Re: Rarity

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Posted by Michael Wendorf on March 22, 1999 at 19:05:27:

In Reply to: Re: Rarity posted by Jerry Silverman on March 22, 1999 at 18:08:42:

: : Dear Friends:

: : Rarity has been mentioned in the introduction as a desired attribute with most collectors. Is this so?
: : It seems to me that good condition Kazaks, to pick one type, are relatively rare but also common enough to make them rather available to collectors and to dealers wishing to sell them to collectors. The fact that they are available and of a known type may help to explain the realtively high prices good ones seem to make even though the evidence tends to show that they were workshop pieces and not tribal or otherwise very ethnographic. The question then is does rarity confer value? I think that may depend on how rare the thing really is. I've seen some very beautiful things not do much because they were not understood and did not seem to fit into what collectors expect and were difficult to value without the experience of past sales or the existence of an identical piece in a certain collection. A decent Fachralo Kazak or Eagle or Sewan or (need I go on?) seems to do better than lesser established types if only because collectors see them in books, at auction and seem to feel this is what so and so has, I'd better have one too. In this way rarity beyond scarce seems to confer no value at all.
: : Any thoughts on rarity? Regards, Michael

: Dear Michael, et. al.,

: What you say sounds right to me. This goes to the "postage stamp" approach to rug collecting. That's where the collector treats his/her rug books as stamp catalogs and pursues collecting to "fill" the catalog. I've seen such collections; even the best seems a tad soulless.

: The difficulty that the truly rare piece has in the marketplace is that its value is, to a larger degree, based on the self-assuredness of the collector. If it's so rare that it's not pictured in a rug book, then the buyer must have much more confidence in his/her judgement. The strength of that assuredness/confidence is measured in the number of zeros in the price a piece can sustain. My guess is that there aren't 200 people in the world with enough confidence to buy something truly rare at a price justified by its scarcity.

: Cordially,

: -Jerry-

Dear Jerry:

What we may be digging at is the question of who makes a market. Dealers have an interest in promoting pieces that they can sell and replace and sell again. The marketplace for rugs and many other collecting areas is dominated by dealers who help to establish what taste or the aesthetic of the field is. Much of this may be based on sound experience and good taste but other times it is dictated by someone's past experience and future expectation of business and promotion. The middle and lower markets are dragged behind. How many times have we seen or heard a dealer pitch a tired rug by stating "it's just like the one that (a) sold at auction for twice what I'm asking, (b) is in ____'s book or (c) x sold last week in New York for much more. " The fact is that we probably all find some comfort, real or imagined, in comparing a potential addition to a collection with other related examples both in terms of price and quality. We would be uninformed if we did not. The caution is that often things are not nearly so rare as we imagine (how about caucasian kilims or soumak bags?) and that we need to at least be aware that our impulses are being shaped by many forces.
I will cite an example of personal experience. I have been communicating with Marla Mallet concerning a number of flatwoven bags she has collected which are relatively rare items and, due to some structural characteristics, firmly attributed to Kurdish weavers. Many of these bags have significant amounts of cochineal in them. Now the marketplace demonstrates again and again that items with cochineal do not do as well as many less rare, less firmly established weavings from other areas. One reason is the conventional wisdom that cochineal was a new dye that became available around 1850 and then became popular. Another reason is that the color seems cool to most of us. Now the fact is that cochineal bugs are to be found in eastern Anatolia and Armenian or Ararat red is an old cochineal color. So what does a collector do? Does the collector go forward and collect or follow the market? Here is an example of where rarity confers no value at all and may actually be a force in continuing to depress the value of an entire group of weavings. Then again, perhaps if collecting these bags became popular the market would become flooded with them?
I"ll be interested in other observations. Michael

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