Posted by R. John Howe on 02-24-2003 04:25 PM:

Early 20th Century Russian Additions

Dear folks -

This is a fine introductory essay and a useful survey of most of the major rug books of the pre and early 20th century.

I would argue that at least two major works by Russian collector/scholars deserve inclusion.

They are, many will know:

Bogolyubov, A. A. "Tapesseries de l'Asie Centrale (Weavings of Central Asia), published in 1908, 1911 and ultimately in 1973.

Dudin, S. M. "Teppiche Mittelasiens Turkmenforschung Band 5" (Central Asian Rugs), German translation in 1984 of a Russian work published in 1928.

This might also be the place to mention the usefulness of George O'Bannon's "Oriental Rugs: A Bibliography," 1994 which includes and extends an earlier bibliography by Enay and Azadi in 1977.

I have not flipped through George's bibliography to see if some other possibly important works might be there, but I did come onto what is likely a minor work on "Tajik Ornamented Textiles," by A. A. Brobrinsky, in 1900.

There is a Russian rug literature, and although there may be some Soviet-era items that can be ignored, this may not always be the case. Schurmann, for example, in his Caucasian rug book, is said to have drawn heavily (some say incorrectly) on some Russian work in this area.

The "kustar" movement, and the research and documentation that accompanied it, started in the 19th century, under the czars, and includes some published materials that, for example, Wright and Wertime used in their recent "Caucasian Carpets and Covers," 1995.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 02-25-2003 05:54 AM:

Hi John,

My take on Keith's wonderful essay is that he is exploring the history of how rug collecting progressed, using the history of rug books as the guide. For that reason (if my thinking is correct on this) his concern is almost exclusively on books to which the general public in Europe and the USA would have had access.

While Bogolyubov and Dudin are both properly regarded today as important books, I suspect that they had minimal influence on the course of collecting around the times they were published. Dudin was in Russian, not a language most westerners could read. Bogolyubov was in French, but was produced in very small numbers, with oversized, hand-done plates.

The book leading to the first rise in the popularity of Turkmen rugs among collectors is Amos Bateman Thacher's Turkoman Rugs, first published in 1940 for the New York Hajji Baba Club.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-25-2003 06:31 AM:

Hi Steve -

If that was Mr. Rocklin's orientation, then, the scope of his essay is unexceptionable, but his title is a little more bald than your interpretation of it.

I do think that we need to guard against a tendency to see the world as what is reported by Westerners, especially when what is being studied happened in the East.

One of the criticism of "orientalism," is that, while it pays serious attention to the cultures and objects outside Western societies, it insists on having them portrayed by Westerners and through Western eyes. What the natives of these cultures might say about their own world is not seen to be very important.

I think that one of the reasons that George O'Bannon made seriouis efforts to translate some Russian sources and that Robert Pinner continues to encourage contributions from scholars from the East to ICOC, is that they both believe that there are things to be learned in the local literatures that are not available in Western studies.

For such reasons I would argue that we should be careful not to describe the rug world literature in terms of the works of Western authors alone.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 02-25-2003 08:27 AM:

Hi John,

Keith recognizes your points about western views of eastern cultures. His opening paragraph addresses them: For over a century this vast body of work, consisting of thousands of titles, has been a fountain of misinformation and fanciful myths, reflecting the ignorance and prejudices inherent in one culture’s unfamiliarity with the undocumented but profound and essential art of another culture.

But the second major section of his essay, to which the first section is largely a prologue, has the title (in boldface in the essay): THE RISE IN POPULARITY OF THE ORIENTAL RUG (and books about them) AMONG THE PUBLIC AND THE WEALTHY. It is divided into two parts, one covering the period up to about 1950 and the other dealing with the next twenty-five years or so.

The early Russian books are important historical documents, but were irrelevant to the rise in popularity of the oriental rug (and books about them) among the public and the wealthy until many decades after they were written. Thacher's book on more or less the same subject had immediate effects. So, in my opinion, Thacher's book played a very different historical role than Dudin's or Bogolyubov's, especially when viewed within the context of Keith's essay.

This in no way diminishes our debt to the late George O'Bannon for his efforts (and their results), nor is it contradictory to Pinner's (and many other peoples') belief that there is still much to be gleaned from the literature of western and central Asia.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-25-2003 10:24 PM:

Hi Steve -

It would be useful to hear from Mr. Rocklin concerning his core intent, but if we assume for the moment that the real subject of the second part of his essay is to indicate what books played important roles in making oriental rugs popular, I think we're often going to have difficulty determining that. We may have correlations but the direction of the causal flow will not be demonstrated in that way.

How would we rate a book like Reinhard Hubel's "The Book of Oriental Carpets?" It seems to have been published first only in German in 1964 with the first English translation in 1971. It attracts my attention because it gives fulsome technical information on the pieces in it and seems rather specifically aimed at rug purchasers and collectors. Do we have any reason to believe that such a book played some discernible role in making rugs popular or is it just as likely that its appearance was a response to an already existing interest?

I think there are more sharply focused instances in which such an effect is likely. Turkman rugs became much more popular and expensive after the Mackie/Thompson volume in 1980 and the demand for and the prices of Kaitag embroideries went (comparatively) "through the roof" after Chenciner called attention to them. But some of the earlier, broader historical trends in popularity seem harder to relate to specific books.

Perhaps I still misunderstand, the reference to the "historical role" of rug books.

Useful salon, though. It's making me look at my books.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 02-26-2003 06:27 AM:

Hi John,

I'm sure that you are correct in saying that demonstrating that a particular book significantly influenced the direction of rug collection will usually be difficult. But there are some criteria that can be applied (and that Keith applied in his essay).

One is that a book cannot have been very influential on the general public (whoever that is within the context of rug collecting) unless it was published in reasonably large numbers in a language that the general public could read. This eliminates Bogulyubov for the first reason and Dudin for the second.

Another is a fairly clear rise in popularity of some type of rug following on the heels of a book about them that was very popular itself. Thompson's book is a good example of this. Can we really prove that it significantly influenced the rise in Turkmen stature as objects of collector popularity? No, but the book's huge success and its emphasis on Turkmen work strongly suggests that it did.

Another is when a book more or less initiates awareness of some genre. Chenciner's Kaitag is a perfect example of this. The existence of Kaitag embroideries was nearly unknown and the origin totally unknown until he published the book, at which point they became hot items.

I might also mention here the books that successfully generated hype about some genre - the Mother Goddess stuff about Anatolian kilims was clearly influential in inflating the prices of these textiles, and the current application of C-14 dating may turn out to have been similarly misleading (in my opinion it will, but only time will tell for sure).

In any case, Keith's essay has certainly stimulated both of us to think about some things we don't think about very often, and I am sure it is doing the same with many others.


Steve Price

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 02-27-2003 02:18 PM:

Other examples of books that put the spotlight on previously obscure rug types are "Mafrash" by Azadi and Andrews (1985), "Shahsavan" by Tanavoli (1985), and "Rugs of the Wandering Baluchi" by Black and Loveless (1976). Even "Kilims" by Petsopoulos (1979) could be considered as popularizing the type.

Collecting requires taxonomy. First of all, a thing must have a name. These books provide the structure for collecting by attaching names to designs and structures.

It might even be argued that a seminal book presages a trend in collectibility...which is itself presaged by one collector's passion, or one dealer's merchandising, or one museum's holdings, or one traveler's keen observations. Ballard's collection of Turkish rugs comes to mind in this context.



Posted by Patrick Weiler on 02-28-2003 12:12 AM:


I would add:

Biggs, Robert et al.: Discoveries from Kurdish Looms

and the Eagleton book,
Eagleton, William: An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs and other Weavings

to the list of books influencing collectors.
The upcoming publication by Jim Burns on Kurdish rugs should be a watershed in Kurdish rug influence.
There is no denying the impact that "focused" rug books have on the collecting mainstream. It is comforting to have references and published "vetting" to substantiate the purchasing decisions of collectors.
Prior to the availability of detailed books , auction houses and dealers were the most influential arbiters of taste in rugs.
How many rug books are in your collection?
My rug book collection is 60+ and I do not have Caucasian Rugs by Schurman yet! This does not include Hali magazines and a box full of ORR.
I even have a couple of rug books in foreign languages that I do not even understand!
Fess up! How many rug books do you have?

Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-28-2003 06:42 AM:

Patrick -

You embarrass me. Asking for this kind of documentation of my neurosis.

At last count I had 253 rug books within reach and that doesn't count a few shelves of related ethnographic books, the Halis, the ORRs or 25 years of Sotheby, NYC and London and Christie's NYC auction catalogs that someone kindly gave to me. I also have quite a few Skinner and other miscellaneous rug auction catalogs.

Jerry Silverman will likely have the most interesting numbers to report.


R. John Howe

Posted by Jerry_Silverman on 02-28-2003 04:59 PM:

I hesitate to enter a contest about "how big is yours'?"

Flipping through O'Bannon's "Bibliography" reminds me I'll never have a comprehensive collection. There's just waaay too much out there...and more all the time. Auction catalogs are the worst. They just keep showing up. And Sotheby's has begun the annoying policy of sending every catalog that has ANY rugs in it at all. (I just got one from the London showroom with "Interior Decorating" items and about a dozen pedestrian rugs. This applies to my subscription, fercryinoutloud!)

As for how many rug books I have - I prefer to adopt a rug book corollary to J. Paul Getty's position that anyone who knows how much money he has doesn't really have all that much. (Is that arrogant enough?) What I mean to say is that the number keeps growing weekly - sometimes even daily.

I use a more crude method of estimating quantity: linear feet. There's a local bookcase maker who's made nice, extremely sturdy, glass-doored, pine cases for me. Until my last order I had 38 linear feet of shelves. They were crammed with books, HALIs, ORRs, and auction catalogs - with piles of new stuff here and there. I had him make an additional 27 linear feet of shelves. That was a year ago. I suppose they're about 75% full. So we're talking about approx. 50 linear feet. (Another way to look at it is the inventory I provided for insurance purposes was 16 pages long in 9 point type.)

In the meantime I just keep picking and choosing from the Niagra of books coming to market. My latest pick, for instance, was Bohmer's "Koekboya: Natural Dyes and Textiles". While not strictly a "rug book", it's strongly related and definitely worth having.

Jerry "Tape Measure" Silverman

Posted by keith_rocklin on 03-03-2003 01:54 PM:

omissions in article

as this article was written over three years ago for cloudband, and then suspended midway through when funds suddenly werent available, some omissions were made.
certainly erdmann is one of the most important of all scholars - a bridge between the early ones and the current crowd - and his works should have been prominently included. however, all three of his books were translated into english after 1970.
however, hubels informative general book with a tribal emphasis should also have been included.
in the second part of the survey, not yet finished, there is a section on turkoman books in which boguljubov and other early authors are mentioned. keith rocklin

Posted by R. John Howe on 03-09-2003 07:10 AM:

Dear folks -

Jerry Silverman demurs from getting into a "How Big is Yours?" contest but is willing to talk about length --- of book shelf space, that is.

And as I predicted, his is longer. I measured the linear feet of book shelf space here currently devoted to rug publications and the result was a mere 37 feet.

Still, it suggests, as my too frequent participation on this board does, that my neurosis is fairly strong.


R. John Howe