Yesterday RK.com received these images from a reader who asked my opinion of this soumak bag. It is being offered for sale on another website by a dealer in Germany (michael craycraft). The price asked is 16,500 euro.
After looking at the pictures we received it was not hard to come to the following conclusion : This soumak doesn’t appear to me to be an old one and, in fact, appears to be a reproduction. Granted this is only an opinion based on several digital photos but there are several clues that point in this direction. Let’s take a look at them together.
First is the condition. There are genuinely old (pre-1850) soumaks that have come down to us in excellent condition but never do they possess the uniformity of surface seen here. Furthermore, the contrived drawing style of the central medallion coupled with the oversized and exaggerated ornaments in the quartered-corner-pieces are also so atypical they beg suspicion.
Additionally, while I like the weavers use of a blue ground for the inner guard border that echoes the blue corner-pieces, this aspect is also tres-modern and not something a 19th century weaver would have done. Why? well since none of us have had the privilege of talking to such a weaver this would be impossible to substantiate in this manner, however, examining the myriad of extant soumak bags will not reveal another one with this stylistic convention. Go check this out yourselves and if you find one that is genuinely pre-1850 and send the photo to RK.com I will be glad to send you one of my soumak books for free – that’s how sure I am of the veracity of this statement.
There are several other tell-tale “curiosities” that call the age of this bag into question.
Notice how on both vertical ends of the central medallion’s cross (as shown above) the weaver placed a small block or pedestal, which the cross “sits” upon (at the bottom) and “stops” (at the top). This is a very unusual feature only two other published soumak bags with this design I know of utilize. Curiously both of them have the same exaggerated corner motifs and oversized central crosses.
One of them is unquestionably old (although not as old as it’s owner, john weretime, believes it is). Here is the photo:
The other one, which has often been oft published and drooled upon by some aficionados, is owned by windle swan. Here is the photo for comparison:
Personally I have never agreed with those who believe swan’s bag is very old and while it appears to be late 19th century and not reproduction, I harbor some doubts. The other bag, weretime’s, has a scrubby surface and rather unsightly coloration which makes it unattractive and a lesser example in my opinion regardless of how old it may or may not be. By the way both of these are illustrated in weretime’s flawed attempt (Sumak Bags of Northwest Peria and Transcaucasia) to produce a magum opus on soumak bags.
The bag in question (craycraft’s) fits neatly into this little cluster of soumak bags. In fact so neatly it leads one to believe an astute repro artist “developed” the design for this bag by using the two illustrations in weretime’s book. This would not be the first time this happened, now would it?
But for me the ultimate detail that exposes craycraft’s bag as a repro is the funky/wonky drawing it exhibits in a number of places.
Notice the wavering undulations the inner black, white and blue inner guard “borders” exhibit both vertically and horizontally. This type of sloppy soumak weaving never appears in pre-1850 pieces nor for that matter in any genuine soumak bag faces.
Judging authenticity is always problematical based on photos but after collecting these bags for more than 30 years I feel very confident in my opinions. So if mr craycraft objects or just wishes to get a free appraisal of his “piece” I would be glad to oblige if he sends it to us. If it is genuinely old RK.com will pay the shipping costs both ways and give mr craycraft $500.00. If his bag is a repro, as RK.com believes, mr craycraft owes us nothing for the expertise and hopefully he will have learned something and be more careful next time.
In conclusion let me state the corrundrum of identifying repro soumak bags is an important one, especially since few collectors and dealers are equipped and knowledgeable enough to spot the bogus ones.