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email: jack@rugkazbah.com
Sun, May 2nd, 2004 02:31:53 PM
Topic: Bonham's London Spring Sale

Bonhams is perhaps the least known of the major auction ‘houses’ in London but they have, at times, had some important pieces up for sale. This past week’s auction provided them with another opportunity and lot 66 didn’t disappoint anyone, well save the frustrated under bidder. Here is the photo of this tiny and pretty costly snippet:

This tiny fragment, 5.5 inches x 6 inches sold for $57,360 (all prices quoted include premiums), making it the most expensive “rug” ever sold by the square inch! Was it worth that? In answering that question the only thing you can say is: Anyone with that much disposable income and desire to own a small chunk of a highly rated famous rug got something special, regardless of the price.
The Met Museum in NY owns a far larger piece of this carpet and after seeing it many times the wonder and magic it projects was never lost on my eyes. Here is the photo of the Met’s piece:

Known as the Altman pashmina fragment, after it was bequeathed by Benjamin Altman to the museum in 1913, it is regarded as the finest carpet ever made. Undoubtedly such a provenance and technical mastery were the two main reasons for its high selling price, as was the under bidders perseverance.

Here is a complete carpet from the Tyssen-Bornemisza collection that most likely shows what the Met’s rug probably looked like:

Formerly known as the Aynard prayer rug, the name of its previous owner, it was sold at auction some years ago and that’s how it ended up in the Thyssen collection. Dan Walker in his text of the Flowers Underfoot catalog mentions several reasons against accepting wholeheartedly that such a rug was in fact a prayer rug as well as others about dating them. His suggestions are well put and worth considering.

The rest of the Bonhams sale had no other “bombs” like lot 66 but here are a few of the pieces worth mentioning. The first, lot 48 was called east Anatolian and estimated at 500-800 pounds:

It’s definitely a funky rug with goofy animals and people in the border. I kinda liked its spunkiness but wouldn’t necessarily want to own it. Someone else obviously did and it sold for a quite reasonable 717 pounds, a far cry from lot 66, huh.

The next rug, lot 89, a Belouch main carpet, 9 feet by 6 feet approximately, was also interesting and it sold for a whopping 7,768 pounds. Belouch main carpets, especially ones that really are 19th century, are rare and since there is now a cadre of highly motivated belouch collectors such a price is not outlandish. Here is a photo detail:

Bonhams had two carpets sale one on New Bond Street and the other in Knightsbridge. The lots already pictured were from the later saleroom and the one that follows from the former. Lot 1012, called a Kurdish long run in the catalog, a description I’d agree with, was quite reasonably priced at 200-300 pounds. While worn and damaged it still showed well and the sales price of 454 pounds a real bargain. Here is the photo:

London in April was busting at the seams with rugs on offer at auction houses and from all indications the status quo situation of the best pieces, or those that receive the most hype, bringing often surprisingly high prices continues unabated. But RK.com would like to ask: How many of these will in ten or twenty years reward their owners with more than the pleasure of looking at them? Time will tell if the Karagashli rug for 60,000$ or the tiny Mughal fragment for almost the same price was the better purchase. Or perhaps it will show neither was a wise decision – that’s the chance we all take in buying “collector” rugs but one thing is sure some are great bargains no matter how much one pays. Granted few of those major masterpieces ever come on the market and neither the Karasaghli nor the tiny Mughal snippet were, in my opinion, able to be classed in such an august light.

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