, 300, 1000, 1500, 2000, 3000 finally at 3,500 pounds thompson stopped and Charles hit his hammer down and said “SOLD, Mr York”.
We had looked over at thompson during the bidding, still with our right hand on our glasses, and his face was getting red and he was visibly agitated, but when the hammer came down and Charles announced “SOLD, Mr York” thompson lost it.
He ran up to the podium, down the center aisle, and said in a loud and nervous voice “I demand to know who was bidding against me”.
Charles looked down at thompson from his podium and said “Sir, sotheby does not reveal the names of its buyers. Thank you all very much the sale is over.”
We could hardly keep from laughing watching thompson having a fit that he’d been beaten-out, and he did not even know by who.
He then turned around and seeing us ran up to us and said “Was that you? Did you buy it?”.
We said nothing for a few seconds waiting to see what thompson was going to do next, as his face was now beet red and the veins on his neck were bulging.
“Did you buy it” he said again with his voice getting louder, almost shouting.
We looked him straight in the eye and said “Did you see us bidding?”
He then just stood there and, funny enough, we had the day before the sale called him and arranged to visit him at home, not knowing he would be at the sale.
So while thompson was just standing there with his mouth open and his red face we said “See you tomorrow as planned” and walked past him and out of the sale room.
The next day when we arrived at thompson’s house and rang the bell he opened the door and immediately said “Did you buy it?”
We answered again “Did you see me bid?”.
He then said “Tell me, damn it, answer the question”
We replied “Obviously I don’t want to, do you want me to lie to you? Forget it” we said, and walked past him into his living-room.
Needless to say our ‘meeting’ did not go well, and that was the last time we ever visited thompson in his home.
This is a true story, it happened exactly as we have described it.
And while it has little to do with Turkmen rugs, it does show an interesting side of the ‘relationship’ RK and jon thompson had.
Plus the old adage, payback is a bitch, definitely was part of it, as those two Kashmir shawl fragments still are the most important examples sold in our lifetime, and we got them much to thopmpson’s consternation and chagrin.
Not because we were richer, but because we knew more than he did, and still do, not only about Kashmir shawls.
That’s it for today’s episode, more to come.