An Introduction to Carpets

Carpet connoisseur, Dhruv Chandra shares his insights on old and antique carpets

New Delhi: Old and antique carpets are more than just floor coverings, and like all other works of art, have represented the aspirations, lifestyles, attitudes and limitations of their times. What makes these carpets valuable and works of art are their rarity, originality of design, quality of raw materials used, natural dyeing techniques and the skill and mastery of the weavers.

The key word I would ascribe to old and antique carpets is ‘quality’. Weavers used the best raw material they could afford. You will find that most antique carpets have been made with the finest clothing grade wool and sometimes even Pashmina or Cashmere, that would be used in clothing today (which is not what is used in contemporary carpets).

The dyes used in the olden days were generally all natural or vegetable dyes. Natural dyes are extracted from plants, rocks, minerals and sometimes even insects such as Cochineal or Laque emanating a resplendent Magenta pinkish-red hue. The other advantage with natural dyes is that they do not generally fade and can last a lifetime. The problem with new carpets is that they are generally manufactured using chemical dyes and have a tendency to fade with exposure to sunlight.

Tribal Afshar- South West Iran
Circa 1930s
Vegetable/natural dye
Approx. 7ft x 4ft 10in ( 213.4 x 147.3 cms)
Image Courtesy: Saffronart 24-Hour Auction: Carpets & Rugs, March 14-15, 2012
For more details: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PostWork.aspx?l=6482

The primary thing to understand with old carpets is that they were completely made by hand and created as a ‘labor of love’, not manufactured with the intention to resell them. So they used the best skilled weavers who took a lot of pride in their work to create bespoke carpets.

If one were to buy a carpet let’s say a 100 years ago, one would not have gone to a carpet shop. One would have called a renowned carpet weaver and had the luxury to select a design from his hand drawn maps or khartouns which are also  called ‘nakshas’. Then one would have selected the colors and purchased the raw materials such as wool, Pashmina, or silk, and dyes etc. for the weaver. It would be like commissioning a painting today.

Kashgar Carpet- Central Asia
Circa 1920s
Madder – Indigo Blue natural / vegetable dye
Approx. 8ft 4in x 4ft 6in (254 x 137.2 cms)
Image Courtesy: Saffronart 24-Hour Auction: Carpets & Rugs, March 14-15, 2012
For more details: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PostWork.aspx?l=6480

For modern interiors that embody cleaner lines, minimalistic accents and the efficaciousness of geometric patterns, carpets like Afshar, Shiraz, Quashgai, Samarkand, Kashgaar Khotans, Tibetan prayer rugs, Kazaks and Hamadaans are an ideal option.

Khotan Carpet, Pomegranate Design- East Turkestan
Circa 1930s
Approx. 7ft x 4ft 7in (213.4 x 139.7 cms)
Image Courtesy: Saffronart 24-Hour Auction: Carpets & Rugs, March 14-15, 2012
For more details: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PostWork.aspx?l=6483

The Samarkand Khotan carpets from Uzbekistan embody influences from the Northwest Frontier Province, Turkmenistan, Persia and China, reflecting the multi-cultural iconographies of ancient Samarkand. One such iconographic motif prominently displayed is the pomegranate fruit. Traditionally, the pomegranate symbolizes abundance, fertility, lusciousness, generosity and union. Used in many cultures as a symbol of marriage, fertility and love, the pomegranate with its leathery outer skin and its pink juicy, sweet interior is a symbol of encompassing bliss, reminiscent of passion and luxury. According to the Quran, pomegranates grew in the ‘gardens of paradise’. The Prophet is said to have encouraged his followers to eat pomegranates to ward off envy and hatred. In Christianity, the pomegranate is a symbol of the resurrection and the hope of eternal life. Primarily it was also used as a symbol of aspiration, for us to tap into the luxurious side of life – recognizing the richness, abundance and wonder that surround us at every turn. They also used the seeds to make red dye and skins of the fruit to make yellow dye.

In keeping with this inspiration, these carpets have a rich vibrancy in their color palette: spectacular pink, orange and lavender hues combined with a unique aesthetic sensibility. Invariably, the designs of a Samarkand-Khotan are multicultural, one of a kind, displaying a rich array of medallions, Grecian pillars, stylized vases, Lotus blossoms, cloud-bands and sometimes even fantastical dragons. The lines are neither too ornate nor geometrical, just perfectly balanced. All these factors make Samarkands hugely versatile acquisitions, that fit into traditional as well as modern interiors.

Like any work of art, choosing a carpet is a very personal thing. It’s not just about making a judicious investment but buying something that you will live with for decades to come. The carpet has to please you, not your decorator, or your relative or friend who accompanies you in the purchase. The carpet you choose should be the one you love, it should ‘sing to your senses’ and ‘talk to you’. I would recommend really doing your research before you make your purchase. Carpet catalogues, seminars, museums and auctions are a great way to train your eye and hone your taste.

Carpet collecting is still at a very nascent stage in India. There are a growing number of Indian collectors who have been bitten by the ‘Carpet Bug’ and  are beginning to understand the fine nuances  of buying a good Oriental Carpet and about carpets as an asset for investment.

Shiraz Kilim- South West Iran
Circa 1930s
Approx 8ft 5in x 5ft 1in (256.5 x 154.9 cms)
Image Courtesy: Saffronart 24-Hour Auction: Carpets & Rugs, March 14-15, 2012
For more details: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PostWork.aspx?l=6498

With our economy doing substantially better than the world markets, and enormous wealth being created here, there is  a huge  demand for a trusted source of fine and rare carpets, Kilims and textiles. The pie of old carpets is limited, and people who possess such pieces do not wish to part with them that easily. If they do, then they want a premium price for their ‘treasures’. In my view, it is because of this shortfall in supply that it is obvious that the price of collectable antique rugs will go in one direction only.

Dhruv Chandra is a second generation Collector and Curator of old and antique carpets, Kilims and textiles and owns The Carpet Cellar which also houses India’s largest private collection of antique rugs. As part of his drive to revive the declining trade in carpets, he offers talks and seminars at The Carpet Cellar in New Delhi. He is working on opening a first of its kind Carpet Museum in India.

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2 Responses to An Introduction to Carpets

  1. Amedar says:

    I enjoy, cause I found exactly what I was having a look for. You have ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

  2. Mr.Azwas Truv says:

    ‘Making-an-elephant-out-of-a-mouse and making-a-mouse-out-of-an-elephant’

    Dear friends of antiques,
    It is very sad and I feel sorry to mention it here but you should know that the
    so-called samarkand/ khotan/turkestan carpets so herolded as most valuable and hyped all over america are a alarming sign to be taken serious.
    We do not talk here about the carpets purchased from several buyers either directly in turkestan or from turkestan back in the 18th,19th and early 20th century and brought to western countries or imported to the US back then.
    These carpets like the ones taked about above or shown and seen at other galleries all over america and advertised as late 1900′s,early 20th century or 1910′ or 1930′ khotans/samarkands were seen as objects for worst speculation and mostly bought off or better ‘ robbed off ’ from turkestan homes for -nearly nothing- back in the 1980′s until today from chinese ,indian or american salesmen when the miserable conditiones there caused by the chinese massacres and genocides on this humble people made them to accept every price.
    That was when the wolves rushed in to get these objects nearly for a few dollars.
    Brought to america,stored away with the other-sooner collected carpets from this area and piled up to the roof from the so honorable Doris Lesley Blaus and Wovenaccents and Nazmialcollection,Oakparkantiques and many more out there.
    They do not sell exept a very view of any carpets of this area since decades because of their super-phantastic prize charged for the happiness of mental-ill customers.
    For example:
    First they want 16.000 USD and no one buyes ,than they try with 8.000 USD and no one buys ,than they starting to become sane and whant 3.000 UDS and still no one buyes them and if they would become a little more sane and would want 1,500 USD still there would be hardly to find someone who would accept the prize. Even if they -as they themself think- ‘give away’ these rugs ‘ for nothing’ and charge a 600 USD they will hardly find someone who will accept the prize.
    A so-called worth of 16.000 USD is in reality worth around 2000USD and that is not even the prize our honored carpetdealer has payed himself for it.
    This can be very well seen if one overlooks their customs in a 20 -30 year timespan.
    And now the chinese salesmen themself and the indian carpetsellers became infectet with this greedy and shameless behaviour and try to sell this kind of rugs on ebay or on their own websites to foolish people for astronomical prizes and no one buys them,exept those very view ones who do not know what else to do with their money.
    It seems that to give the impression of a public interrest in these kind of objects they sell these carpets to each other from time to time.
    Doris Lesley Blau for example got also many of their carpets from english collections but these ones are not the matter here.
    Nazmialcollection also became totally irreal and serves as an good example of the above mentioned super-fantastic prize hype and decrease illness.
    These honored houses have manipulated as much as they can, bleached to death,distressed the textiles more than they where allready and so on to make them look more antique and to fool their ‘so admired customers’.
    A good exampe for this is Wovenaccent from california -they charge for an ‘antique khotan rug’ -distressed and bleached to death,worth nearly nothing- around 5000 USD to 14000 USD,which shows how shameless they treat their most valued customers. Valued -of course- just because of the smell of money.
    These after-1880′s -carpets when annilin colours where allready used for decades became increasingly uninteresting to carpet admirers all over the world until now and this can be seen very well if one looks at the interest collectors and carpet admires give to this rugs, which where manipulatively given such an importance and were so overestimatet by clever salesmen who tried their best to infect interior designers,architects, and so on so that they could find a way to make their need for huge profits satisfied.
    That is why they have to give an artificial hype and push to this kind of ‘antiques’
    In fact they have destroyed these rugs nearly.
    and just out of their greed they themself call ‘a nobel art’.
    These honorable carpetsellers do not have any problem with their conscience when taking out huge profits from the pockets of their so-beloved -customers in return for nearly nothing!
    These ‘clever’ businesmen do not sleep well if they cannot charge their at least 20- times-to-high prizes which they pin on these carpets .
    It is very interesting to note that most of these carpets can be purchased in oversee asia or europe or elswhere for a minimum of the price with which these honorable sellers fool their customers.
    For example:
    A carpet in america at Wovenaccents or Nazmialcollection or at Doris Blau will not be sold under 6000.- to 20.000.- USD or even much more and in asia or europe a similar one will cost between 50 – 3000 USD and the prize in asia or europe is so high because they look at the prize set in america and try also to overestimate them to make more profit on them which does not work very well because carpet-lovers do rather spent their money on real worth.
    So they try to get the most profit out of this objects in so-called ‘dumbed down america’.
    And all this is done by good-old tricksters with a nice smile.
    Our american carpet-dealers do not care if no one buys these carpets in a 30 year timespan-they would rather let the carpets be eaten up by the moths than selling them for a normal price and wait like a spider in her web for a custumer to fool them for their money because of the customers lack of knowledge of carpets.
    That is all so because our honored ‘dealers’ which got their rugs from ‘ stealers’
    ‘ value the rugs so much’ that when ever they can they walk on them with their own shoes and just with shoes to ‘increase’ the carpet’s value.
    They think that each time they walk personally on the rugs they become more worth a 1000 USD . And this has to be so because the gods walked on them.
    This custom is practised alot on a wide range of ‘antique rugs’,especially in our country.

    But now we come to the most important point and very sad fact of this story:
    Nor do the people of this terror-shaken area called east turkestan had or have until now benefited in any way from this transfer of their belongings which they themself created with their own hand out of their immens creativity and skill mostly for their own us and also some for the export to eastern china and western countries nor do the customers of our honored carpetdealers benefit in any way from their ‘friendly’ behaviour.
    The only ones who would benefit the most if only they could find enough fools to buy their cheatings would be our honored ‘ fine-art-of-cheating carpetsellers.
    -just give it an smell of originality mixed with a good-selling-story and -that is what they speculate -these carpets also could be sold for astrononical profits,and were sold from time to time.
    It is all done in the name of ‘fine art’ or any other nice-sounding manipulation by consciousless businesmen.
    A carpetseller normaly buys a carpet for the 5th or 6th or even more of the phantastic price he wants from his own customer in return for a carpet.
    It is just a shame what happened with this profession in the course of the last 80 years.
    You give him your carpet and he gives you a little money and the next day the same carpet is worth 15 times more.
    And this is all done by the masters of

    ‘ Making an elephant out of a mouse and making a mouse out of an elephant’
    ‘making-an-elephant-out-of-a-mouse and making-a-mouse-out-of-an-elephant’

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