Dyes and dating Caucasian rugs

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Posted by Steve Price on June 23, 1999 at 06:54:45:

Dear Folks,

For the past few years I've been wondering whether some fairly simple criteria could be applied by almost anyone to estimate the age of a rug. My attention wanders, so I haven't developed it very far, but here's where it stands at the moment.

First, I assume that if a rug has a date woven into it, that date is likely to be the year in which it was woven. I know that this isn't always the case, but I believe that most of the time it is. Anyway, that's my assumption, and the rest of the approach collapses if it's wrong.

Proceeding from that, I further assume that any characteristic that correlates with the inscribed date will also correlate with the time of fabrication of rugs that don't have inscribed dates. Since inscribed dates occur with reasonable frequency in Caucasian rugs, this seemed like a good place to start.

One fairly obvious set of characteristics is the dyes. As folks here and elsewhere have noted, color judgments can be pretty tricky. So I focused on two characteristics that are unambiguous and easy to describe. They are:
1. Corrosive black or brown dyes, which are easy to recognize by anyone. The conventional wisdom is that their use in the Caucasus was essentially discontinued in the early 20th century.
2. Tip-faded purple dyes, which are also easy to recognize. The conventional wisdom is that these were introduced in the final third of the 19th century.

I've simply looked at Caucasian rugs with inscribed dates when the opportunities arose, and noted whether the piece had corrosive black/brown and whether it had a tip-faded violet. More often than not, I forget to write these things down, but over the past couple of years I have remembered to do so with 31 Caucasian rugs.

Here are the results.
1. Of 21 rugs with inscribed dates of 1907 or earlier, every single one had corroded black/brown. Of 10 rugs dated 1913 or later, only 2 of 10 had this.
Thus, even with this very small sample size, the data make it likely that corroded black/brown in a Caucasian rug indicates a date prior to World War I.
2. Of 12 rugs with inscribed dates earlier than 1875, not a single one had tip-faded purple. Of 7 with dates from 1877-1901, 2 had this characteristic. Of 12 with dates from 1904 on, 9 had it. Again, even with this limited sample size, the presence of a tip-faded purple in a Caucasian piece makes it pretty unlikely to have been woven before 1875.
3. The presence of both corroded black/brown and tip-faded purple in a Caucasian rug would suggest that it was made between 1875 and 1915.

Whatever questions we may have about the sources of the conventional wisdom, I note that this method is completely independent of it and, so far at least, does not contradict it in any way.

I invite anyone to send me information that I can add to my database, and I will report back from time to time as it grows.

OK, you can resume picking on me. If you've read this far, you've earned the right to do so.

Steve Price

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