THANKFULLY, AN EXTREMELY ALIVE YEAR FOR ART-LEVEL ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUGS
As we enter 2021, we are proud of the level of engagement we are maintaining with our clients despite the obstacles presented by Covid-19.
By any account, 2020 was an extraordinary year, as in the face of a global pandemic, we were all impacted in a manner that we had never experienced. At Claremont, we dynamically readjusted our market strategy to maintain active engagement with our clients, many of whom wrote us of their expanded appreciation of the emotional support and personal pleasure that art-level antique Oriental carpets bring.
And as a woman from South Carolina wrote, “The new Heriz rug and I are already having a love affair, and I am spending a lot of time just gazing at it.”
Our Reinventions in 2020: From Brick and Mortar to a Primarily Online Gallery
When our gallery was suddenly shuttered in mid-March, we quickly reinvented how we interacted with our clients, adding a series of features to our website and instituting twice-weekly e-letters to our extensive email list. We started an unprecedented 20% Incentive and free approval shipping event, in which we exposed clients on our email list to the enormous breadth of the antique carpets we handle through unveiling a series of new rugs online each Wednesday. On most Fridays, we sent illustrated, educational articles that I have written. This program has assisted our clients in developing much greater familiarity with the different rug traditions, their varied decorative uses, and their tremendous artistic contributions. These two email programs have proved extremely successful, enjoyable, and serve as invaluable educational tools for our clients.
As a gentleman from Israel wrote, “In the year 2020 with all its hardships, Claremont made our life happy with its exquisite rugs and also created in me a real desire to acquire much more knowledge of this wonderful art form.”
In the process, we seamlessly pivoted from doing 80% of our business at our gallery or through in-home presentations and 20% online to almost the exact inverse. We experienced that these two email programs synergistically created more informed, confident, and impassioned buyers. Remarkably, last year we welcomed 50% more new buyers than in 2019 and renewed our relationships with a great number of return clients.
The Top Selling Rug Styles and New Stars That Lead Sales in 2020
As I review our sales in 2020, I see drastically increased enthusiasm was generated by our wider internet reach and the attractiveness of our Incentive program. Several specific weaving groups stand out. These include the Bakshaish, which remained our clients’ most purchased style in room sizes for the fourth year running, and folkloric Caucasian rugs (numbers of rugs sold up 45%), again the most acquired area size rugs. Exquisite Mohtasham Kashan saw a 50% uptick in numbers of rugs sold, majestic Serapis over 60% more rugs sold, followed closely by Ferahan Sarouk, Hadji Jallili Tabriz, and Laver Kirman pieces.
Notable additions to the roster of rugs that attracted heightened interest were extremely rare best-of-the-best early 19th-century Turkish pieces as well as mid-19th century silk Heriz and silk Tabriz rugs that we were fortunate to acquire last year. Sales of South Persian tribal rugs, notably Qashqai and Afshar, were up a substantial 250%.
New buyers and those with young children gravitated to our curated inventories of striking, ultra-durable High-Decorative (Level 4) rugs, including turn-of-the-20th-century Herizs, Tabrizs, Bijars, Sarouks, and Sultanabads, as did longtime clients shopping for their most trafficked spaces and vacation homes.
Creating new ways to satisfy our most discerning clients
By mid-year, it was clear that the manner we acquired rarely seen High-Collectible and Connoisseur-Caliber rugs (Levels #2 and #3 on our Oriental Rug Market Pyramid) in the past could not entirely satisfy the increased interest for these two calibers. Previously, whenever one of the many longtime rug-collecting families I have been in contact with or their referrals approached me to divest from part or all of their rug cache, we created a major private exhibition and sale for our connoisseur clients.
But now, this dramatically enhanced interest prompted me to proactively reach out to many of these families (some of whom I have known since I was a child) in a manner I was never inspired to do before to sell us a small portion of their treasures. These longtime connections with collectors helped us to expand our offering in the spectrum of each of these rug categories.
This instinct proved to be prescient, as in 2020, the number of High Collectible-caliber rugs we sold increased by 55% over 2019 and Connoisseur-Caliber rugs up by 30% over the previous year. You can experience some of the rarest, most awe-inspiring pieces we placed with our clients in our annual event “50 Best of Their Type Rugs Sold in 2020”, starting Friday, January 15.
Three of the “50-best-of-their-type” rugs sold in 2020:
Left: Persian Bakshaish, “Lion Rug”, Northwest Persia, 5′ 11″ x 5′ 10″, circa 1800;
Middle: Persian Mohtasham Kashan, Central Persian, 7′ 1″ x 9’10”, circa 1825;
Right: Caucasian Dragon Soumec, 8’1″ x 10’9″, circa 1800
Looking Ahead to 2021
Last year, many more of our clients displayed some of their small rugs on their walls, with some even doing so with rugs in sizes up to 11×14. In 2021, I see this being an entirely common occurrence, with the more adventurous embracing the trend of placing small rugs over furniture or even under glass on dining tables.
Another trend I see growing in 2021 is interior designers further embracing using antique rugs in their upscale modern decors. As “AD 100” designer Rose Tarlow was quoted in Veranda Magazine last year, “The juxtaposition of contemporary pieces with antiques makes a room young and alive. We should not attempt to create museums, but rather should strive for comfortable living spaces of character and beauty.” In fact, a longtime client, a prominent Hollywood producer, told me just last week, when visiting two different homes of young stars he saw a 19th-century Bakshaish in each as the centerpiece of their ultra- modern living rooms.
I am now thoroughly convinced that the current generation of buyers will be the last with access to a selection of art-caliber, 19th-century pieces. Further evidence of this is that in 2020 major auction houses only occasionally offered High-Collectible or Connoisseur-Caliber rugs and filled out their sales with primarily handsome Level 5 Decorative pieces that have no intrinsic collectible value. However, my unique access to numerous longtime collecting families will allow us to continue to offer the full spectrum of 19th-century carpets that we do.
In part, because we dramatically enhanced the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of our website last year, our international sales increased nine-fold. We were privileged to connect with clients and ship their new acquisitions to Canada and throughout Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, and others.
Despite the constraints posed by the pandemic, we also saw many new clients assembling Whole Home Rug Displays last year, as I foresaw in my annual 2019 end-of-year letter in which I wrote, “I expect to see the number of multi-rug suites and Home Collections increasing as our clients’ taste continues to become more refined and experimental.”
In 2021, I believe that recognizing that the finest 19th-century rugs are in notably diminished supply, a substantially greater number of clients will purchase rugs not only to create Whole Home Rug Displays, but also to keep them in our art storage facility or in rug cellars they construct in their homes.
This year, I am confident that there will be intensified acquisition by both US and international collectors and art lovers for both Level 2 and Level 3 rugs. Their intrinsic artistic merit and limited availability will also continue to increase our clients’ attraction to the upper echelon of 19th- century, one-of-a-kind High Decorative carpets.
As we enter the New Year, my wife, Christine, and I and our entire staff are ever-grateful to our clients who supported us to grow through the many challenges of 2020 by sharing in our passion for this 4,000-year-old art form, which is just now receiving the level of recognition it merits. We offer our sincere thanks to you for being part of the Claremont family. We wish you a safe, restful, and rewarding New Year.
To learn more about purchasing, decorating with & collecting antique art rugs, visit our Education Section.