A day in the life of a Rug Dealer

The week did not start out well. A long drive to a so-called stately home in the country gave me plenty of time to ponder the possibilities. The Livingstone Family estate sale at Megaw & Hogg. The big house in Adelaide with a collection of William Morris designed carpets made at Killybegs in County Donegal a century ago. Was there also an Alexander Morton as well as some Voysey large drapes? The just down the road an elderly lady had covered the guest beds in Central Asian Suzani (large scale embroideries). To obtain the former, one should run the gauntlet of the English trade and the latter requires drilling the Arasta Bazaar in the Sultanahmet quarter of Istanbul!
The rain came down in buckets and reduced the safe speed to a crawl. The stately home had been refurbished in the 1970’s – and it showed. The carpets showcased perfectly the profligacy of the period: Central Persian Qum silks with garish turquoises and weird mushroom pinks. One has come to accept aberrations in small sizes but room-sized examples are now worth an even smaller fraction of their original value. Down the hall, and into another large, cold room. A giant, (and at first sight), handsome, Esfahan carpet in typical central medallion and quarters style, but with the vicious bleeding-dye maroons and chocolates of the period.

Back down the hall: was that an early, circa 1830 Cedar Clothes Press? And into the bedrooms each with what must be one of the worst types of rug ever made: a colourless dry wool Turkish Kazak clipped to ape the corroded blacks of true antiques. By this time I was beginning to question my own sanity, and tiredness drove me out of the house and back into the storm.
The Tape loop of a bad experience is playing in my head: the answer to the question “was the house furnished when you moved in?” was “Those old carpets were so dusty and worn and we didn’t really like them and those heavy drapes and old fashioned furnishings – we threw the lot out. Some went to the local second hand dealer”. Twenty-five years ago! Just another little Baghdad Museum moment, another little Buddhas of Bamiyan, lowering the aggregate stock of the planet.
Back home the following day and a call from Charles in Caboulture. Some Persian, Turkish and Afghan rugs. Age? “Oh yes quite old I bought them from so-and-so.” (who wouldn’t know an antique rug if he fell over it). The clincher was the reason for the fire sale of these 12 rugs: he is going sailing. If ever there was a group of modern day Philistines. Poor quality generalisations and only two days into the week and things weren’t getting any better.
Next day a prospective customer asks for a plain green rug. And the size? Square, of course, negativity is becoming second nature. Oriental Carpets are rarely green, rarely square and never plain and certainly never all three unless they are especially made that way to the occidental taste. So I apologetically explain this and am told curtly “well they should be!”
Finally towards the end of the week a customer who is not at all knowledgeable wants to buy the two Ghoris that had been languishing at the back of the shop. Made by sub-groups of the Taimani in Central and West Afghanistan they are referred to by New Yorkers as the ‘Kazaks of Today’ with their spontaneous, friendly elementality and unsual use of undyed wool shades. Strangely, a prominent member of the UK trade recently saw them for the first time on a visit here and had never head of the type. Frogs and Ponds!
Then the complete intuitive novice cuts to the heart by sheer talent, untainted and direct. I am beaming, over glad for her with her two Ghoris and then her friend is attracted to the primitive Djulykhirs woven like, and called literally, “Bearskins”. They are the nearest things to a Mark Rothko canvas; (see The Chapel) ; powerful and metaphysically brooding, the technique pre dates actual knotted pile in the history of weaving.
So by the end of the week I had sold a few things, gained some new talented customers and rejoiced in restored faith for this wonderful aesthetic world.
And the Cedar Clothes Press? Well that’s another story.