Several years ago sotheby announced there would be no more specialist carpet and rug sales. Rugs and carpets would be sold along with other decorative objects in non-specialist sales.
Lot 93 Safavid prayer rug, Salting group, estimate a very reasonable, and sure to be well eclipsed 300,000-500,000 usd
So, might it seem the recently announced Jan 31, 2014 sale of Rugs and Textiles in NY is a new beginning for sothebys carpet department? Or maybe just a one off try to judge the market to see if such sales should be reinstituted?
Dont ask us, we have no clue.
Lot 79 one of two absurdly overestimated second half 19th century Yomud group asmalyk; estimate 20,000-30,000usd
But we do know finding choice weavings to sell is getting very, very difficult as the competition grows stronger each year with new carpet and rug auctions coming on the scene.
Lot 120, runt of the litter for the Ballard Collection, central Anatolian Village Rug; ex-James Ballard Collection: this was undoubtedly one of the least significant rugs in the Ballard Collection and its 40,000-60,000usd estimate will probably be the range it will sell in thanks to this provenance. Good condition; its a floor rug, or one for Fido to sleep on, with little genuinely there for real collector eyes and imagination.
Regardless of whether or not sothebys will have more sales, this sale of 175 lots is a notable one, if only to see if the market can/will absorb such a large lump of high priced almost great weavings.
Yes thats right, RK is not entirely wowed by the sale and while we appreciate the quality is above any of recent record it aint exactly the sale of the century, forget of our lifetimes, as some pundits are casting it.
As recently written RK is not very interested in continuing to provide detailed pre- and post- auction sale commentaries so we are not going to delve very deeply into this one.
Beginning the sale with 17 so-called Azerbaijan embroideries of varying age, quality and importance rather than place them throughout the sale probably was done to accommodate bidders from Europe and the Middle East that are 6-10 hours ahead of EST in New York.
Perhaps this can be read as a signal?
Has sothebys carpet department, or dealers they are working closely with, already determined, or created, strong interest in such quarters for these embroideries? Is sotheby banking on these bidders providing the juice that will kite the Chesrow embroideries to such price heights as their estimates imply?
Clearly varying ages and quality will create a several tier price level of results.
Lot 1; the first of the 17 Azerbijan, aka trans-Caucasian silk embroideries from the Chesrow Collection. If we had to pick the one we like best it would be this one, estimate 40,000-60,000usd. But if someone asked us which is the most valuable we would say lot 6, estimate 60,000-80,000usd.
Lot 6; Probably the earliest, and definitely the most classical and interesting, of the Chesrow embroideries. As nice as it is this example pales when compared to others of its type. The convoluted somewhat degenerate drawing style, the lack of the large spinning arms which are the focal point of all the greatest first period trans-Caucasian silk embroideries, and other second period features like the main border demonstrate this embroidery is not among those RK would call first generation or first period
These estimates are steep, as are others in the Chesrow grouping.
Will these high dollar embroidery lots sell?
Our guess is perhaps number 1 and number 2, but the others carrying high estimates, like Lot 6 60,000-80,000usd, Lot 11 60,000-80,000usd and Lot 13 the curiously attributed Azerbijan prayer textile 80,000-120,000 have, in our view, little to no chance of finding buyers at those price levels.
Lot 13 Calling this prayer textile Azerbijan is a highly questionable move Persia or India would be far better guesses. And the 80,000-120,000usd estimate is equally doubtable. By the way, regardless of the catalog drawing similarity to the style of drawing the figures have to one or two other well-known so-called Azerbijan embroideries where they also appear can not be used as any anchor to secure this provenance. Those embroideries also have little to no support or proof they were produced in Azerbijan.
Sadly little to nothing is really known about these embroideries -- questions like who made them, where were they made, when were they made and why were they made remain largely unanswered.
Nor does the chatter in the catalog do anything to further knowledge or even guess at it.
And while it is possible some or all of them in the sale were made in Azerbaijan, hanging this label on them is both unsubstantiated and as far as we can see total guesswork.
Also since these 17 exhibit glaring technical differences, as well as a probable 250 year or more time-span, we would have preferred the sotheby cataloguer stick to the old, far more general but supportable, Trans-Caucasian or Caucasian provenance.
But as Shakespeare doth sayeth A rose by any other name
Also other than note the different embroidery techniques --- satin stitch, cross stitch, stem stitch, box stitch, running stitch --- the catalog notes make no attempt to divide or classify them into groups on that basis or any other.
By the way, RK senses there are errors in these descriptions but since we will not be viewing personally we will say no more about this.
Judging this group of embroideries, which all come from one consignor Eugene Chesrow a wealthy commodities trader from Chicago, against their already published best of types is a fairly easy task.
Hardly any of Chesrows can honestly compete with the earliest and best of those already known, and the only one of the 17 which in our opinion bests any other of its type is number 16, which is also far better than the one the cataloguer cited from the jim burns collection.
These Trans-Caucasian embroideries, as RK now prefers to call them, are rare items and Chesrows collecting 17 of them must have taken quite a while.
We noticed a few of his best were acquired from B.C. Bud Holland, a very high class antiques dealer located in Chicago who liked and collected oriental rugs.
Others come from well-known dealers or auctions, while some have no provenance listed in the catalog.
Its an interesting collection, none by the way capable to excite RK, as even the best and the earliest in the Chesrow group fall far short of the archetypes RK owns, knows and covets.
We should also mention what we see as a rather foolish move: Trying and sell all 17 in the same sale.
Unless sothebys rug department knows something we dont (see above), the rather limited number of qualified collectors, ie those with ten of thousands of dollars to spend on such weavings, will in our estimation have a major bearing on the results achieved by selling them at once. Better to have spread them over several sales.
But as one rug-auction pundit once remarked All you need is one punter and a reserve
So time will tell if there is a deep and broad enough market for Chesrows 17 embroideries to perform well on the auction-block.
Before leaving the sales embroidery sphere we must mention the inclusion of a Kaitag, which as always the case with these weavings appears to RK to be seriously overdated.
Lot 140; a Kaitag embroidery. Readers are no doubt aware RK seriously doubts the 'conventional' dating Kaitags receive, and comparing the circa 1800 date this one has ben given in the catalog with the dates of the 17 other trans-Caucasian embroideries in the sale highlights our position and dusts those who believe a weaving like Lot 140 could be any earlier than circa end of the 19th century.
In perusing the rest of the sale RK noticed two rugs we had formerly owned.
The first this single medallion (eagle) kazak, lot 56.
Lot 56; This single (eagle) medallion Kazak is acclaimed by many as the best of its type. And while RK appreciates it(see our history with it below) we prefer the one in the Victoria and Albert Museum, granting that it is sun-faded from having been installed in a glass frame on the wall of a stairway in the museum where it received far too much direct sunlight which has caused the fading.
RK acquired this rug at auction in Paris in 1980 and about two years later sold it, and a star Kazak of equal importance, to Ebberhart Hermann. Both are published in Hermanns Seltene Orientteppiche, Vol. IV, Munich, 1982.
Theres a pretty wonderful story about our letting Hermann buy the single eagle, and the Star as well, but this is not the tine or place to tell it. Again, when RK finally gets around to writing our rug autobiography youll no doubt be able to read it there.
The 80,000-120,000uds estimate lot 56 carries is, compared to those for the embroideries and several other pieces in the sale, quite reasonable and we are sure it will perform well and probably exceed the high estimate.
Single medallion (eagle) Kazak, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Lot 24, the eminently likable, charming, not so very old Ladik prayer rug is the other ex-RK collection rug in the sale.
Lot 24 Ladik prayer rug very questionably dated 18th century in the catalog. RK knows the rug well and would not date it prior to the second quarter of the 19th century
We discovered this Ladik prayer rug at the Brimfield Antique market circa 1989.
Its an interesting story how it ended up with Ebberhart Hermann, as we did not sell it to him nor did we put it in sothebys where he got it by having the carpet department arrange a private sale even though it was already listed and pictured in a catalog printed for the next up coming sale. We know Hermann always liked, and did well with, what he got from us and obviously hearing the Ladik had been ours was part of the motivation pushing him to have it.
But the details of that story, too, will have to wait another time for telling.
RK will say the rug is NOT 18th century, rather it is in our estimation second quarter 19th century.
Its a pretty rug but all aspects, particularly the rather stiff and repetitive main border drawing, made it a very easy decision not keep it in our collection.
There are three embroidered Tekke asmalyk in the sale, the best of which is lot 61
Lot 61; the best of the three embroidered Tekke asmalyk in the sale quite reasonably estimated 7,000-10,000usd, a price that will surely be bettered on sale day
The sale also contains a rather mediocre Tekke animal-tree asmalyk; a smattering of other somewhat rare, and not so rare, but decidedly latish Turkmen bags; two highly forgettable and seriously over-estimated second half 19th century Yomud asmalyk; a rather uninteresting C gol Yomud MC that RK suspects was originally found many years ago at the Brimfield antique market; two Saryk MC (neither very old but the one with gulli-gol is the far better), and finally a three seater S group LFT jon thompson formerly owned round out the Turkmen division.
Lot 78, S group LFT, ex-collection jon Thompson, sold in the thompson sale sotheby NY
Lot 138 Saryk MC with rare major gulli-gol and minor diamond- gol
The highlight of the sale is undoubtedly the Salting group prayer rug, lot 93. We are sure it will perform well, as the wallet-swinging crowd of classical carpeteers will definitely be out in force.
Anothger highlight is the splendid Yarkand carpet, lot 161, but it remains to be seen if any buyers will overlook the serious condition issues, copious poor quality restoration, and bid it to its rather high estimate of 80,000-120,000usd.
There is naturally more we could say about the sale but feel no need to go on.
However, we will say cutting down the lots to a total of say 100 would have been a far better idea than presenting so many we doubt came from distinguished collections, or are in themselves distinguished in any manner.
Also, there is absolutely zero doubt there are enough eager buyers for the best, earliest oriental rugs and related weavings.
And while RKs definitions might not at times be the same as those held by others, we recognize this sale has a number of lots that in the eyes of most rug collectors, rug buyers, rug investors, rug hoarders, etc fit that description.
The only pertinent question remains: Is what sotheby offers really good enough to create and stimulate enough strong buying? Or will only a few of the hi-flyer estimated lots get bid to the heights their estimates suggest and most of the others languish unsold?