The other evening a dealers selling exhibition of mostly khorjin and small format pile rugs opened in San Francisco, California timed to coincide with the annual Fort Mason "Tribal Show".
The pieces on offer came from a group of 'old timer' collectors, mostly hajji baba-ites plus the dispersal of the John Corwin Collection of Afshar weaving. There were just about 100 examples up for grabs. Ten sold as of today Feb 10th.
The exhibition will continue for about two more weeks but RK doubts much action will ensue after the opening rush of willing check-writing wallet-swinging buyers. We might be wrong but we seriously will be surprised if any more than another 10% end up with little red sold dots.
This poor percentage of sales is now typical for rug world events and auctions, where the best gets gobbled up and the rest remains stale on the shelf until removed and returned to their disappointed owners.
The most interesting aspect of this sale was the purchase of two of the four most expensive lots. Again this is not surprising, as in today's market there are very active and motivated buyers for the top of the pops goods and far fewer than ever before for lesser examples. However, what RK found worthy of notice was the price level those two pieces, both soumak khorjin, successfully achieved.
The khorjin illustrated above sold for the top price, 40,000usd. Well, that was the price listed and we do not know for sure if there was any discount offered to the buyer.
Years ago this type of soumak khorjin, called the cross-design, was very rarely seen, but since then a goodly number of varying degrees of age and beauty have floated onto the market. This one is decidedly one of the better ones of the sub-group to which it belongs, but it is far from the best of that sub-group or the type in general.
And frankly the bright in your face coloration does not appeal to us, neither does the stiff, though expertly woven, rendition of this iconic pattern. Its also in very good condition, something not unexpected for a not really very early example.
But regardless, it must have tickled the toes of a buyer to shell out the 40,0000usd asking price. Again, we do not know if there was some discounting involved but would imagine there probably was as a listed asking price and the final selling price are often different in dealer face-to-face transactions.
Recently, at the rudnick collection dispersal sale in Boston, a soumak khorjin (lot 6) sold for 39,650usd, which clearly provided the impetus for this ones pricing and perhaps even its appearance in this event.
Another soumak khorjin, shown below, priced at 32,500usd also was sold.
This one, a unique but in our eyes not very interesting weaving, had the good fortune to have been one of the pieces illustrated in the catalog, and shown in the exhibition, of the eponymous 1969 Washington Textile Museum groundbreaking exhibition of soumak and other flat-weaves From the Bosphorus to Samarkand.
In fact it, and the soumak khorjin on the cover which is arguably the best example of soumak khorjin in the catalog, were the most interesting. However, since 1969 a number of much earlier, more beautiful and significant archetypal examples of soumak khorjins have been published, which makes a bag like this one not nearly as important or valuable, as it was considered way back then.
This clearly did not stop another well-tickled buyer from stepping up to the plate and swinging a well-stuffed wallet, or was it the same one who purchased the other khorjin we mention?
The eight other pieces in the show that sold were all far less valuable or pricey south Persian weavings.
It is quite telling to note how abruptly soumak khorjin prices have risen and why. But there is no mystery, as the reason can be easily deduced for the first time some exemplary examples have hit the open marketplace. Great soumak khorjin, or those just perceived as such, are very rare and since RK has been both watching and participating in making the market for them we are not surprised at this quite blatant price escalation.
Prior to the rudnick sale, and this most recent dealers sale, top price range was about 25,000usd, with several public sales of soumak khorjin, particularly at Rippon Boswell, in the record books. We also know of some private sales at around that figure as well.
So will this continue?
RK believes if great examples come into the public market this price level will hold and even increase. After all, these great khorjin pack a lot of punch in a small footprint, they are extremely rare, expertly woven with stunning dyes and exceptional wool quality.
For the past several years we have been working on another Opus, like our Anatolian Kelim Opus. This one, however, concerns soumak khorjin. And although we would like to have it ready in the near future, we doubt it will appear before the beginning of next year.
As we did with Anatolian kelim, we will prove through art historical analysis and type continuum building how all soumak bags belong to groups, each group having an archetypical example and all the others of each group descend from that archetype exhibiting varying degrees of degeneration.
For instance the second of the two khorjin from this sale, the one with the two pairs of large animals has a medallion in the central stripe. This medallion is a quite degenerate version of a medallion that appears in another otherwise completely unrelated group. Comparing a detail from this groups archetype khorjin, shown below, demonstrates some very significant evidence why we date the two pairs of animal soumak much later and find it not very interesting.
There should be no doubt the loss of iconography and the simplistic rendering of a far more complex scene shows the weaver of the two pairs of animals khorjin did not have a strong connection to the historic weaving culture and its preservation of such icon laden and infused imagery.
Just about all genuine historic weavings are copies of archetypes and for RK the finding, indentifying, and acquisition of those archetypes is the prime reason for our research and collecting interests. Anatolian kelim and village rugs, trans-Caucasian soumak and kelim, and western Turkmen weavings are our chosen areas. We have been working in them for more than 45 years and to date have both the collection and research to prove our theory of archetypes and the existence of an historic weaving culture for each of these type of weavings.
More to come on soumak khorjin, eventually, so stay tuned.