Collecting & Connoisseurship

Jan David Winitz Talks About the Art of Collecting Antique Oriental Carpets – Part 2

Antique Ferahan Sarouk Rug Displayed on the Wall

The Ferahan Sarouk on the wall and the Laver Kirman antique carpet on the floor heighten each other’s charm.

Oakland, CA — For over thirty years, Jan David Winitz, President and founder of Claremont Rug Company in Oakland, CA, has built a global reputation among carpet collectors and connoisseurs. Since Claremont Rug Company opened its doors in 1980, their niche has been a challenging, yet incredibly exciting one – offering only the finest in authentic, art-level antique carpets, coupled with entirely first cabin service. Claremont Rug Company holds a central position on the international market as a “first source” buyer, ambitiously acquiring superlative private collections and significant family estates rich in carpets that will literally enrapture the viewer through their great creative depth and exquisite craftsmanship. Jan David Winitz took some time out from his busy schedule to answer some basic questions about the carpet business.

Q:When did people start hanging carpets instead of leaving them on the floor?
A: In truth, as far back as there have been rugs, they have been displayed on furniture and on walls. The Dutch Renaissance painters frequently depicted Oriental rugs draped over tables. We have some photos at the Gallery of Mark Twain, who was an Oriental carpet aficionado, with tribal rugs draped over his furniture. Recently, as the appreciation of antique rugs has increased and the recognition of their artistic merit has expanded, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in clients hanging rugs and storing their rug inventories in dedicated chests or rug vaults, as well as continuing to display them on the floors.

Q: How do you acquire your rugs? Do you have people scouting the world?
A: We have a staff of full-time salaried buyers who are rug collectors and work exclusively for Claremont Rug Company. They are located throughout the U.S. and Europe and as a result, we are in communication with collectors internationally and are the first ones contacted when private collections come up for sale. We are periodically approached by families who wish to divest themselves of long-held collections. Two years ago, we were privileged to acquire what we called “The Intercontinental Collection” that was amassed by family members in Europe, South America and the U.S. A main motivation in selling their rugs was that they could be sure they went to other connoisseurs who could appreciate them. The family came to us because they were comfortable that we could fulfill that wish and sell their family treasures in a dignified manner.

Q: What are the most sought after weaving groups?
A:As interest and knowledge of 19th century Oriental rugs has increased so has the appreciation of a variety of weaving groups. Particularly sought after recently are the best tribal rugs from the Caucasus mountain region as well as Persian classical carpets such as Laver Kirman, Mohtasham Kashan and Hadji Jallili (Haji Jalili) Tabriz. The Northwest Persian village rugs from Azerbaijan, such as Bakshaish, Serab and the best antique 19th century Herizs or Serapis have also found an important interest among both connoisseurs and those furnishing estate-level homes.

Q: Can you explain a little about designs and colors of rugs?
A: First and foremost, the weavers of art-level rugs employed natural dyes exclusively. Unlike chemical dyes, these colors from plant and other natural sources soften and “mature” over time, and offer a much greater variety and depth, thereby increasing the carpet’s beauty. The pristine natural sources of these dyes no longer exist, enhancing the value of the old natural-dyed pieces. Yellows came from saffron; the cochineal insect produced vibrant rose hues and Tyrian purples came from sea snails. There are numerous exotic hues, such as certain greens and blues, found in 125-200 year-old Persian, Turkish and Caucasian rugs that after more than 30 years of experimentation by our Restoration Department , we are still unable to duplicate.

In terms of design, the pattern vocabulary of the 19th century Oriental carpet tradition is staggering. Each region and tribal group developed an extensive repertoire. Designs in Persian and Near Eastern tribal carpets were sometimes inspired by early religious symbolism, the natural world that surrounded them, and partially borrowing from neighbors or invaders, but over centuries many individualized motifs were created. Some designs used in Caucasian and Turkoman tribal rugs were found drawn on cave walls in Turkestan.

Q: Do you find that most of your clients are knowledgeable about antique rugs, or do they come to you for advice, and as an investment opportunity?
A: The common denominator among our clients is that they appreciate surrounding themselves with beautiful objects. We find that people with an exposure to art “get” antique Oriental rugs very quickly because beauty and harmony translates from one art form to another. When people with little knowledge of rugs come to us, the education happens as we introduce them to the different styles and qualities, so they can determine which ones resonate with them and will most gracefully enhance their home.

Living with art-level antique carpets is the best education of all. It is interesting to some to know about the types of weave and the origin of certain motifs, but their glorious color palettes and mesmerizing pattern language are the most eloquent of teachers for those who live with great antique rugs. While antique Oriental carpets are included in most art funds, the average client who works with us considers investment as a secondary motivation. With the supply of great antique rugs diminishing rapidly, top-tier 19th century carpets still in sound condition are an exciting long-term investment on par with the best art and antique furniture. Owners who take reasonable care of their carpets can enjoy the financial security they are excellent depositories of wealth. In that regard, we also extend to our clients a long-term exchange guarantee.

Q: Are 19th century rugs a good investment?
A: They have been over the years and they continue to be undervalued relative to other forms of art and antiques. Antique Oriental carpets are a precious, tangible asset as they have been through the ages. Gold is also classified in that manner, but great rugs have a deep emotional, and some would say spiritual, impact on their owners. Bottom line, so to speak, is that antique rugs have high returns on both the financial and emotional investment levels.

Q: What hangs in your home? Do you have a special or favorite rug?
A: The rug that hangs behind my desk at the gallery, an early 19th century Bakshaish “Dragon and Phoenix” carpet I bought when I was 19, is not only one of my oldest carpet friends, but the one that has had the most impact on me. Of course, my wife, Christine, would tell you that my “favorite” changes daily, each time I see an exemplary new piece come to the Gallery or when I see one in my own collection that I haven’t looked at for a while. I don’t apologize for this. Great antique Oriental rugs have that quality about them.