Posted by R. John Howe on 09-27-2007 02:16 PM:

Some Thoughts and Tibetan Pieces from our Archives

Hi Jaina -

Thanks for sharing from your recent Tibetan visit.

You start with a saying that suggests acceptance of what is as an important traditional Tibetan value. Although, this is not a rug/textile point, there seem to be elements in Tibetan society that do not operate in terms of this maxim.

I have a friend who traveled to Tibet perhaps a year and a half ago to examine a USAID project focused on helping Tibetans deal with such things as population control, but more specifically HIV and AIDS. He reported great turmoil and violence in the streets. The embassy would not permit him to take a cab to visit the project. Most cabs---much of the capitol's streets, had been taken over by Maoist rebels.

Your experience (even the fact that you could entertain tourist travel to Tibet) suggests that things have changed a lot in a relatively short time.

Now to the rugs and textiles. I enjoyed seeing and hearing about the textiles you encountered during your trip (I especially like the three little bags tied together. Should you ever tire of them I would be interested to hear about it).

I notice that you do not include any rugs in your photos. Does this suggest that few rugs are visible now?

And I wondered how often we had entertained Tibetan weaving here on Turkotek and looked about in our archives. Perhaps more than I can find now, but here are some instances.

In one TM rug morning, Joe Fell, a Chicago dealer and collector brought in a Tibetan piece that Harold Keshishian called (from the audience) an "RKO" rug (in old movies you can sometimes still see the RKO flashing telegraphic waves off a tower in the early credits). Here is the link to that piece and to some others that followed it in that discussion.

Joe Fell also owned a Tibetan "checkerboard" piece that Jerry Silverman included in an exhibition he curated for the Indianapolis ACOR. Here is that image:

And Jerry Silverman once asked why we see no images of sheep in oriental rugs. In the ensuing discussion I said that the closest I could come was a contemporary Tibet mat that had a yak's face on it.

And in Jerry Silverman's recent salon, exploring how we live with the rugs we collect, I showed a glancing image of a contemporary Tibetan horse cover that I own (the piece at the back in this photo).

I suspect that there are other images of Tibetan rugs and weavings about. There was even once a discussion in which Tom Cole listed the best books on Tibetan rugs. I couldn't find the listing in our archives.


R. John Howe

Posted by Lloyd Kannenberg on 09-27-2007 08:16 PM:

Hi Jaina,

I'm very curious about the 3-pouch bag. Never saw anything like it! Can you provide dimensions of the pouches? Do you know its intended purpose? How and where it was carried? Interesting piece! Thanks for sharing it.

Lloyd Kannenberg

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 09-27-2007 11:42 PM:

The acceptance that I saw and impacted me, is about day to day life issues. People in cities (in developing countries at least), myself included, are always striving towards a "better" future and putting themselves through a considerable amount of struggle in the “present” in order to achieve that. While in the villages of Tibet I did not see any form of desire for change or development. They seemed content to be doing what their ancestors had done for generations - farming and cattle herding and living with basic necessities. Although there was electricity and cell phone coverage all the way to the Everest Base Camp, (the Olympic torch will find its way to EBC hence the coverage) and although this technology has been widely adopted, it still appears as though lives could go on for a few hundred years without becoming dependent on these. There appears to be no overt dissatisfaction except with the absence of their religious leader. In rural areas of India and Malaysia I have seen a wistfulness, a desire and a longing for the city life or what they see as ‘developed’ life which I did not see in the rural areas of Tibet.
Tibet being in the kind of spot it is in politically, will probably continue to see politically motivated strife every now and then. In April this year too, there was some demonstration. But I did not see turmoil in the common man’s life. Of course, I am just a tourist equipped with hardly any knowledge on the region’s background – about how to read the behavior of its people and so on - so my observations could be missing some very crucial link and therefore my analysis may be wrong.

Back to rugs – I did see several rugs out there but did not get any for myself - since I was not too clued on about this category. And so didn't make any part of the salon.

Plenty of saddlebags – some of which came in a pair with a rectangular mat that was made matched to it. These had the standard Tibetan motifs – which I knew nothing about and so I did not get any.

Saw a few good checkerboard rugs too. There was a nice black & camel pair that was square -maybe 3ft x3ft. Another one that really interested me that I took pictures of – a maroon and camel rectangular one – exactly double the size of the black ones.

The interesting thing about this one was that it came with a “backing” which must have been on the rug for its entire lifetime, because the colours had faded where the backing was absent. The wool was wonderful too.

The dealer had just received it from the village scouts two days before I saw it. The maroon rug had a selvedge which the dealer pointed out is unusual for checkerboard rugs. The black ones had an outline, like the black & yellow rug posted above by John.

And here is a picture of a new rug that I carried on my back all the way from Tibet to Singapore (feeling like a good nomad). I hope the non-collectible nature of this rug does not shock the audience here!

Thanks John also for the offer for the three-pouch bag – will certainly keep it in mind!

John / Lloyd,

I have now looked at the pouches again, untied the fastenings and will try and post pictures.

The bags are of different sizes. The largest is about 10 inches and the smallest is 6inches. The smallest has a plain tie while the other two have barber pole ties.

I looked inside and prodded to see if I could find any evidence of its use and came up with nothing. Horse food bags that get hung around its neck are much bigger and even grain bags that are used at the time of sowing should be bigger. Smokes? Money? Religious articles? (They carry their metal prayer boxes ‘ghau’ with them, with textile covers made to size, but those covers look different.)

The delightful part is that the blue piping cloth that seals the edges at the top, is made of old Tie & dye material!

This was the only three-pouch bag I saw in those 10 days of hunting. I bought this one from a street seller – and the other larger bag from a store. And so all I know about it is that it is “neemba” meaning ‘old’. The rest of its history has been lost to the chasm between languages.


Posted by Mishra Jaina on 09-28-2007 08:13 AM:

It’s all obvious now – this clearly is a pouch for Papa bear, Mama bear and Baby bear !!!

While taking new pictures – some more peculiarity emerged : There are two layers of weaving on the checkerboard parts. The outer weaving is just like the vertical multicolored lines. But on the inside of the pouch, the checkerboard parts look like they have a supplementary warp or that the warps are not bound by the horizontal wefts.

Strange stuff !


Posted by R. John Howe on 09-28-2007 10:31 AM:

Jaina et al -

I sent this thread to Tom Cole and asked him to comment on Jaina's three small bags.

He said that it's just an item of nomadic weaving. No further comment.

Tom also read my comment that I could not find the list of Tibetan books he once posted on Turkotek and sent the following annotated listing:

Cole, Thomas, Dream Weavers - Textile Art from the Tibetan Plateau, Singapore, 2004, 68CP, 188pp. A concise synopsis of the early history of Tibet through the Middle Ages, documenting the multi-ethnic Central Asian origins of the Tibetan people and their weaving tradition.

Larsson, Lennart: Carpets from China, Xianjiang and Tibet
Boston 1989, 177 mostly CP 141 pp.. A general survey of antique to contemporary rugs.

Eiland, Murray L.: Chinese and Exotic Rugs
Boston 1979, 52 CP, 180 b/w, 30 drawings 246 pp. 8.5 x 11. Excellent book on this arcane subject. Includes Tibetan, Mongolian, East Turkestan, India, North Africa, and the Balkans. An essential primer for those interested in Chinese rugs.

Denwood, Philip: The Tibetan Carpet
Warminister 1974 (1978), 24 CP, 85 b/w 120 pp. Important early book on the subject.

Kuloy, Hallvard Kare: Tibetan Rugs
Bangkok 1982 (1995), 259 CP 235 pp.. One of the most extensively illustrated books on the subject. Sound text based on field experience.

(Ed.: There's a second small catalog by Kuloy entitled "Tibetan Rugs." Published in Oslo in 1989, it has text in Norwegian, German and English. 145 items presented but, unfortunately, all in small black and white photos.)

Myers, Diana K.: Temple, Household, Horseback: Rugs of the Tibetan Plateau
Washington, D.C. 1984, 6 CP 70 b/w 111 pp. Textile Museum exhibition catalog, good text, some interesting examples.

My thanks to Tom for giving us this list again.


R. John Howe

Posted by richard tomlinson on 09-29-2007 11:49 AM:

just an item of nomadic weaving

hi john

re: tom cole's comment "just an item of nomadic weaving" (no further comment) , how does one interpret such a succinct answer?

sounds a little blunt to me...


richard tomlinson

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-29-2007 03:12 PM:

Hi Richard -

I think it would be possible to "over-read" such a comment.

My own take is that it did not particularly resonate with anything in particular in Tom's experience.

He might also recognize it as something pretty young and for that reason not of much interest (that's pure interpretation, I don't know that at all).

He did say "nomadic." For some, that would be an advance over "town." I know one old "Tibetan hand" here who says that he has never seen pile weaving in a Tibetan nomad dwelling.

It would have been interesting to know something more about it, but I'd still be interested in it if Jaina tires of it, even if it has no recognizable "textile pedigree."


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 09-30-2007 05:10 AM:

mmmm... ' textile pedigrees ' for nomadic weavings ...... one more interesting contrast ?

I did see some not so new pile yak neck bands. About 4 inches broad and a metre in length with additional rope to tie on.

And these could be either village or nomadic. I didn't get any or click any because the colours didnt appeal to me.


Posted by R. John Howe on 09-30-2007 07:57 AM:

Please delete this post.

R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-30-2007 08:05 AM:

Jaina -

My comment about "nomadic" textile possibly having "textile pedigrees" was only intended to indicate that these three bags may not be of a recognizable or categorized group.

For example, it is known that there are Tibetan "sleeping" rugs, "meditation" rugs, saddle covers often two varieties made in the same design (one for under the saddle, one for on top of the saddle which in Tibet are often wooden). There are also known horse and yak decorations of the sort you mention. The Tibetans sometimes made spectacular door rugs. Here is just one from our archives.

Interestingly, the Tibetans are the only group of which I know that seem also to have made "window" rugs (Plate 41 in "Woven Jewels: Tibetan Rugs from Southern California Collections," 1992).

So "pedigree" in my usage can merely refer to "known format." It could also refer to structure, since there are at least three different pile Tibetan structures. If we were talking about Turkmen nomads, "tribe" would be part of the "pedigree" description.

There may be seeming "contrast" in my "nomadic without pedigree" usage, but I think no real tension.


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 09-30-2007 07:20 PM:


1. Your definition is perfectly fair.
I also looked up the precise meaning of pedigree and it has none of the casteist element I used to attach to the word.

2. Would you have close ups of the door rug ? It reminds me of many other forms of textile art !


Posted by R. John Howe on 09-30-2007 07:53 PM:

Jaina -

This Tibetan door rug has been published repeatedly. But not, as far as I know, in close-up.

It appears as Plate 250 in the catalog for the VIth International Conference on Oriental Rugs, in SF in 1990.

There they gave the following technical analysis of it:

Warp: white wool, 3 strands, Z spun, S plied.
Weft: white and brown wool, single yarn loosely Z spun, 2 shoots
Pile: wool, 2 strands, Z spun, S plied
Knot: Tibetan, h. 7, v. 4, 28/sq. inch.
Edges: Tibetan selvege
Ends: Plain weave folded under
Colors: (5) red, yellow, blue, white, black.

The catalog description mostly makes comparisons with the quartering, "hatchli" design of most Turkmen engsis, which this rug also has (so, by the way, does the "window" rug that appears in this same catalog as Plate 251).

Both this door rug and the window rug also have a kind of "valence" design at their tops.

Was there something specific you thought a close-up image might show? This rug is not "hiding" much.

Tibetan pile rugs do have particular structures. I suspect this one has the most usual sort of Tibetan knot, that depicted in Eiland's "Chinese and Other Exotic Rugs," page 85 or more accessibly on p. 337 in Eiland and Eiland's "Comprehensive Guide, 1998. (I just noticed that this door rug and the technical analysis above are also published in that volume as well.)


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 09-30-2007 08:01 PM:

Thanks John

I do not have access to most of these books ....

The 'drawing' looks similar ( actually it looks identical )to Ikat weavings from parts of India. And if you had not mentioned that this is a pile rug, I would have assumed that this is one of those.

Examining it closer would have strengthened my disbelief !!


Posted by R. John Howe on 09-30-2007 09:23 PM:

Jaina -

I would argue that if you can afford only one oriental rug book that currently it should be this one:


R. John Howe

Posted by Micheal P. Wickwire on 10-01-2007 06:37 PM:

Re: Some Thoughts and Tibetan Pieces from our Archives

Originally posted by R. John Howe
Hi Jaina -

Thanks for sharing from your recent Tibetan visit.

You start with a saying that suggests acceptance of what is as an important traditional Tibetan value. Although, this is not a rug/textile point, there seem to be elements in Tibetan society that do not operate in terms of this maxim.

I have a friend who traveled to Tibet perhaps a year and a half ago to examine a USAID project focused on helping Tibetans deal with such things as population control, but more specifically HIV and AIDS. He reported great turmoil and violence in the streets. The embassy would not permit him to take a cab to visit the project. Most cabs---much of the capitol's streets, had been taken over by Maoist rebels.

Your experience (even the fact that you could entertain tourist travel to Tibet) suggests that things have changed a lot in a relatively short time.


R. John Howe

Mr. Howe:

You are confusing Tibet with Nepal wrt the Maoist rebellion.

Micheal P. Wickwire

Posted by R._John_Howe on 10-01-2007 09:35 PM:

Mr. Wickwire -

I think you are right.

Thanks for the correction.


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 10-02-2007 08:38 AM:

Thanks John,

I have that and a few more but none of the Tibet specific books. And I will have access to all my rug books only at the end of October when I go to my other home.

Are there any websites in the meanwhile ?


Posted by R. John Howe on 10-02-2007 12:24 PM:

Jaina -

The web sites I know of are all commercial ones, but some of those are very informative.

Do a Google search for "Antique Tibetan Rugs" and then look carefully about.

Far East antiques are "hot," and often very expensive. You likely know, if you are still in Singapore.


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 10-02-2007 07:54 PM:


I guess getting to the bottom of the supply chain provides some relief in prices.

More importantly, a greater variety is seen at that bottom - without any sifting by intermediaries of the distribution channel - but that also puts greater demands on your 'eye' to figure out the good from the mediocre.

Of course all this applies in categories that are relatively new to the West - because in those categories that were discovered a century ago (like rugs), the bottom of the supply chain has itself moved away from the place of its origin.

And these are all just conjectures over a cup of morning coffee !


Posted by R. John Howe on 10-03-2007 08:07 PM:

Jaina -

In your last post you say in part:

" those categories that were discovered a century ago (like rugs), the bottom of the supply chain has itself moved away from the place of its origin..."

It is interesting where the best prices can be found in relation to a given textile's "place of origin."

I think the "man on the street" impression often is that the best bargains are found "in the field" perhaps close to such "origin" points. And I know some collectors who have done well "in the field" (especially if they have access to "diplomatic pouch").

But Saul Barodofsky,

who has long experience hunting textiles "in the field," is fond of an old Turkish saying that "a stone is heaviest where it sits." I think Saul interprets this to suggest that often higher prices are often asked in the field close to the origin of a piece than might be asked at a distance, say in a U.S. antique shop or country auction.

There's another sense in which it might make sense to look for things at a distance from their point of origin. An experienced rug dealer in Seattle once told me that one of the most important things to remember when looking for antique rugs was "where was money centered during the 19th century." His view was that it was mostly in Western Europe and the U.S. and that much of the best of such "luxury" items as antique oriental rugs likely followed the money, then. So he was not interested much in looking at points of origin. For him, the good stuff was likely already "here."

We can all think of counter-examples, but such things are interesting to muse about, and to collect opinions about, since the latter vary widely.


R. John Howe

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 10-04-2007 12:07 AM:

When my wife and her first husband started buying early American red-painted pine furniture (made in late 18th/early 19th century New England), they found lots of it at a rural Illinois antique dealer - who had a barn full of it. The pieces were brought to the Midwest by families as they moved westward. Much wound up here in the 1800s and here it stayed.

{{Time passes. 10 years.}}

My wife gets divorced, meets me, and we take a trip to New England to stay in romantic B&Bs and go antiquing. Do we find any red-painted pine furniture? Nope. Not a stick.

Mystified, we started asking dealers where it all was. After all, it had been made there. One after another professed to have no idea - other than the obvious: museums, private hands, and the like. Finally, one confided to us that not long before there was a huge auction of an Illinois antique dealer's inventory - and that much of her stuff had gone into private New England collections.

Sure enough, it was the dealer my wife had bought her pieces from. They had traveled from New England to Illinois and were now back in New England.

I kinda' doubt if there is an exact parallel with rugs, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were.



Posted by Patrick Weiler on 10-04-2007 12:57 AM:

Where did you get that?

I was walking through a regional antique sale and overheard one dealer say to another that it was difficult to sell ivory pieces in Washington, but there was a market for ivory in Alaska. So a lot of it is sent to Alaska to sell to people who then bring it back home, where it may have come from in the first place.
The same can be said for Navajo blankets and other Native American objects. The market and prices are better in New Mexico than elsewhere, so the art migrates there in search of the market.
Rugs tend to work their way up the "food chain", too. A rug may come from a garage sale in Butte, be sold to an oriental rug store in Boise, get sent to a dealer in Seattle or Los Angeles who then ships it to New York to auction, where it is bought by a family from Montana who is furnishing their new ranch home outside Butte. Some pieces, though, get sidetracked into a small, underground, highly guarded, secure bunker in Seattle.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 10-04-2007 07:25 AM:

Jerry, Pat -

I think Saul is currently reporting an instance of the "back and forth" movement of collectible antiques that you both describe.

He says that Central Asian textiles are currently more reasonably priced in Istanbul than they were during a recent trip he took to Uzbekistan. And that some Central Asian dealers are now coming to the Istanbul market to "buy back" the sorts of items they sold only a few years ago.

Pat - About that Seattle "bunker." I think I know that place.


R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 10-04-2007 08:37 AM:

Hi all,

Most of my modest collection didn't come from Europe or N. America, though 2-3 of my favourites did. I think that many dealers closer to the "point of origin" have a reasonably good understanding of the global market and are used to selling to people from the Europe, N. America and increasingly SE Asia (Singapore and Bangkok). However, I think that good old pieces do emerge from time to time nearer the point of origin, which haven't passed through the hands of dealers in Europe or N. America. Dealers say that most are emerging after generations from the homes of wealthier local people. I can say that it is a lot of fun to look for such pieces. I have found that prices for many pieces are definitely lower than in N. America. However, many of the dealers in S. Asia say that the supply of good, old rugs is drying up, and the pickings are definitely slimmer.


Posted by R. John Howe on 10-04-2007 10:04 AM:

James -

Don't get me wrong, although, most of my pieces have been purchased in the U.S., I own a pictorial rug from NE Iran that I bought via the web from The Netherlands, a nice Central Asian fragment that I bought, with Filiberto's help, from a Jordanian flea market, and, as I have recently indicated in detail, I bought a number of Anatolian pieces while traveling in Turkey last spring.

In all of these non-U.S. purchases I thought the prices I paid were generally below what a similar piece would have cost in the U.S.


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 10-05-2007 09:13 PM:

In antique categories with large inventories ( such as rugs and traditional Indian jewellery), there will never be a drying up of supply and the supply soruces will always be fragmented ( such as with red-paitned pine furniture - where the inventory might be concentrated with a few).

a pictorial rug from NE Iran that I bought via the web from The Netherlands,

With dealers across all countries including Tibet and Iran, becoming internet savvy, as is quite likely to happen in this decade, we might see price equalisation and the distinction between place of origin and bottom of distribution chain would blur.

And we, the consumers, will get the best prices !

This would make for a great research topic 'Impact of the net on Prices of antiques'


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 10-06-2007 02:40 AM:

Where did they go?


I do not think that equalization of prices of rugs will necessarily be a result of the internet. The lower end stuff with historically high mark-ups and the purely decorative commodity pieces have certainly come down - at least on the internet. A decade ago the Nain, Isphahan and other "fine" Iranian pieces cost a lot more, but the embargo had a lot to do with that rather than the internet - a function of supply and demand.
There is less overhead when selling on-line than renting a store - with all the costs that go along with one, so the cost of an individual rug is lower, but the relative rarity and desirability of certain pieces will probably keep those prices high - and maybe higher because more buyers will have the chance to see them.
What I have seen, though, is a lot fewer antique stores. Many where I live have closed. I have not compared a phone book from 10 years ago with a recent one, but I know that a lot of general antiques are sold on the internet instead of from stores. Collectors will be more likely to spend an hour on the internet than a day driving around checking out antique stores. Particularly because they can narrow down the focus of their search on-line instead of checking 10 stores for one piece they may find interesting.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 10-06-2007 07:39 AM:


I agree with what you have said. The point I was making is that in the 'olden' days, being at the point of origin had the advantage of lower purchase cost since there was no chain of dealers adding on the the price; while being close to the market had the advantage of understanding buying behavior and therefore stocking only as required by the market.

In those days of incomplete information it may have helped to go to the source to buy cheap.

But now, with the internet, the dealer at the source knows the prices buyers are willing to pay and may charge those amounts anyway. He also can sense the buying preferences just as easily.

And dealers close to the market but far from the source also now can cut out the middle men and operate with more perfect information than they did in the past.

Eventually, over several iterations of information flowing in both directions, I suspect the prices would equalise across geographies. And whether you buy from a net dealer in Persia ( it sounds nicer than Iran) or a net dealer in London, would be price indifferent.

The point you made about antique stores shutting down is interesting - since setting up one is my dream ! will have to
re-dream in that case !!


Posted by Richard Larkin on 10-06-2007 08:53 PM:

Hi Folks,

I’m posting the one Tibetan item I own. It has the typical mid blue (cotton?) lining and (as you can see) the red felt border. I’m pretty sure the foundations, warp and weft, are wool.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 10-07-2007 08:18 PM:


The blue is really nice. Any idea how old this is ?

This looks different from the ones I see at dealers shops - its less crowded and has better colours and the icons are slightly different from the kind I have seen recently.

Reminds me of the difference between the original script of Mandarin and its evolved present-day version . The early pictograms were simpler.

I guess even decorative art icons evolve in a similar way.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 10-07-2007 08:54 PM:

Hi Mishra,

I don't know what to say about the age. It could be before 1900, but if so, not much before. According to Eiland, the older ones are all wool, and I'm pretty sure this one is. I haven't tried to remove the backing to examine it more fully. Also echoing Eiland, I would judge there are one or two synthetic colors in there. He notes that most of the medium older ones have some synthetics in with the natural. I acquired it about 1980.

In reading the comments in this thread about markets and supply and demand, I thought about those issues from a somewhat different perspective, and this saddle piece came to mind. Something that has interested me since logging onto TurkoTek over the last couple of years or so has been the various attitudes and approaches many afficionados take towards acquiring rugs. It is clear that among the regulars there are differing standards as to what rugs they will seek out or accept, and what it takes to give them satisfaction. The same seems to be true about where they will "shop." For example, many are willing to buy old and antique rugs from online sources. I would not dare to do that.

My approach when active in the hobby between about 1970-1985 or so was to search about hoping to find rugs hiding before the professional buyers got there. Either that, or to try to be at the right auction sale when a case of mass hypnosis came over the buyers. The method was satisfying, to an extent, as an endeavor, but the end result was a bunch of decent but largely mediocre rugs. This Tibetan saddle rug is an example. I believe I purchased it at a Skinner sale. I didn't know much about Tibetan rugs, but I had two or three small Chinese pieces I liked, and this Tibetan is one of the strongly Chinese types. I particularly liked the colors and the drawing. Apparently, no one else was very much taken with it.

Rich Larkin