Many long years ago, in fact in the fall of 1970, RK drove from our apartment in Manhattan to Allentown, Pennsylvania to attend an antique show where we believed we could possibly score an interesting rug or two. By the way this show, held annually, is still happening or at least it was last time we looked at an antique show calendar.
It took place in the 'Agricultural Hall' and opened on friday but we got there on thursday afternoon to look through what the hundred and fifty or so dealers were setting up in their booths.
The hall was quite large with alot of activity and, as you can imagine, alot of stuff for sale. Turning a corner on one of the center aisles we spied this trans-Caucasian kelim lying on the floor of one of the adjacent booths.
Trans-Caucasian white cotton ground kelim, 18th century; RK collection; 6 feet 6 inches x 5 feet 3 inches (147 cm. x 198 cm)
We made a bee line for it. The closer we got to it the more impressed we were. The colors, the shimmering design; and as soon as we touched it and felt the super fine spinning and tight weave we were hooked. Also we noticed the cotton ground was handspun, something we had never seen before.
"Can I help you, young man?" brought us out of our reverie. We turned around and there was a tall, rather elegant older woman holding several toys in her hand. Putting them down on the table she looked at RK as we replied "Yes, is this your booth?".
She said it was and we directly asked her what was the price for the kelim on the floor.
"Three hundred is the price."
She might as said ten thousand, as three hundred at the time, remember this is 1970, was alot of dosh and a huge price to ask.
"Listen" we said "How about one fifty, that's a really good price." "Well for you, maybe, but not for me. This is a very beautiful and old rug" she said.
We agreed and said "OK, what about one hundred seventy five."
"Sorry, young man but my price is still three hundred". And I am busy so please let me get on with my work."
"All right, madam" and we walked out of the booth but knew we were not finished trying to buy it.
After walking around for an hour or so and not finding anything, forget something as good, we went back to see her and the kelim once more.
"I have been thinking about it and will pay you "TWO HUNDRED" almost shouting to try and impress her.
"Well" she said "that's an excellent offer". The show ends on Sunday at four pm so if you come back then and if I still have not sold it I will let you have it for the two hundred".
There was no way we were going to leave it and take the chance someone else would buy it, let alone drive back to Allentown.
But three hundred was just about all the money we had in our buying kitty. Let's remember at this time you could buy a nice, good condition Caucasian or Persian rug for fifty dollars in a rug shop, and prices at antique shows and flea markets were quite a bit less.
So this woman's price of three hundred was really high.
However, we knew this kelim was something very special, in fact it was a masterpiece and even though RK had only been seriously buying and studying oriental carpets for a few years we just knew we had to buy it regardless of the high price. So we bit the bullet and decided to buy. It was too great a weaving to leave behind just because it was too expensive.
"OK I said, here's your three hundred." Bent down and folded up the kelim and left.
We never saw that woman again, nor any trans-Caucasian kelim that was related, as old, or as wonderful in person or in a publication until discovering and acquiring the one below about fifteen years later.
Trans-Caucasian white cotton ground 'saf' kelim, 18th century; RK collection;
8 feet 8 inches x 5 feet 3 inches (160 cm. x 264 cm)
Still to this day it is the only example that is similar, although the small collection of trans-Caucasian kelim we have does have two others. One has no cotton and the other has a wide border with a handspun white cotton ground.
The first is illustrated in our "KELIM SOUMAK CARPET and CLOTH: Classic Weaving of the Caucasus" publication, as well as in the Weaving Art Museum online presentation which can be seen here.
The second is not published but perhaps one day we will show it here on RugKazbah.com.
By the way neither of these, or any other trans-Caucasian kelim we have ever seen or know of from our extensive knowledge of the published literature, can hold a candle to that one from Allentown, Pa. or it's related 'saf' design sibling.
Coming face-to-face with that kelim in Pennsylvania was a revolutionary experience for RK. First off, it was the first time we had the chance to find and acquire a masterpiece weaving. We had been seriously studying and learning about antique carpets for several years and had found and bought amongst others several Caucasian rugs. The best of which were a black field Marasali and a golden yellow field Daghestan.
Both were really good examples but we knew both intellectually and instinctively they were not masterpieces. But that kelim was a masterpiece and every day since buying it we have appreciated how rare and wonderful it is.
The second part of that revolutionary experience, and perhaps the most important, was it convinced us to never pass up buying a masterpiece just because of its price.
And we have not ever done so since, regardless of how high that price was.
Now let RK qualify this statement: We have never passed up buying any masterpiece weaving that was a flat-weave (kelim or soumak), since this is our core collection and primary interest in antique Near Eastern weavings.
The word masterpiece, which seems to mean different things to different people, needs some explanation as well.
Perhaps the place to start is the Webster's dictionary defimition: "a work done with extraordinary skill; especially : a supreme intellectual or artistic achievement".
The operative word here is 'supreme'.
Often in carpet collecting and other fields masterpiece is confused with 'best of type'. Something can be a best of type but not a masterpiece. But a masterpiece is by definition a best of type.
There's a subtle but significant difference, one that requires real connoisseurship, experience and knowledge to determine. But let's just leave it there and go on to the moral of this story.
And that moral is: It's the piece not the price.
If one does not have the johnny in the pocket, well then, you cannot acquire something that is priced above your means regardless if you recognize and know how good it is.
But when you do have the money, even if it is an abnormally high price or priced to your last penny, then you need forget that, step up to the plate and make that masterpiece yours.
Of course this argument is predicated on knowing the object is in fact a masterpiece and not something even one notch lower.
RK has learned alot about antique carpets in the fifty years we are collecting. The fact there are no rules to judge them the most important. Second is there is no real price structure or 'market value'.
As we often quip "buying a bargain today is often tomorrow's loss but buying a masterpiece today at even an absurdly high price is tomorrow's bargain".
We have not only seen this proven over and over but been the beneficiary. Just like that super high three hundred dollar price for the Allentown kelim.
What's it worth now? Far more than if we had put that sum into a bank account or bought IBM stock.
So, race fans, when you know it's a masterpiece do not be concerned with the price. Just belly up to the bar, open the wallet, and be grateful you have the opportunity to buy it -- afterall never forget masterpieces are few and far between.
While we know monetary concerns underlie all but the most passionate and motivated collector's decisions they should not, in theory, affect any collector's actions.
What should, and the only thing that should, is how good is what you are considering? See, that's the point. It's the piece not the price.
This must be the mantra for any collector who is serious. For if there is one more quasi rule in collecting it is the best is always too expensive when you buy it but after sometime passes it becomes a bargain.
Never doubt or forget it's the piece not the price and you will never go wrong. Just be sure you are buying a masterpiece; and therein lies the rub, as Willy the Bard of Avon once wrote.