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Art Underfoot

A Carefully Chosen Oriental Rug Can Give a Lifetime of Pleasure
Linda Lynton
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 6)

Judging a rug's color partly reflects personal taste, as the colors that, say, Turkish villagers prefer would probably not appeal to many Westerners. In Turkey, a good, old rug with vegetable dyes that have developed a harmonious patina over time (through physical use and by oxidation from the air) is preferable. This is why the modern vegetable-dyed antique reproductions seem so garish compared with their older counterparts.

It is well known that the world of the designer is fashion-oriented, but so is the collector's world. So from a rug buyer's point of view, any type of Oriental rug that is out of fashion will be less expensive--even underpriced--compared with what's hot. On the following page is a list of what auction house specialists, dealers and collectors recommend.

KURDISH TRIBAL RUGS Despite the fact that the perennial urban rugs of Bidjar are Kurdish, these tribal rugs have been out of fashion for years. For some reason, dealers don't like them, which means you may be able to find a bargain.

BELOUCHI RUGS Although nineteenth century Belouchi rugs are now a popular collector's item, the cost of good early-twentieth century pieces have not reached dizzying heights. Their dark color schemes gives them a specialized appeal. Many of the tribes of this region still observe their traditional nomadic lifestyles today, and go so far as to record contemporary events--such as the Afghan war--in their modern weavings. For the ethnographically inclined, these rugs are a gold mine. A three-by-six-foot Baluchi rug from the 1920s can still be bought for between $800 and $2,000, notes author Joyce Ware.

HERIZ CARPETS The distinctive carpets of Heriz have been losing favor among designers in the past few years, so "they are not doing so well at auction," says Skinner's Kris. An 8-by-11-foot Heriz can now be picked up for between $2,000 and $4,000, she adds.

MODERN REPRODUCTIONS The experts are divided about modern reproductions. Some feel that as an investment, such rugs cannot be trusted because they haven't yet been tested by time. (Will they wear well and will the colors be good in 50 years?) Others are enthusiastic, saying they give the regular carpet buyer access to a rug that, if it were old, would be well out of their financial range. Top-quality handmade reproduction rugs using vegetable dyes are being produced by such firms as Woven Legends of Philadelphia and Black Mountain Looms, which distribute Turkish carpets; and Samad Brothers of Secaucus, New Jersey, and Robinsons of Atlanta, which wholesale Indian carpets; and Magerian Brothers of New York City, which produces Egyptian rugs. Because of the embargo against Iranian goods that the United States imposed following the hostage crisis in the early 1980s, the Iranian equivalents are not sold in the United States. These rugs are sold through dealers.

MIDDLE-LEVEL OLD RUGS The rise of the new repro-ductions has depressed the middle-level antique rug market. Nineteenth century rugs often can't compete with the high-quality new reproductions; consequently, some good-quality older rugs are now selling for inexpensive prices. A "good" Turkoman--the step down from the "best"--could be included in this bracket, says Christie's Ffrench.

Nineteenth century Turkish rugs are also seen as good buys by some experts because of the strong popularity of the neighboring Caucasian rugs. Turkish village rugs are similar in type, though the coloring and patterning are not quite so bold and bright. Early twentieth century Caucasian rugs are suffering a similar fate. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the rug market has been flooded with several types of Caucasian rugs of "dubious origins," says Ware. But, she continues, "you can do very very well" at an auction by purchasing a "good-looking" older rug that collectors would not touch because, say, it has some synthetic dyes in its mix.

It may seem extraordinary that we can owe so much to the nomads, and their ancestors, roaming the mountains and plains of Central Asia. Without them and their incredible invention--the pile rug--carpets as we know them today might never have existed. The Oriental rugs that we see today are the direct descendants of the first rugs ever made, and they connect us to a past we can only imagine. They show us that we live in a much smaller world than most of us have ever understood. *

Linda Lynton is editor in chief of International Business magazine and the author of The Sari, a book about traditional handwoven south Asian textiles. (Harry N. Abrams, 1995).

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