By Jan David Winitz, President & founder, Claremont Rug Company
PART TWO OF TWO PARTS
(Read Part One Here)
Originally written as a script for a PBS video produced by the American Architectural Review, I have expanded my comments on the ideas here for further clarity.
In Part One, I addressed five of the nine characteristics that one should consider when purchasing any antique rug: the levels of artistry and beauty, its age and condition relative to age, and its quality of colors and dyes. I present the final four points below.
The amount of originality in a rug’s colors and design significantly impacts its desirability to connoisseurs, as long as the elements of beauty I already discussed in Part One are present. Carpets that are entirely singular works of art, that may even step outside the regional designs to present never-before-seen motifs and colorways in an aesthetically successful manner, are supremely prized. Rugs that are exemplary, nuanced representatives of a traditional style are also widely sought after.
With some exceptions, the rugs produced circa 1875 and earlier demonstrate the greatest creativity, especially pieces woven in the first half of the 19th century most often reveal a particularly refreshing free-form aesthetic. Along with the use of rare dyestuffs such as Tyrian purple, saffron, cochineal and pistachio, some master weavers on the tribal and village level and designers for the larger town and city rugs also created singular, exotic tonalities that are exciting to see and greatly enhance their weavings’ value.
Certain 19th century substyles are especially sought after, with their best examples renowned for their unequaled artistry. Among Persian city carpets, these include superb-quality, consummately crafted Mohtasham Kashans, Hadji Jallili Tabrizs and Tehrans and from town weaving centers — the finest Ferahans, Ferahan Sarouks, Bijars and Ziegler Sultanabads. From the village tradition — many Bakshaishs, the best Serapis and Camelhair rugs and from the tribal styles, the finest Caucasian, Afshar, Qashqai and Persian Northwest rugs are rarely found. It is important to emphasize that all of these rug types contain much more plentiful 20th century Commercial Era examples that, while often offering excellent wool and noteworthy craftsmanship, are no longer imbued with their predecessors’ aesthetic brilliance.
8. Fineness of Weave
The rugs from each region offer a distinct construction that includes a knot density particular to that tradition. The most exquisite 19th century Persian city rugs usually demonstrate a premier level of craftsmanship that manifests in a tremendous sharpness of their motifs and a level of detail work akin to a line drawing. This precision is enhanced by very even, low-cut pile that gives the rug’s surface a glass-like quality. In contrast, many top-quality Caucasian and Kurdish tribal rugs use much looser knotting and a plush surface, which centrally contributes to their prized rugged aesthetic.
During the 20th century, some city rugs were woven with knot counts exceeding 500 knots per square inch, but typically their level of artistry and originality suffered greatly. Their designs became repetitive rather than nuanced, and their color palettes were limited to a few hues. The fineness of weave is a contributing factor to discern which pieces from one weaving tradition are superior, but should not be used to determine quality between different traditions.
9. Quality of Wool
Rug wool has many different grades. The best contains a high fat content in its fiber, making it extremely lustrous and giving a radiance to the colors in a rug that ages over time. It is elastic and lanolin-rich to the touch. For these reasons, top grades of wool increase a carpet’s value.
Wool cultivated by nomadic tribespeople who grazed their flocks of Karakul sheep in high mountain pastures during the summer and in the lower meadows during the winter delivered the finest grades. The villages of Northwest Persian Azerbaijan and the city of Kirman that bought their wool directly from the tribal groups invariably offer a tremendously lustrous surface and resiliency to the touch.
These nine points for evaluating the quality of antique carpets are not in any particular hierarchy, as there is a fluid exchange between them. Wool illumines color; color quiets or advances design elements; uniqueness, artistry, and beauty involve a non-verbal language that can profoundly speak to us. The interplay between age and condition helps us to set our priorities in terms of living with an antique rug; a carpet’s weave can evoke a refined formality in city rugs or a casual folkloric charm in nomadic rugs. It is my wish that utilizing this methodology will make your search for the ideal Oriental carpet even more exhilarating.
Enjoy Videos On Our “9-Point Methodology” and Other Educational Topics
Read Other Articles Written by Claremont President and founder
Jan David Winitz