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Antique Oriental RugsBy Charles W. Jacobsen
( Orginally published 1951 )
It is age which produces that exquisite softness, mellowness and purity of tone which gives to the antique its immeasurable superiority over the modern from the point of view of artistic beauty. Antique Oriental rugs may be classified in many different ways. The first classification I shall make is between antique rugs over one hundred years old and the practical antique rugs fifty years old or more.
To this first class belong antique Ispahans, Herats and a few other Persian rugs of the 16th to 18th centuries; a few old Caucasian rugs of the 17th and 18th centuries; a few old Asia Minor rugs from the 16th to the 18th centuries such as Ghiordes, Kulahs, Ladiks and Ushaks; and a number of so called Polonaise rugs.
Whoever buys Oriental rugs must decide whether he merely wishes to buy valuable floor covering, or whether he is interested in the rugs from the standpoint of the collector. These rare collector items are for very wealthy people, since only a few of them are available. A search for these vain. In the 16th century, art lovers in Europe rugs of the Orient. The churches and monasterto appreciate these and they kept them in good sold, in our day, to the museums and to private in the Orient would be in became interested in the ies were among the first condition until they were collectors.
Many of our richest citizens have made collections. Mr. James Ballard gave much of his collection to the Metropolitan Museum. Mr. Mellon's collection is in the National Gallery in Washington, D. C. Mr. John D. Rockefeller collected Ispahans as did Mr. Widerner of Philadelphia.
Most of the great museums have large collections and so the Oriental rugs must be considered one of the great arts.
I do not propose to write at length on these classical old type rugs, because there are none for public sale, and when one does come on the market from some estate the price is such that only a museum or millionaire would be interested. The few that have appeared in recent years have come chiefly from European palaces and museums. While of the highest interest as objects of art, they are not practical floor coverings.
The weaving of rare old Oriental rugs is ranked with painting, music, and sculpture as one of the great arts. There are many who do not appreciate Oriental rugs-nor can they love the master painters such as Rubens, Rembrandt and Michelangelo.
As Mr. Arthur Upham Pope, Advisory Curator of the Art Institute of Chicago, says in his article on Oriental rugs in the February, 1928 issue of the Arts and Decoration, "The indifference to them which one occasionally meets is now everywhere recognized as a mark of ignorance."
The October, 1930 issue of the Fortune Magazine in classin antique Oriental rugs as objects of art, says, "There are also four good reasons why collectors do collect antique Persian rubs. And they are the same with opposite effects. Persian rugs are not only collector's objects they are the greatest of all collectors' objects. They provide the amateur with every possible thrill. Their value is very high: somewhere between the square foot price of New York real estate and the square foot price of the Blue Boy. They are extremely beautiful and the archaistic, formal quality of designs of the oldest pieces is peculiarly appealing to our generation. They are, as a class, the rarest of all seriously collectible works of great art. There are subdivisions of ancient work, instances of which are, of course, harder to pick up. But there is no other case where the major artistic production of a great nation is at once so well known and so hard to find. And as for the lore of the Persian rug--there is a body of erudition into which the specialist can disappear from the vulgar eye like a purpoise plumping into a bed of kelp There never was so deep a sea of learning."
Rare old rugs are at a premium today. A glance at prices paid during the last twelve years will be illuminating. The V. and L. Benguiat collection was auctioned off in 1925 for $637,350.00.
Here is what the Art News said about the sale:" Two records for auction price of rugs were made during the sale at American Art Association. The V. and L. Benguiat collection of rare old rugs was sold at auction at the galleries of the American Art Association on the afternoons of December 4th and 5th. The price realized in Saturday's sale of thirty five rugs, namely, $513,300. 00 is a record total for so small a number. The two rugs, numbers 71 and 72, which sold for $78,000.00 and $75,000,00 respectively, are also records."
PRACTICAL ANTIQUE RUGS
But it is the practical antique rugs that most all collectors and every seeker of old rugs for the home is interested in. It is age which produces that exquisite softness, mellowness and purity of tone which gives to the antique rugs their immeasurable superiority, from the point of view of artistic beauty, over the modern.
Weavers of antique rugs wove them for their own use without any idea of selling them. The rug was their floor, their bed, their dining room table, their door and often their partition between rooms. The tent bag was their trunk and wardrobe, the pillow their suitcase, the saddlebag on donkey and camel practically their only means of transportation, since there were few wagons, and very few roads twenty five years ago over which a two wheel vehicle could pass. Naturally they wove into the rugs objects associated with their daily lives and designs of religious significance.
But for those art collectors and lovers of rare old rugs who are not wealthy enough to buy the ancient Ispahans, Polonaise rugs, ancient Vase and Hunting carpets of the 16th and 17th centuries and the other extreme ly rare types, there are in limited numbers, rugs of the 18th and 19th centuries made for the Orientals own use, that will interest the collector.
Actually, the rarest and most ancient rugs are not suitable for floor use, but only for museums and private collections. But one must not get the idea that old rugs fifty to two hundred years old are available in numbers. The Orient has been stripped of these and the only rare rugs with considerable age available today are those which are acquired from estates and private collections.
These practical antique rugs have the advantage over the rarest rugs in that they are in much better state of preservation and can be put to actual use. In Caucasian and Turkoman rugs, the semi old rug of exceptional quality is as good as the ancient rug because for centuries there have been scarcely any change in pattern or coloration.
There is little difference as to whether one of these is fifty or two hun dred years old and the honest expert can not with certainty determine the age of these rugs.
It is hard to estimate the age of any carpet with accuracy. Many Persian carpets can be dated by some peculiarity of design, weave or color scheme.
Do not be misled and imagine that you may happen upon a real old rare Ispahan or a so called 16th or 17th century Vase carpet, a Hunting carpet, Shah Abbas or compartment carpet of that period, most of which were in fact Ispahans, for a small sum. Not since World War I has one of these come out of the Orient. The same might be said about a few of the rarest Turkish rugs, such as the Prayer Ghiordes, the Prayer Ladiks and Prayer Kulahs.
One should read my article on Ispahan Mesheds and Ispahans to get a clear picture of rugs by these names. Most every dealer sells certain rugs from Eastern Persia made in and around the city of Meshed as Ispahans or Ispahan Mesheds. Most of these should be called Mesheds. It is all right to call them Ispahan Mesheds. Many beautiful semi antique, a very few antique and many new carpet sizes are available. They can be bought in the 10.6 x 14 foot size anywhere from $350.00 to $900.00. A real Ispahan in this size would be much more.
To be called antique, a rug should be fifty or more years old. To be antique from the point of view of being duty free (no import duty) or for the museum collection, a rug should be one hundred years old. But the collector, hobbyist and dealer refers to the practical antique as being at least fifty years old. Very few rugs are dated. Except for a certain few which can be definitely placed in certain periods, such as the old Ispahan, Garden carpet, Polonaise, Ghiordes and a few others, it is usually very difficult for even an expert to fix accurately the age of a rug. While the Orientals took their shoes off before entering their homes, still it is evident that a rug near their entrance would look older and softer in twenty five years than the same rug in a sleeping room, or a rug that they slept on, and older than one that they hung as a partition. Therefore, with few exceptions, age can only be approximated. It is true that many of the Persians have changed their colors and have deserted some of the old designs to the extent that we know that the Sarouks made prior to 1910 are entirely different from 99 out of 100 made after World War I. We know that the old Tabriz prior to 1900 usually came in bronze or copper field, at least most of them did, and we further know that the Tabriz since War I has not used these colors to any extent.
But it would be hard to distinguish between a Bijar of forty year's ago and one of one hundred years ago. The same is true of many other Persians, such as Sarabends, Hamadans, Shirazs, Kurdistans and others.
The Kazaks, Cabistaas and others from Caucasia have never changed their design, and it would be difficult to distinguish between one of these one hundred and twenty five years old and one fifty years old. Nor have the Bokharas altered their designs and colorings for hundreds of years. So, again, one of the Bokharas of one hundred and one fifty years of age would be very close, and an expert might have difficulty in saying which was the older.
Mr. Arthur Upham Pope, of the Art Institute of Chicago, says in discussing what might be called an antique rug, "Ignoring dates we can say that an antique rug is one that has not been chemically washed, that has an unrestored pile and was woven according to local methods and design before the latter was extensively modified by European influence."
I think Mr. Pope should have used the word "American influence" instead of "European influence" because I have always found the Europeans rejecting the modern designs, which were so popular in the big cities in America, and preferring the old designs. The Europeans actually know a great deal more about rugs than American as a whole.
Ten years after most of the best known rug books were published (after World War I ). one could still find many lovely old Caucasian rugs, many choice old rugs from Central Asia ( Bokharas, Afghans etc.) and most of the Persian rugs we have listed. There were still available many choice old Turkish rugs, though the Ghiordes, Ladiks, Kulahs and Bergamos had already ceased to come. A few of the above four weaves could be found only by reason of resale. But good Yuruks, Melez, Mudjars, Konias and other old Turkish rugs could be had, even though at that time good ones were at a premium.
Today, there are, with the exception of a few old Tabriz, a few old Bijars, an occasional old Sarouk, a good many old Herezs, old Mahals and Sultanabads, no antiques or semi antiques in large sizes.
In scatter sizes practically no antiques are being imported, except a good many lovely old Hamadans and other rugs from the many villages surrounding Hamadan. I call many of these Sena Kurds but they are act ually Ingelas, Biblikabads, Borchalus etc. There are in the scatter size and runners, a few old Kurdistans, Bijars, Shirazs, Niris, Afshars, Serabends, Serabs (camel hair Kurdistans) and a few others.
But most of the real rare rugs offered today are from private collections or estates.
Today, the fact remains that there are few left to be bought and within a few years we shall see no more antique rugs for sale.
Oriental rugs take on with age, a softening and blending together of colors and a natural patina (a natural sheen). In the Orient these rugs are not walked on with shoes but in stocking feet, and so the life of a rug is very different from what it is under heavy shoes in America.
Use by unshod feet, together with exposure to sun, air etc. and the passage of time, produces the soft tones and a wonderful natural sheen on old rugs that have good wool.
A semi-antique is one that follows the traditional old designs and one which has been used in Iran (Persia) long enough to have somewhat mellowed colors. Most new rugs are simply too bright. The finest woven new rugs are less attractive in their new state than the new rug or coarser texture with a longer nap. You can get soft colors and the silky finish either from use or by bleaching with chemicals. And use by unshod feet in Iran is better than use in America. We refer to these rugs with little age as semi-antique. That term means somewhat mellowed colors and traditional old design in contrast to the great number of bright new rugs that have to be chemically treated to make them salable.
MANY OF THE SEMI-ANTIQUES ARE JUST ABOUT AS LOVELY AS THE REAL OLD RUGS OF THE SAME TYPE.
Actually many of them are lovelier than some of the real old rugs. As a rule, they are better woven than the new rug of the same type. Most rugs made in the period after World War I, and especially during the depression years, are a much better rug than the rug of the same type woven since World War I. Examine some of the scatter size Hamadans that have ten to twenty years age and see how tight, how thick, and what lovely wool they have as compared to many of the same type made since World War II. You will be amazed at the superiority of the rugs made even in 1939 as compared to the rugs of the same type made in 1951. There are many exceptions to the above, but it is true in 90% of all rugs of all types.
Very few people buy a rug just because it is old. It is age, and age alone, that gives the rugs its real exquisiteness.