Actually, Lots of People Don't Want to Know
Dear folks -
There are some folks who have taken the character of dyes in oriental rugs and textiles very seriously. They've submitted valued pieces for testing by reliable third parties and have permitted the results to be published.
In my early days of collecting, I happened into Saul Barodofsky's shop when Saul was traveling. My wife and I got talking to Saul's wife about the fact that chemical testing for synthetic dyes was clearly possible, but seemed expensive.
I think I'm getting the next part right (Saul can correct me), but Ananda indicated that they had explored whether an economical testing kit could be marketed that would permit the detection of (not necessarily the specific identification of) synthetic dyes on the basis of small wool samples. It turned out that such a kit could be sold for about $200 (then).
Sadly, after asking around it became clear to Saul and his wife that there was in fact not much of a market for such a testing kit.
Dealers still wanted to say that the dyes in their pieces looked natural to them and collectors did not want to know that the pieces they owned might have synthetic dyes in them.
Everyone liked the ambiguity and there was no market for clearing things up despite how inexpensively that could be done.
That says a great deal about part of the dynamics of both collecting and dealing. There are very powerful forces of denial at work on both sides.
R. John Howe
This just isn't making sense to me.
Fact: Antique rugs with documentation that the dyes are all natural have higher values than those with some synthetic dyes. In most cases, the differences will be thousands of dollars for a single rug.
Fact: Dealers spend a lot of money on inventory, using the Experienced Eye method of determining whether each piece has all natural or some synthetic dyes, an important variable in determining how much is reasonable to pay.
Fact: Buyers spend large amounts of money, betting on their own or the dealer's Experienced Eye to determine whether their purchase has any synthetic dyes which, in turn, bears on the attractiveness of the selling price.
I am prepared to believe that many collectors would rather not know the nature of the dyes in their pieces, although I doubt that this is true for the majority. I am prepared to believe the same for some dealers. But a collector or a dealer considering a purchase has nothing about which to be in denial. He simply wants to know what he's buying. A kit that would let him make that determination conveniently and at modest cost (I assume that the $200 cost for the kit is not for only a single analysis, but for some number of analyses) would be gobbled up by collectors. I'll bet you could sell one to every family with a registrant at ACOR or ICOC. Find me one that can be bought for $200, and I'll buy a stack of them and market them myself.
I'm also skeptical about whether it's possible to devise a test that simply gives a "yes" or "no" when asked, "Is this a natural dye?" In fact, I can't imagine a way to do this without identifying the dye or eliminating other dyes as possibilities. Natural and synthetic dyes are, after all, just chemical compounds. If you want to know whether one is natural or synthetic, you have to know what the compound is or eliminate likely alternatives.
Perhaps Saul remembers some of the details and can help fill us in here.
Hi Steve -
Yes, I invite Saul to chime in frankly and to correct me.
I am a rug person and likely prone to exaggeration.
And I don't hear all that well.
But that's what I remember and I think Saul confirmed it at least approximately once before. But maybe not.
Anyway let's hear the real story, if different.
R. John Howe
Natural or synthetic colors?
Dear John, Steve and all,
When it is very hard to rely just on one's eye, I always use the time-tested way to determine whether a color is natural or not.
This is especially true for the red dye, which is by far the most problematic dye to determine its "naturalness":
I pour very hot water on a white piece of cloth and rub it on the suspicious dye. If the cloth is stained, and not by dirt, in all probability it is derived from a synthetic source.
Now, you will agree that this procedure is a whole lot cheaper than paying $200 or so for a color tester!
Re: Natural or synthetic colors?
Originally posted by Itzhak Mordekhai
If the cloth is stained, and not by dirt, in all probability it is derived from a synthetic source.
Message from Saul
Dear folks -
Steve and I have been involved in some backstage conversation with Saul about the issues in this thread.
We have his permission to post what he has said to us. The following is from two separate messages from Saul:
Haven't been on line for awhile - so didn;t see your posting till now - however - you have a good memory -
As I recall the events:
Back in the early daze (early mid 80's) Paul Mushak wanted to develop both a professional natural dye testing service for professional, collectors and instituitions - He publicized it in Hali and O.R.R. and got no takers -
Please note his credentials were top notch - academic chemist, collector, and organizer of the Triangle Rug Society (N.C.) -
His reasoning for no replies - based on many conversations with collectors, museums and auction houses - was that they were already satisfied with their methodology and weren't about to change - or - that the loss of a thread was too intrusive to the piece - or that the costs were too high (a few hundred dollars per piece, as I recall) - He told me he didn't believe the reasons given - and felt that the people didn't want to know - that it could open up a can of worms -
He then got together with Ananda, and they developed (or he developed and she used it - it's been awhile) a portable dye testing kit - it could tell if the dyes were natural or not - but was simple and could not tell what kind of synthetic dyes were used.
This chemical set had a few draw backs - it was volatile-explosive, was not cheap, and one of the chemicals used is-was also used for the manufacture of meth-amphedemine -
We used the kit in shop for a while, and mostly it confirmed our eyes judgment - we stopped using it over the years and it's gone to a better world -
This kit was also offered to the public through an article in the O.R.R. which was by both Ananda and Paul Mushak detailing how to make one and what it would and would not do.
Hope that helps - and am sorry Steve, that logic and reason do always work when people are involved - your points were all very logical and had I not been there, I would also have argued your point - but, I was there.
Happy Memorial Day
Second message excerpt:
We found the issue of ORR - Vol VI - 1986 - April - enjoy reading it
-if there is a problem accessing it on line - we do have a copy here that you are welcome to read next time you visit.
The issue Saul mentions is not among those available on the ORR web site. That issue is from the black and white tabloid size version of ORR before it became a full color magazine.
R. John Howe
If Paul Mushak said it would differentiate synthetic from natural dyes, I'm convinced that it did so. Do any of the readers have that issue of ORIENTAL RUG REVIEW? I'd be grateful for a photocopy of the article, or a scanned image of it.
The kit's attractiveness would depend very much on the cost and portability. Being able to confirm natural dyes before making a purchase of a piece priced at, say $1000 or more would not be worth several hundred dollars, but would be worthwhile if it could be done for $10 or so.
You will not believe this, but you got me thinking with your request above.
A few years ago, Jamshid Aghamolla, my Persian dealer friend here in Washington, DC, gave me a stack of Oriental Rug Review issues from its black and white tabloid size days.
I have not looked at them in some time (I see that I have some issues of the first volume of ORR) but got curious tonight.
It turns out that I have the issue to which Saul refers here in my hands. It is Vol VI, No. 1, April, 1986. I'm scanning to see if I can provide a legible copy.
R. John Howe
Dear folks -
It turns out my scans are not sufficiently legible to put up, so today I'm mailing Steve a photocopy of this article.
And we need to get Ron O'Callahan's permission (the publisher of ORR) as well.
Eventually, I think, we can get it up.
R. John Howe
Just an update on the do-it-yourself dye testing kit. John kindly scanned it and sent the scans to me, so I've been able to read it. Since the article is full newspaper page size, he had no facility for scanning a full page at a time. I'm going to try to use a reducing photocopier and see if I can't make something legible with logical page breaks and put the whole thing on Turkotek. If I can't accomplish that, I'll extract the key sections by keyboard and post that as an abridged version.
Until that gets done, let me give you a quick rundown. The procedure involves the use of some pretty nasty chemicals (concentrated ammonia, for example), a hot plate for boiling stuff, a sink, and uses some glassware. It's portable, strictly speaking, but nothing you're likely to want to carry with you when you visit your favorite dealer's showroom. Testing a dye takes some time - I'd guess somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. All in all, my opinion is that it would be nice to be able to use it if you're curious about one or more dyes in pieces in your possession, but not likely to be useful during the pre-purchase phase.
I will try to find a way to post the full article. It's a nice method, and rather ingenious.
The article has made its way from scans of the original article - this took 17 pages of scanning (done by John Howe) - to a Word document (converted by Chuck Wagner) that I can easily make into an HTML document for the web.
I have contacted Ron O'Callaghan (editor and publisher of the late, much lamented ORIENTAL RUG REVIEW), asking for his blessing of our plan to put it on line on Turkotek. Meanwhile, if any of you would like a copy of the Word document, please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. It's about 900 kb, so I can send it as an e-mail attachment.