Many longtime and faithful readers know RK has three significant collections of historic Near Eastern weavings. These collections are small in number but include many of the earliest known and best examples of their respective types.
A good number of them are published, both in our books and online; however, there is an almost equal number which have never been published or only in small details that have made it into our research papers.
The Anatolian kelim collection is probably the most well-known but in addition to it there is also another collection of kelim. These, while not nearly as early, most are from the 18th and early 19th century, were woven in the trans-Caucasus region straddling Turkey and Persia.
Completing this flat-weave, kelim, collection is a group of early soumak khorjin. Many, but not all of these, too, have been published.
While a flat-weave collector first and foremost, we have always been interested in, and collected, early Turkmen weavings.
However, unlike the flat-weaves that have never been sold, we have at various times sold and traded Turkmen weavings from our collection. The reason(s) for this are not germane for discussion here, so let’s just leave it there.
Had we not our collection would be undoubtedly among the best there is in either private or institutional/museum holdings.
However, among what remains and has never sold or traded are a group of the earliest engsi; several equally as early and exceptional chuvals, large format torba; and a smattering of other types of Turkmen weaving.
For the last few years we have been sporadically working on a powerpoint presentation to document our Turkmen collection, and while it is far from finished we thought it opportune to publish a part of it – the beginning few slides of the engsi section.
It is impossible to not recognize over the past half decade interest in carpet collecting has seriously waned compared to former years. Though this has not prevented interest at the highest levels of collecting, and the earliest and best of type examples have surely not suffered a similar fate.
There is now a small and growing group of highly motivated and knowledgeable collectors, who are willing and able to acquire non-classical rugs with the same gusto and energy formerly only seen when examples of Safavid and Ottoman appeared on the market.
The recent auction of the first part of the Christopher Alexander collection provides ample proof. Presently Anatolian village rugs are, at least at the moment, the most pursued type of weaving. Although over the past few decades when exceptional Turkmen, like a few of those in the jon thompson (1993) or Leslie and robert pinner (2004) sales, have appeared they too have preformed admirably.
Flat-weaves are slightly different story because no truly early and exceptional Anatolian kelim has yet come to market. Regardless, the record price remains the $73,300 paid for a large fragment at rippon boswell in 1997. That record price has, it needs to be noted, been more than once eclipsed in private sales.
Early, historic, exceptional best of type kelim and Turkmen weavings are the vangard of carpet collecting and over the next years we are positive the very few examples that qualify will, when they come to the market, be hotly pursued and achieve record prices that will be nothing but eye-opening.
We digress, back to the opening few slides of our Turkmen presentation. First, one last comment needs mention: Compared to golden age (16th and 17th century) Classical Safavid and Ottoman weavings equally as early and important Turkmen pile weaving or Anatolian kelim and pile woven village rugs are far more rare. In fact we believe there is a ratio of dozens, if not half a hundred, examples to one.
Their extreme rarity, difficulty to identify and recognize has kept these ancient gem-quality non-urban weavings shrouded in myth and mystery. We believe our research has to a small part and will continue to lift this veil utilizing comparative art historical analysis that can provide guidlines and strong circumstantial evidence to remedy this situation.
The engsi illustrated below is an excellent example. We have no doubt some who believe themselves to be knowledgeable would date it to the early 19th century. This can only be described as ignorance or prejudice, as any careful analysis even just of the photo readily shows distinctive and unmistakeable evidence this weaving is hundreds of years earlier.
RK has made it clear we are no longer willing to provide our proprietary information culled from fifty years of carpet research, so sorry for not providing any proof of this early dating.
“Showing is teaching” are the first words in the preface of our “Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic Weaving of the Caucasus” publication and how true they are.
We know just publishing the photo and detail of this engsi will allow the more astute and interested readers to able to recognize certain design elements that will, if not convince them of a 17th century date, at least make it far more plausible.
RK does not like calendar, preferring instead relative/comparative, dating. But we’ve used it at times to make a point; here to reflect our dating this engsi to a time period that never before but now has become increasing acknowledged in cutting-edge circles of Turkmen studies.
We have a lot more to say about engsi, as well as other types of Turkmen woven products but for now we will just add this to our already substantial published record.