Collecting Antique Caucasian Rugs and Carpets
Collecting Caucasian Rugs - The rugs that were produced in the Caucasus during the great expansion of village weaving promoted by the Russian authorities in the second half of the nineteenth century have, until recently, become one of the most desirable genres for rug collecting. Indeed various types of antique Caucasian rugs such as: Kazak rugs, Karabagh, Shirvan, and Kuba rugs still occupy a place of importance in the rug-collecting world, but their attractiveness has fallen off to some degree in the last decade. This is not due to changes in taste, availability, or other types of marketplace trend.
There is surely no shortage of such rugs in the galleries of dealers or auction houses. And that is in fact a key to the problem. It is possible to encounter wonderful examples of Sevan or Karchopf Kazaks, Chelaberd Karabaghs (the so-called Eagle or Sunburst Kazaks, Konakgend Kubas, and the like in superior condition if one is willing to pay the hefty price that such rugs have come to command in fine condition. But such condition itself has now become cause for serious concern or suspicion. The reason for this has to do with reprehensible practices that have been reported across the rug producing regions of the Middle East over the last decade or so. Antique Carpets in fine condition are rarely pristine. However well they have been cared for, there is bound to be some sort of damage from moths, burns, or irremovable stains, all of which require areas of the pile to be rewoven. That has always been and remains acceptable to collectors.
Such repairs can been done to a very high standard, especially by weavers in the Middle Eastern areas where the rugs were originally produced. Sometimes this is done using wool from the fragmentary remains of kilims or tapestries which can be unraveled to yield great lengths of antique yarn with the spin and color of the same quality and texture as the wool in antique rugs that are in need of repairs. All this is well and good, but it has within it the potential for abuse. Some types of antique rugs have for one reason or another become more desirable than others. It is easy to come across worn antique Caucasian rugs of various types that are simply not worth repairing. But it is worthwhile to save their foundations, to pull the remaining knots out of them and repair any holes or slits.
For it is then possible to take antique yarn, unraveled from damaged or fragmentary kilims that no longer have much market value, and to re-knot or reweave it into antique foundations to produce designs of the most desirable and valuable type. The resultant rugs are made entirely from antique materials. They have the wool quality and color of antiques, the texture or feel of antiques, and, if the weaver is skilled, the drawing or design quality of antiques, that will fool even expert dealers and collectors. They will even pass the test of scientific analysis like carbon-14 dating, since the wool is entirely antique.
Such analysis will only disclose fraud if the kilim yarns are appreciably older than the foundation or vice-versa, and if multiple portions of the rug are tested. The rug would then appear to have different ages in different areas, which would indicate that something were amiss. But such rugs are not antique. Their manufacture is modern, and they are therefore worth far less than genuine pieces made long ago. The representation of such rugs as antiques is fraudulent, unless the dealer or seller is unaware that the rug is a modern pastiche of old materials, and,unfortunately this does happen.
The writer was once admiring an antique Kazak hanging of the wall of a New York rug gallery. A Turkish dealer/rug restorer who was visiting the gallery approached me quietly and asked me to estimate the age of the piece. I ventured to place it sometime around 1880. He laughed and said that it was not anywhere near that old, but that it was newly made in Turkey. When I questioned his opinion, he told me not to argue with him because his workshop had produced the rug. When I pointed out that the rug had damaged areas that had been rewoven, he said, "we do that to make it look more convincing."
When I pointed out that the brown pile was all corroded or at least lower than the rest of the pile, as it should be on an antique, he said, "we trimmed all the brown lower." When I protested that the back of the rug was polished and smooth like an antique, he responded that they had burned off the fuzzy fibers of the back surface with a propane torch. And when I insisted that the wool and dyes were old, he conceded with a smirk that they were indeed, but that it made no difference. And he was right. It was still a new rug. Or for lack of a better term, it was a "magic carpet." This is the risk that collectors and dealers alike are now up against, and it has had a chilling effect. One must really think twice before buying an antique rug that belongs to an established, sought-after type. If it looks to good to be true, perhaps it is, perhaps it is not a genuine antique, but a magic carpet.
When I now see a Sevan or Karachopf Kazak with voluptuous,long, shaggy pile for sale, I am immediately suspicious, and my suspicion does not abate until I see documented evidence of the rug"s existence going back at least twenty years. And such documentation is often not available. There is no doubt that genuine antique pieces may get passed over as a result of this climate of informed caution or suspicion. But at today's prices, who wants to take a magic carpet ride? Flower patterns do not play an essential role in Caucasian rugs. Usually the design patterns in Caucasians are geometric, often without symmetry. If flowers designs are present, they will generally found in the border, or used to complement a geometric pattern. They will not be a dominant factor as they are in many Persian, or Indian rugs.