19th Century Oriental Rugs Attracting Major Interest from Art Collectors

Oakland, CA — Jan David Winitz, president/founder of Claremont Rug Company, today said that certain types of antique Oriental rugs are experiencing a significant upsurge in attention among collectors and investors.

Globally recognized as the world’s leading dealer of art level 19th-century carpets from the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving,” Winitz says that inquiries for the “best of the best” pieces have become a staple of his interaction with clients.

“The rug world has evolved dramatically since we opened Claremont in 1980,” he said. “Collectible antique rugs which were available then were often treated almost as commodities by some dealers. From the beginning, we have been telling our clients that not only were the best of these rugs severely undervalued, but that there was also a much smaller supply than people thought.”

He also noted that the recent trend of acquiring antique rugs for use as wall art and to place under glass had influenced the market. Fully 60% of Claremont multi-rug transactions now include carpets being bought for display and private collections. The rugs are primarily from the 1800s. Winitz said, “This was the period when the masterful use of vegetal dyes yielded an extraordinarily wide range of exotic hues and when the carpet-centric village life supported the levels of skill and dedication required to produce the finest, most original rugs.

“Throughout the years, our counseling about which weaving groups and styles would become the most collectible has proven extremely accurate,” he said. “For instance, during the 1980s, when 19th-century Caucasian rugs were little more than an afterthought to the vast majority of dealers, I was stressing that the best of these rugs were among the most art-worthy and fascinating of all. While others were hesitant because of their looser weaves and geometric lines, I was fascinated by their astonishing use of color and their asymmetric, archetypal designs, which were a precursor to much of modern Western abstract art.

“In the last several years, we have put significant energy and resources into seeking out art-level examples of rugs from the Caucasus Mountains through the network of long-time collectors and art aficionados that we buy from. Now, the situation has shifted to the point where the demand far exceeds the supply for the finest pieces.”

Among classical Persian rugs, Winitz cites the finest antique Persian Laver Kirmans, Hadji Jallili Tabrizs and Ferahan Sarouks as the styles he predicted would take on the central position they are reaching today.

Claremont began establishing “waiting lists” for the rarest rugs three years ago and has continued the practice. When especially rare new acquisitions arrive, Winitz first offers them to clients on the wait lists. “When we release highly collectible pieces,” said Winitz, the author of The Guide to Purchasing an Oriental Rug, “we immediately receive inquiries from potential buyers who view them electronically over the Internet or in emails. Significantly more than 50% of sales are now conducted without our client ever visiting the Gallery.”

Winitz also cited ten collectors (seven domestic and three international) who have acquired more than 100 art-level carpets each from Claremont, who have never been to the Gallery. “These men and women are serious, seasoned connoisseurs who understand the dynamic nature of the antique rug market,” he said. “They know great rugs and they recognize that the availability of the best pieces is diminishing rapidly.”

Rugs at Claremont are valued in the range of $15,000 to more than $500,000 per piece.

With an inventory of more than 4000 19th-century antique art-level Oriental rugs, Claremont stands alone among galleries because of the depth and breadth of its collection as well as the provenance of its carpets. Nearly 900 of the rugs are available for viewing on the Gallery’s website.

Winitz also expects that the opening of the new galleries devoted to Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will spark further interest in Oriental carpets. The section is scheduled to open on November 1, the culmination of eight years of planning, and it has already been featured in an extensive article in the New York Times.

“For the past three decades, we have told our clients that premier 19th-century Oriental rugs continued to be significantly undervalued,” he said. “In the last several years, an increasingly large number of art collectors have literally caught on and we would expect that the attention given to the new Met permanent gallery will serve to further the appreciation of this truly remarkable art form.”

The art-level rug market has also benefited from the global economic conditions. Recently, Reuters reported that wealthy families who had “hedged” against the recession with gold were now turning to the art market.

Reuters wrote, “While many of these families have been holding gold for a decade or more, building positions of up to 15 percent of their investment portfolio, they are now taking profits and putting the money to work in the art market,” said Andrew Nolan, a director of the wealth management and advisory firm Stonehage, that manages $2 billion and advises around 100 families with total wealth of around $30 billion.

“Families were well ahead of the market on gold. A lot of them were sitting on large amounts of gold for quite a while,” said Nolan. “They are putting more into the art market, which held up far better through the crisis than a lot of other assets…”.

Winitz says it is not coincidental that this occurring. “Aficionados who are also savvy investors understand the principle of precious tangible assets, which the best 19th-century Oriental rugs most assuredly are. The fact these pieces also bring an incomparable level of balance and harmony to their homes is an additional attraction, which a bar of gold simply can’t accomplish.”

Reposted for educational purposes only. The Boston Globe retains sole ownership of this article.