The question of price is always one that is front and center in any collecting discussion, this is a given. However in the antique rug game the price corundum is multiplied by a number of factors that are not present in most other areas. The limited number of real buyers, lack of any positive distinguishing criteria (other than synthetic dyes), the lack of signatures or maker marks, the huge amount of mis- and dis-information(both of recent and older vintages), the rarity of genuine examples, market manipulation by dealers, etc are just a few. These “problems” have prevented the formulation of even a basic value system.
In the old days, prior to the mid-eighties, there was one consistent circumstance – the price of an antique rug was determined by WHERE the rug was being sold. At large auctions the prices were ALWAYS high, at small auctions the prices were almost always LOW. Big city dealers with large shoppes and advertising budgets charged A LOT, smaller dealers with shoppes charged LESS and dealers without shoppes charger even LESS and antique dealer charged the LEAST.
All this has changed and the former static “price chart” described above has now been turned on it head and spun every which way. Let me give a superlative example before entering into the discussion at hand.
The infamous Yomut carpet (illustrated above) sold in Grey Maine at Cyr auction gallery five years ago, which was bought by asad khan for a bit more than $100,000 and then offered for $350,000 some months later at the hali faire in London, exemplifies this trend. The underbidder was a rugnut from San Francisco webb hill, who was representing and bidding for george hecksher – the former new rich kid on the rug block.
I was at the sale and afterwards wrote that the rug was severely over priced at the sale in Maine, that it was not older than mid-19th century, and that it was a deluxe furnishing carpet and not a high-end collector piece. Needless to say this stirred up a hornet’s nest of BS from the rug crowd but in the end my opinion proved correct and khan, I believe, still “owns” it. He will never sell it to anyone in the know for the kind of profit he would like to make and I seriously doubt if he could sell it for what it has now cost him.
There is a new paradigm in the rug world – basically pieces can, and often do, sell for more in small out of the way auction galleries than in sotheby’s or other major auction houses. Why? Simply put because inexperienced people with fat wallets, or cheap bank money, figure they can buy at a “small sale” and then re-sell what they buy in the “big city” for big profit. Sorry, Charlie, but that just ain’t so, ask asad khan.
Here is the case in point: Last Saturday in a small, out of the way, auction sale room a few interesting rugs appeared. I was informed about the sale and went to see what was there and found - a lot of two tentband fragments, each about 6 feet in length; a soumak bagface and an aina gol tekke mafrash. All these piece had recently been removed from an estate and were “fresh” to the market and more importantly, they were excellent, early pieces – the kind that rarely show up anywhere. Naturally I was interested and figured the tendband lot would bring about $5-800, the soumak bagface about 1500 and the tekke mafrash $6-800.
Here’s what happened, first the tentbands:
Here is the second piece in the lot:
The upper piece, which is illustrated in two photos, was the “one”. It was very early, probably 18th century, and had great iconography. Most interesting and highly unusual was the row of small kotchak “gols” in the center of the segments large “ornament”
although I am pretty sure the insect like designs to the left and right were what “excited” the successful bidder who got the lot.
The second fragment, illustrated below it, was also good, just not nearly as good as the other. The most noteworthy feature was another “gol-like” representation, this time a tauk naska, found in the same position.
Astute readers will remember another tentband with a tauk naska “gol”, which was illustrated in another discussion here on RK.com entitled “Let’s Talk about TentBands”. This series of posts is still in the Turkmen rug section but for those who haven’t yet seen it, orthose who did but don’t remember, here it is:
This tentband is the age of the other one, probably 18th century, which is not the case for the second piece in the lot that is most probably second quarter of the 19th century.
Ok now the scene is set and the auctioneer puts the lot up and describes the two tentband frags as ‘table runners’ and asks for a $200 opening bid. No-one bids. He then asks for $100 and still no bid so fearing he would pass the lot, I raised my bidding number. The price quickly escalated to 900 and that was my final bid, as there is a 10% premium and sale tax to be added. Needless to say I was quite surprised when the price just kept going and going and going. It finally ended at just a bit shy of $5,000.00 with the premium added.
Ahhhh, auction fever to the max.
Now then who was this fool and who was the almost as foolish underbidder? Would either of these two folks opened up their checkbooks to buy these fragments from you or me for $1,000.00? I’d be willing to bet NOT.
I have seen this phenomena happen many times before but this one was of the magnitude of the Cyr Yomut rug. The better fragment was nice, very nice but is it worth $4,000? Is the lesser fragment worth $1,000? Hell no but to the mokes who got into the pissing contest on Saturday they were – but only until the auctioneers hammer fell. I’d again wager there is more than a bit of buyer’s remorse for the “lucky” winner and relief for the “loser”.
What does this prove? It proves the new paradigm because if these frags had appeared at sotheby’s or any other major sale room they would never have reach that dumb price. Ignorance, inexperience, excitement and greed were the motivations for this turn of events, just like what happened with the Cyr rug.
I am always willing to pay more than something is worth but I am not greedy or crazy, like those two fools were on Saturday.
Stay tuned for part II of this “What is it Worth” discussion when the other two lots will be discussed.