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The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.
by Steve Price
The vast majority of tribal bags in collections are bagfaces only, the backs having been cut off and thrown away to reduce the costs of transporting them to dealer showrooms. Until recent years this was not considered to be significantly detrimental to the appeal of the bags, although there is now a tendency for collectors to prefer tribal textiles to be nearly complete (backs and closures intact), all other things being equal. Most intact bags have backs that are pretty uninteresting, usually plainweaves that are undecorated or decorated only with simple horizontal stripes and making no contribution to the bag's aesthetics. Perhaps this is why so little attention is paid to the whole subject of the backs of woven bags.
A relatively small percentage of bags have backs that are attractive or interesting, though, and I invite our readers to give them some attention. At the moment there is a nice on-line exhibition of south Persian bags, the Gibbs Collection, on Cloudband, and several of these bags have very attractive backs.
Here is a Caucasian or northwest Persian flatwoven saltbag with an unusual back.
It is extremely finely woven, and obviously something more than simply a utilitarian object for carrying salt in the pastures.
The back of this Belouch salt bag is more attractive than the face, in my judgment. In fact, the only reason I am reasonably certain which side is which is that the face has flatwoven bands within pile borders and the back is all flatweave. I'm sure that, if separated, these could easily pass as two saltbag faces.
Finally, a Caucasian or northwest Persian khorjin with a back that is interesting, although not especially beautiful (actually, the same can be said of the faces). What is interesting about the back is the inscription. It includes a date and two letters, presumably initials. The date translates into 1939 AD, consistent with the palette on the face. The date was clearly put in without the second digit at first (the second digit, a "3", is in blue), which was then added. I find it interesting that the omitted digit was done in a different color, as if to purposely call attention to the weaver's error. I have previously noted a corrected weaver's error in a Yomud torba in which a color change occurs at the correction of the error (not nearly as marked, but sufficiently obvious to be hard to miss). Note also the change in border placement a little down from the top of the bagface. This does not occur on the opposite side, which has borders as in the lower three-fourths of the face shown.
Of course, bags with interesting backs present a display problem to the collector. There is simply no way to display the front and the back simultaneously (at least, I haven't figured one out). On the other hand, they speak clearly to the importance the weaver put on them, since the extra decoration was usually unseen once the piece was placed into service and, especially in the case of khorjin, would be the part most subject to abrasion and wear.
I hope this provides some food for thought and discussion.