(ed. Today, April,4th, 2017 we re-read this commentary that has been online for four months in another Topic Area on RugKazbah.com. We believe this recap important enough to qualify as a Best of RK, and that's why we moved it. So for all you readers who have not had the opportunity to read it please do. And for those of you who have already read it, we think doing so again will not be without merit.)
Transylvanian prayer rug sold at Rippon-Boswell December 3rd 2016 sale, lot 241
The book is now closed on the Fall 2016 carpet sales, results are in and show both a healthy market and rising prices.
However that prognosis is not one that reaches all across the board, nor one that can be taken on face value Ė it needs explanation.
An evolution, or perhaps revolution would be more precise, in the collector sphere of the antique oriental rug market has been in motion for the past 50 years but many participants, both collectors and dealers, have not paid attention closely enough. Whether through ignorance or hubris refusing to adapt to these forces has caused them to suffer, and in general dragged down the buoyant parts of the market and submerged them under a false sense of decline or as some have complained demise.
There is nothing wrong with the market if one understands the shifts that have and are occurring. Let RK briefly explain once again what is going on and, although this is nothing new and we have said this before, this Fallís auction results provide demonstrable proof positive our assessment has been and is right on and correct.
Fifty years ago is 1966, the time when the Washington D.C. Textile Museum first began to feature exhibits of Turkmen pile weavings, Anatolian village rugs, and kelim and soumak flatweaves. Over the next few years their exhibition introduced formerly ignored types of weavings to the collector sphere and interested general public. They were met with much enthusiasm and interest, and it would not be incorrect to say these exhibitions set the course for the development of a new market.
We are now deeply entranced in this Ďnewí market as the auction results this Fall, as well as for the past few years, prove.
Clearly, the Rippon-Boswell sale was the winner of the best sale of the Fall 2016 award. But both the rudnick sale at groganís auction and the Austria Auction Sale mounted some competition, just not nearly enough to carry them into the winnerís circle.
Examining the sale results of these three sales shows trends which are now so clearly the major market forces it is impossible to miss them.
1. While a former ever-growing Turkmen pile rug market has decidedly contracted for middle range material, both in age and price, it has definitely increased at the top end. Because these sales did not demonstrate this does not mean this is not happening. The problem here was supply Ė there are very few examples, which can be so characterized and they are now barely trickling into the market place. And none trickled this fall. While middle range goods are very plentiful they exhibit noticeable price declines caused by an ever-diminishing number of collectors interested enough in these types of Turkmen weavings to mop up the number these auction sales and others now feature.
2. Caucasian rugs made post-1830, which formerly were the darlings of the collector community have lost luster, and in fact are now tarnished past the point of blackness. The rudnick sale proved this unmistakably, and anyone who believes this type of rug will come back into play and bring the prices and interest they formerly did is in deep denial. Itís over folks. Even in condition good enough to be serviceable as floor furnishings these weavings will never achieve the prices of yesteryear. At best they will, like those rudnick pieces, bring half or less than their decades ago sales prices.
3. Caucasian rugs made prior to 1830 are enjoying a rising market of interest and they will continue to escalate in price, regardless of condition issues. Please note that statementís veracity, as rugs of this time period are very rare and when they do appear they will out perform expectations, even when damaged.
4. The market for Anatolian Village Rugs of the middle to early 19th century has not yet really begun to show the cracks that are apparent in the Caucasian rug market. But it will, as the undercurrents are already flowing and visible to sharp-eyed observers. These Anatolian Village rugs compared to Caucasian rugs of the same time period are not as nearly as plentiful; however they are not rare enough, and over the past thirty years the Istanbul market has coughed up enough of them to put the damper on their resale in the coming years. And while they, unlike Caucasian rugs of the same period, are still seemingly holding the bottom end of their price structure, this is an illusion that will in the coming near-time prove itself. Too many of them and too few collectors to now pick up the supply that is and will come to the marketplace.
5. This is not the case for Anatolian Village rugs made circa 1800 and before. These are many times more rare and interest in them is increasing. Here the problem is they are more difficult than Caucasian rugs to learn about, which causes new collectors and even older ones to stumble and either pull the trigger at the wrong time or miss doing so at the right one. Istanbul never was awash with rugs of this type, and there is actually a continual shortage of them, especially the best, which can only play out to substantially higher prices in the coming times. Condition does play a role in pricing for these rugs when they are in the period circa 1750-1800. These are definitely more plentiful, and not as important and original, as those produced prior to 1750. And these will even show greater increase in prices, regardless of condition issues. A word about condition: the motto damaged original condition is better than restored is one to keep humming for collectors, so do not ever think different.
6. Finally putting a crown on soumak khorjin interest, the rudnick collectionís two high flyers set record prices. This was no accident, nor was it something that will not be repeated when other examples that are as important, well-known and coveted come to the market. The top end of the market for these small but beautiful and outstanding weavings has been developing for several decades. It is now in full bloom. However, the rarity of masterpiece examples will allow few to come into play and contention. But when one will appear we would not be surprised to see those rudnick record prices eclipsed.
7. Soumak mafrash have always been the less valued relative of the khorjin and they still are. But, as the Austria Auction examples from the azadi collection proved, the high tide which floated the rudnick khorjins also raised the boats of the best of the azadi mafrash and showed a strong market for them as well. In the Rippon Boswell sale there also was sustained evidence of new higher price structure for high-quality soumak mafrash. RK is sure this will continue and prices will not turn back. They have only one way to go Ė up.
8. Anatolian kelim have of late, thanks to the Vok sales, showed some new up-leg in prices. However, if any market is hamstrung but a lack of early major masterpiece examples it is this one. Until a great, masterpiece will appear there will be no surprising price results. And do not hold your breath because this has yet to happen. The very few masterpiece, archetypal examples are in strong hands with little to no chance of this changing. Also there is little to no chance one will just pop up out of nowhere, something which has not happened since the late 1970ís. This lack of masterpiece quality has kept prices down, and while the record price at auction is 60,000 dollars, and was set many years ago, this is not near what an even earlier and more important one would sell for were it to appear today. The market has seen 18th and early 19th century examples come and go. The best of these are reasonably plentiful and sell in a 15,000 Ė 25,000 dollar range. Once again, the lack of a robust number of collectors for these kelim will keep prices, even for the best of them, down to that range. The several touted examples in the Rippon sale, consigned by an Italian collector, failed to sell well, which was no surprise to us, as we know they were not early and important enough to attract attention. Interestingly the rarest and most important of the bunch, lot 99, made a paltry 5,500 euro (7,040 euro with premium) and the perceived by most pundits as the best, lot 96, which carried the highest estimate, 14,500-29,000 euro, failed to sell. So itís not weakness in the Anatolian kelim market, itís the lack of any examples early and important enough to bring out the big guns.
These are the areas of the market where up trends exist, as well as down-drafts. Another is Balouch pile weavings, which regardless of their popularity have yet to enter the big leagues of high auction prices. A rare, good looking and old enough khorjin, lot 150 Rippon Boswell, sold for a well-deserved 6,000 euro (7,680 euro with premium). But in reality a weaving of this quality should be selling for twice that. The only problem, once again, too small a well-heeled financially able collector base to produce the competition necessary for higher values.
All in all, it might seem confusing, but when looked at through the lense of this analysis we think these points become clear.
As readers know RK is not interested in classical rugs so we have not mentioned this part of the market, though we did picture the Transylvanian prayer rug, lot 241, from the Rippon Boswell sale.
We did so because this was both the buy of the sale, as well as the best buy of the Fall auction season. The $29,000 hammer price ($37,120 with premium) was a bargain for a rug of this type, age, condition and beauty.
While we do not collect, nor do we have the financial means to collect, rugs like this there was something very special about this one which, save the aspect we will mention, made us interested in owning it.
That aspect is the panel above the mirhab where undoubtedly the rug it is copied from had an inscription.
The weaver of lot 241 for whatever reason did not copy that inscription and instead put some goofy uninspired cutesy ornamentation in its place.
This feature is the only flaw, and itís a major one. And while we are not going to get into an involved art historical explanation to document our statement, we will say this aspect was the determinant that prevented RK from going after it.
Mind you itís still a great example, an important one, and an admirable weaving. Itís just not great enough for RK to have competed for it and then gone through the financial difficulty of paying for winning it.
But when its grand-father appears count us in and we'll be swinging.