TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  John Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  08-16-2001 on 05:59 p.m.
Although I think that natural dyes will be valued by collectors in 2101, I also think that most of them will be less likely to walk away from otherwise collectible materials because they suspect that synthetic dyes may be present.

Let me tell you a brief, illustrative story.

Last Sunday at the end of my exercise walk, I found myself on Capitol Hill in the Eastern Market. In making the shops-flea market cycle I visited a Turkish rug dealer there who sells mostly natural dyed contemporary material but who travels to Turkey several times a year and who also has some old things.

In his older material pile I spotted two quite fine, wonderfully woven flatweaves and asked to look at them more closely.

They were complete bags of the sort attributed to the Bergama in western Turkey and usually described as "grain bags."

This type of bag were documented in the 1980s by two German field workers in a Pinkwart and Steiner in a German-text volume entitled "Bergama Cuvallari."

These bags have weft-faced plain woven backs with attractive horizontal stripes and fronts with more elaborate bands of brocaded design. They are, what Jerry Silverman once described them as: "killer bags." It is hard to find old one's that are not in tatters because they are apparently still used.

The first of the pieces had a front that looked approximately like this:

The second one was like this image:

The wool was hard and good, the weaving was of a very high technical quality, the drawing was exquisite and designs likely resonate with those of the Turkmen of Central Asian partly because these Turkish folks also have Turkmen forebearers. And they were in perfect condition, seeming never to have been used at all.

These bags are "collectible." One problem, in each of them there is a red that is a little bright and that I suspect are likely the result of the use synthetic dyes. These pieces were not offered at bargain prices and I walked away.

I think many collectors of 2101 would want to kick me for the obstinate way in which I sometimes permit this standard to bar me from what is clearly otherwise collectible material.

Let me give you just one more unrelated example to hammer home this point. Here is a small bag face that I ran unto in a store in Ohio a year ago.

I do not collect Shahsavan pieces but, on the basis of the information you have in this image, is this piece, in your view, "collectible?" It did not have a high price and I likely could have had it for a "song." In the wool, there are a couple of possible synthetics. I walked away.


R. John Howe

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  08-16-2001 on 07:04 p.m.
Dear John,

The header to your post got truncated, and originally went on to say that the presence of synthetic dyes will be less of an issue to collectors. I suspect that you're right about that.

As for the Shahsavan bag you show, I think it's quite collectible. It's attractive, apparently authentic, and if it has some synthetics in the palette, they do not appear to be harsh or unpleasant in any way. The biggest factor they introduce is that they show that the piece isn't real old - that is, it's unlikely to be 19th century. On the other hand, my impression from what you said is that this was reflected in the price.

Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Michael Wendorf mailto:%20wendorfm@mediaone.net
Date  :  08-16-2001 on 07:41 p.m.
Dear Readers:

Will the Shahsavan bag John illustrates be collectible or collected in 2101? I have no idea. People collect all sorts of odd things such as unopened McDonalds Happy Meal toys. But I do not think the bag face is very collectible today, if collectible at all it is only as a cheap beginner's piece or as a mistake. The piece has several faded and at least one hot color and is well known to me -it ended up in Pittsburgh from Ohio and was offered about 8 months ago on Ebay. It failed to make a reserve of about 200 "spoons" (as Saul B. would say at the Textile Musuem to avoid commercialism) and was later sold for fewer "spoons" than that only on the basis on price, i.e., it was so cheap that the next buyer (much like the previous two) thought they might earn some spoons. I do not consider speculation on something only based on price to be collecting. The fact is none of the owners have been able to sell it as a collectible in 2000/2001 proving again that what is bought because it is cheap remains cheap when you come to sell it.

What this means for 2101 is anyone's guess. For certain it is always a mistake to buy on price, but there will always be people who do - I do not think that makes them collectors or the items they buy collectible; but I digress.

I myself have no intention of collecting that long. Good luck, Michael

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  08-16-2001 on 07:54 p.m.
Hi Michael,

People collect much stranger things than Happy Meal bags: see http://www.airsicknessbags.com/
(scroll down to Sun Aire for an item close to my heart).
I think John's intention in this Salon is to mean "collectible by mainstream collectors" - for want of a better definition, we can think of the people who go to ACOR and ICOC, and subscribe to HALI, as typical specimens of this breed.

I believe what you say about the colors in the Shahsavan piece in this thread, but I would not have guessed from the image on my monitor that there are seriously faded or hot colors in the palette.

You are surely correct in advising people against collecting anything just because it's cheap. On the other hand, collector budgets for rugs run all the way from a few hundred dollars a year to the Heinrich Kirschheim types for whom a million per year for more than 10 years is within their means. The budgets determine what the collector collects, at least to the extent that they dictate what he cannot collect. For the person with the small budget, early to mid- 20th century ethnographic pieces are likely to be the bulk of the collection. That's today, of course, not in the 22nd century.


Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Stephen John Louw mailto:%20slouw@global.co.za
Date  :  08-17-2001 on 04:18 a.m.

I think John's question about how collectors will respond to synthetic dyes in 100 years begs the question we all ask ourselves today: how do we know whether the dyes are synthetic or not? Today – and with the notable exception of dealers on eBay, who are blessed with special gifts – most of can make no more than intelligent guesses as to dye sources. Dyes can be tested chemically, of course, but that is not done regularly.

I suspect that advances in science will give collectors in 100 years time a far greater opportunity to determine dye source, perhaps even wool source, and to reflect on these more soberly than we do at present.

Similarly, advances in C.14 (or other) dating techniques, as well as the fact that a further window of 100 years will have opened up for reasonably reliable “dating”, will eliminate a good deal of the fanciful speculation we engage in currently.


Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  John_Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  08-17-2001 on 05:30 a.m.
Dear folks -

I need to preface what I want to say now.

We frequently say that we should not advise one another about how we should collect and I do not want what follows to be heard as a criticism of any standard any fellow collector might employ in his/her own collecting decisions.

First, I want to thank Michael Wendorf for projecting with more intensity than I could myself manage, the oft-articulated view of a number of experienced collectors, about the likely presence of synthetic dyes in pieces encountered.

Michael says that he is "familiar" with the Shahsavan piece I have put up above and perhaps that means that he has had it in his hands. I have too, and with all due respect, I do not think that a description of it that suggests that it is basically beneath consideration excepting for a rank beginner or unless one wanted to make an explicit collecting mistake, is deserved.

First, it is, for me, rather graphically attractive. Second, it jumps nicely off a white ground. Third, although I too saw something that made me suspect that more than one dye in it may be synthetic, I did not see any of the harsh color to which Michael refers. If anything, in the wool, the color in this piece is, for me again, a little better than that visible in the photo, which is a shade dark. There is when one has it in hand, a little more range of color. My eye was attracted to a kind of flatness and lack of vibrancy in some shades, but I did not and do not experience this piece as the kind of fright that Michael's words about it conjure up for me. (By the way, price came up only very late in the conversation I had about it, so that was not an element of the attraction this piece had for me initially.)

This brings me to Stephen Louw's thought that often, when we assert the presence of a synthetic dye, we don't know and don't test to see if we are right. This in turn reminds me of Robert Pinner's invocation in a somewhat difference context (age) of the word "convention." A convention in this usage is not without any basis in objective data, but is mostly a socially constructed "rule" of some sort. Such rules are usually shaped and policed by the more influential members of any community, as Michael's words above have the effect of doing. He clearly feels that it is a very impoverished collector, indeed, who would be attracted to the color in this Shahsavan piece.

I have mentioned before that Jim Ffrench, the former head of Christie's rug department in NYC, has repeatedly argued that we have socialized ourselves into a particular color palette within which we feel natural dyes reside. Or rather, we think we can usually recognize colors that fall outside it. And we may frequently be right about this. But Ffrench's point, which he demonstrates with a garishly colored but chemically tested and all natural dye Turkish piece, is that this color palette, which we have adopted conventionally, is very often incorrect and that we both need resocialization and are often barring ourselves, falsely, from pieces, that on the basis of an accurate application of the color standards that we asssert, we should likely consider far more closely.

I think many collectors of 2101 will find this rather stringent view, of how we should apply even our suspicions about the possible presence of synthetic dyes in our collecting decisions, a little strange.

Rather sophisticated collectors of Navajo material, who are also not above celebrating color in their own collecting decisions, clearly already do.


R. John Howe

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Michael Wendorf mailto:%20wendorfm@mediaone.net
Date  :  08-17-2001 on 08:51 a.m.
Dear John:

You and I apparently, and perhaps not surprisingly, saw the Shahsavan piece differently. But you also make some assumptions and challenges that are probably unwarranted from a careful reading of my brief comments.

I would agree that the piece has some initial graphic appeal based on design. I for one know and like the basic format and design as would most people interested in weavings from this area.

I never mentioned the word "synthetic" and did not conclude the dyes were "synthetic". Nonetheless, you may recall that the piece had a red color that had a different saturation level than any of the other colors and no patina. In the rug world, this is referred to as a "hot" color. I believe I referred to it as "hot". Nonetheless, if asked, I would say it is probably a synthetic based on what I otherwise know about the availability of synthetic reds but I would also readily admit that without testing I could not say so with confidence.

In addition, there were several colors (2 or 3 - I no longer recall) that had faded substantially when the knots were examined front and back and into the pile. This included an odd brownish red color that I had never seen before. At least one color had bled and this was readily seen on the back. The wool pile that you reference had a sheen and had been clipped, but the back was stiff and almost brittle suggesting that someone had worked the pile at some time to soften it.

Though I personally believe that the difference between "synthetic" and vegetable dyes means something and though I personally would admit to avoiding them where possible you really miss the point of my comments. The point about this particular little bag face is that when all available bag faces are lined up (or evenonly those related to this one), this one just does not measure up and among the reasons that it does not measure up and probably never will is that there are colors and resulting color combinations from whatever source that make the piece disturbing and of limited interest to anyone collecting this type of weaving today. My conclusion is supported by the facts surrounding the ownership of this piece and its recent history. Frankly, I believe most of what you call experienced collectors would quickly conclude that this piece had been messed with by one or more of its owners in an effort to make it something it is not - further support for my points above.

I also made no reference to anyone's collecting budget or level of impoverishment. I do not see how it is really relevant or why you would make this point. There are entry points for every collector that may or may not be related to personal wealth. This does not relate to any of my comments.

As I said before, I have no idea what collectors in 2101 will make of it but I am confident of my own judgment today concerning this particular piece.

Regards, Michael

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  08-17-2001 on 09:24 a.m.
Hi Michael,

I think it was me, not John, who made reference to collector budgets. While you did notuse the word "budget" in the post to which I was responding, your post did include advising against buying something simply because it's inexpensive. I agreed with that advice, but noted that the price is always a relevant consideration in deciding whether to acquire a particular piece. It's true for me, it's true for you, it's true for John, it's true for Kirchheim, too. My wife, along with many other people of excellent taste, thinks impressionist art is simply wonderful. We don't collect it. It's outside our budget.


Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Michael Wendorf mailto:%20wendorfm@mediaone.net
Date  :  08-17-2001 on 09:48 a.m.
Hi Steve:

I was responding to John's statement:

"He (Michael) clearly feels that it is a very impoverished collector, indeed, who would be attracted to the color in this Shahsavan piece." My comments have nothing to do with whether a collector is impoverished or not.

Clearly we all exercise our own judgment about whether we can or cannot afford something regardless of finances. My comments regarding the particular piece attached no relevance to this fact which is quite independent of the quality and any assessment of a piece on its own merits.

Regards, Michael

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  R. John Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  08-17-2001 on 01:15 p.m.
Dear Michael, Steve, Stephen and folks -

Thanks for the vigorous discussion on this point.

Probably a bit more vigorous than I had intended, although I plead guilty to having "poured gasoline" first myself.


R. John Howe

Subject  :  Re:Rug Collectors in 2101 Will Not As Frequently
Author  :  Greg Koos mailto:%20gregkoos@gte.net
Date  :  08-18-2001 on 02:21 p.m.
I happened across a 1988 commentary piece by George O'Bannon in "Oriental Rug Review" June/July 1988, which covers much of the discussion in this salon. Issues of affordability, concerns over dye sources and Afgan War rugs were all touched upon. I guess I'm struck by how little the dicussion has changed over 13 years.

The article was a premium enclosed with the purchase of an Afgan Belouch from a well known internet dealer and publisher. I purchased (COLLECTED?)the rug because of its interesting composition of shepards and imaginary creatures. The quality is high and the price was affordable.

I would think these factors will alwyas play a prt in collectors' decision making.

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