The percentage results of sotheby’s spring sale were not outstanding. In fact they were somewhat dismal – 26 of the 85 lots in the morning “collector” part of the sale went unsold. Was this because of over-priced estimates? In my opinion not, as the quality of those lots rather than their guesstimated prices was the cause.
Estimates prices for rug sales especially “collector pieces” at sothebys, like most other auction houses who dabble in this “market”, are best described as guesstimates, as anyone who follows these sales knows. There are several reasons for this and the most obvious one is the folks who make them up don’t know enough about the goods to differentiate the mediocre from the good or the occasional great piece that trips in the front doors, nor apparently do they care about trying to learn how to.
Both sotheby’s and christie’s staff are less than expert, however in comparison to skinner’s, the third wheel in the US rug sale axis, they shine like newly minted pennies. By the way skinner’s spring sale will happen this month and after viewing their catalog and witnessing the usual bunch of totally forgettable “collector” rugs that grace the glossy pages of their catalog no preview or review of their attempts to mount a sale will appear on RK.com. Why? Simply put I have better things to do than write about boring floor rugs airport-art masquerading as anything other than furnishing wool to keep people’s tootsies warm on cold winter nights. There is not a “piece” worth twenty words in the entire sale – well at least in my opinion that is.
That said let’s now get back to sotheby’s who are the uncontested champ of rug sales in America.
First let me say I was a bit surprised at the prices a number of lots achieved. This strength I well recognize was due to sotheby (and all auctions in general) being a formidable steamroller able to push the competitive desires of bidders beyond reason and, now that we are in a mature phase of rug collecting – a time when few pieces are left undiscovered and former buyers have yet to start to unload their hoards - auction fever and this paucity of examples no doubt combined to cause that result.
This was not an unusual circumstance as often times I come away from auctions shaking my head and wondering why bidders, who wouldn’t pay half or even a quarter of the price they just spent for an object when faced with it outside the sale room, dump their cash so willingly when looking at an auction hammer’s final thump. After the sale I visited with someone who not only attended the sale but also spent a substantial amount of money there and his explanation, which I find to be specious, goes like this. “If I don’t bid aggressively at an auction to get it (i.e. the “piece”) it is lost forever while in a private sale if I am offered something and I don’t buy it I can always ring the seller up at a later date and buy it then (i.e. at a “cheaper” price than it was originally offered).”
This logic, like a number of other ones I have had voiced to me by others who are basically “auction buyers”, is fallacious for a number of reasons the least of which is the re-appearance of many “pieces” sold at auction and the chance the piece offered in a private sale will be sold in the intervening time and not available for a revisit.
Regardless of the validity or falsehood of any argument one thing is sure – auctions work. But now that sotheby’s and most other “houses” charge exorbitant commission rates and have other “hidden” charges that take a big bite out of the consigner’s final payment, not to mention the long time lag between submitting the “piece” and getting the check, as well as the probability of a unsold or mediocre price realized, the end result for many if not most consignor’s is not always what it seems it could/should have been.
However, the price paid by the buyer is, unlike the paid to the consignor, often times substantially higher than what it would be in a private sale situation.
With all this in mind let’s take a look at a few lots:
Lot 62: This rug is a member of a small group of Anatolian rugs distinguished by a highly characteristic wide main border. Granted this one is the runt of the litter but considering how rare these are, it’s a rare runt and the 25-30,000$ estimate was right on – it sold for 30,000$ including the premium. In Rk.com’s preview, where it is pictured, I predicted it would go unsold and obviously was wrong – guess auction fever and the “if I don’t bid now it’ll be lost forever psychology” won out. Well, wonders never cease now do they? In any event lot 62 was, in my opinion, a ho-hum two dimensional 19th century revival copy of the earlier examples and in no way was it circa 1700 as the catalog boasted.
Again the circa 1800 catalog dating is off and this Bergama is mid-19th century at best. The thick pile, original kelim ends and good condition were the most outstanding aspects – the drawing and coloration amateurish at best. The 19,200 price(all prices mentioned in this review include sotheby’s premium)was definitely high retail and its probable destination as a floor rug in a luxe decorator environment would be fitting as it had no art value nor is it anything related to the history of the Turkish carpet. Actually I think it was ugly but that’s my opinion – one not shared by at least two others, the buyer and the under bidder.
This rug is likewise pictured in RK.com’s preview and the 10-15,000$ estimate was shattered as it ended up selling for 36,000$. This seems high but in comparison to the Bergama it was a bargain. Twice the price but ten times the rug, I liked it and was glad to see it perform well. Baroque it ain’t nor is it the best of type as described in the online hali review Rk.com debunked in another thread.
Called an Akstafa, a moniker I don’t understand or agree with as this long prayer rug’s braided warp finish, wool quality and design were all features associated with other Caucasian weaving groups. They all were disparate and not indicative of any specific attribution. South Caucasian I my opinion would have sufficed – the Akstafa being just a term thrown in to guild the lily. It was a cute prayer rug in good condition – the main border (more Turkish than Caucasian) it’s best design feature – a fact not lost on several potential new owners and it sold for a whopping 39,000$. This was twice the guesstimate, which was pegged at 10-15K. The circa 1880 dating was also off and far too conservative – 1860 more correct. Auction dating, unlike pricing which is far more variable, is another sore spot for auction cataloguers and why do they even bother making them when they are so frequently wrong?
Supposedly this rug hung on the wall in Vance Jordan’s (the “collector who purchased it and a number of other “pieces” at sotheby’s that appeared in this sale due to his departing this world for the great beyond) bathroom since it’s purchase. Rk.com thinks it might have been more suited to the floor, as only the main border was really worth looking at, the rest of the rug having only super bath mat qualities at best.
Another Jordan sotheby purchase, this Marasali also zoomed to double the estimate, which was 10-15K, and sold for 31,200$. Again I believe this price, like that for the Akstafa, Bergama and lot 62, were highly inflated and will prove in the future to be errors for judgment for their new owners. But at least it had more art quality than those others (it had beautiful shiny wool, fine knotting and better design quality) and in the scheme of things might prove to hold its value while those other surely, in my opinion, won’t.
There were no good Turkmen pieces in the sale and this Ersari chuval, which was in my opinion mediocre in all regards (age, beauty and quality) was the best of them. Besides for having good pile nothing else could be said for it and the 9,000$ price grossly out of line with what it really is worth or will ever, in my opinion, be worth again.
Only at auction could a mediocre piece of airport art like this torba sell for 7,200$. The consignor, who was rumored to be asad khan the now defunct former owner of two rug shoppes in Vermont, lucked out because in RK.com’s opinion this torba and the Ersari chuval (lot 52), which supposedly was his as well, should have been among the unsold bought in lots. One wonder whether the settlement price for these two “treasures” covered his costs, as mr khan often severely overpaid at auction for his purchases – either to show how strong his backer’s check book was or to save face and prevent his “rivals” from besting him. Those modus operandi apparently didn’t work too well as khan is now out of business and apparently has worn out his welcome with his backer’s check book. Good riddance to him is all I can say, as dummies like him (let’s remember he bought the Yomut carpet in Maine @Cyr’s auction some years ago and stupidly believed he could triple the price just by washing it and carting it over to London) don’t do the rug business justice by perpetrating their dumb egocentric antics.
The 768,660$ total for the morning session wasn’t remarkable in comparison to other sales but considering the merch on offer it surely was. By the way, sotheby’s London spring sale is, like this one in was New York, in my opinion just another yawning exercise in peddling floor rugs and airport-art as collector “pieces”. Check it out yourselves either online or in the print catalog. Sorry no preview or review will appear here, as more important and pressing matters await – like sorting out my sock drawer and organizing my closet.