David Weiss: Oriental Rugs and the Art Market

On April 30, 2011, David Weiss

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning Program on April 30, 2011 on the subject of “Oriental Rugs and the Art Market.” 

David is well-qualified to speak on such things since he is Vice President and Senior Specialist at Freeman’s Auctions in Philadelphia, the oldest auction house in the U.S.  David is also an expert appraiser of U.S painting and you may have seen him on the television program Antique Roadshow.    He was accompanied and assisted by his Freeman’s associate, Richard Cervantes.


The Myers Room was full.

We usually do not treat dollar value of the pieces we see and discuss in The Textile Museum, but for this session, that prohibition was relaxed somewhat, so that David could talk about how they saw particular pieces and decided on what range of value to place on them in the auction estimates.  In general, David’s strategy is to place quite low estimates on pieces offered at auction, since the primary objective is to have them sell.  If the seller is agreeable, that estimate strategy encourages the greatest number of bidders.

In this post, we are able to go a little further.  These rugs were sold in auctions that occurred after this program was given, but which have been completed now.  David and Richard have provided us with the “hammer” price for which each piece sold.  We can watch to see how David’s low estimate strategy worked out.

The first piece shown was described as Kurdish from Northeast Iran.


(Pieces were often displayed by hanging them over the top of the front board and so “all edges” comprehensive shots were not always possible)

This was described as likely from the  Quchan area.  It is mildly worn, with some oxidized areas.  The border design echoes the “beetle” bags.  It feels Kurdish.  The estimate placed on it was $1200 – 2000.

Hammer price: $2700

Here are some details of this rug.





The second rug moved us to NW Iran.


This rug was described as a “Malayer-Saruk,” because of its symmetric knots.  It has a single pick of weft between rows of knots.   Some might say “Ferahan-Saruk.”  Its estimate was $1000 – 1500.

Hammer price: $3500.

Again, some detail images.




D2 back

The next piece was a long, Malayer runner.  16 ‘ x 4’.

Its field design is taken from a “Garrus” border.


Its own borders are less distinctive.


Its estimate was $1500 – 2000.

Hammer price: $2400


The next piece was this small Senneh mat.


It is single-wefted and finely woven.  Estimated ca. 1900.  Auction result estimate: $1000 – 1500.

Hammer price: $850 (as part of a group lot)

Here are some details of it.






Here is its back.


The next rug was described as a Kurd Karabagh.


It is estimated to have been woven 1900-1920 in NW Iran.  Its “star” design was noted.  Its auction estimate was $1000 – 1500.

Hammer price: $1700

Here are some additional details of this piece.







David said that the next rug was a Kazak from a private collection in Pennsylvania.


It has a near “mat” size and its condition is not good.  It has red wefts and reddish corded selvedges.  It “tomato paste” red has faded.  It was estimated to have been woven about 1880.

Estimate. as part of a group lot with two other rugs: $200-400.

Hammer price: $750 (as part of this group lot)

Here are some detail images of this piece.


There was mention in the room that the particular abstraction of the border design was unusual.




Here is a look at its back.



The next piece was another Caucasian Kazak, this time of the Moghan design variety.


The rug has a nice square size and exhibits two large Memling guls,  pronounced abrash and modest wear.  David estimated that it was woven in the late 19th century.

Hammer price: $1100

Here are some details of it.





The next rug also featured Memling guls.


Another Kazak type, it has good proportions.  David estimated it to have been woven in the late 19th century.  Its auction estimate was $1500 – 2500.

Hammer price: $2400

Here are some detail images of this piece.






Here is its back.

The next rug was still another Kazak, this time with a classic “Bordjalu” re-entrant niche design.


The center instrumentation of the two diamond-shaped guls in the field is unusual.  The size and the borders are typical Kazak usages.  David estimated that this rug was woven about 1875.  Its auction estimate was $2500 – 4000.

Hammer price: $ $2400

Here are some detail images of this piece.






The next rug was a very interesting Shirvan.


The rug, compartmentalized, figural, pictorial, and densely populated, is one of the most unusual Shirvans most of us have seen.

This is a rug that merits detail images.



It was noted in the room that some of the compartments have triangular “indentions” (in truth they move “in” on one compartment and “out” on the neighboring one(s)).


David noted that the naive drawing of the people and clothing resembles some usages in Amish crafts in rural areas not far from Philadelphia.



It was noted that there are camels and lions in this rug, something seen to suggest Persian influence.

There seems little doubt that this piece was woven without reference to a cartoon.

The auction estimate was $2000 – 3000.

Hammer price: $3000

The next rug was another Caucasian with recognizable design features.


This rug exhibits a classic Avar design.  The Avars are a Sunni ethnic group in Daghestan in the Caucasus.  Comment in the room indicated that the colors of this piece are typical, including some use of synthetic dyes.  David said that the design derives from palmettes in 18th century “blossom” carpets.

As you can see, this rug has condition problems.  Its auction estimate was set at $1000.

Hammer price: $1700

Here are some closer details of it.





David said that aspects of the next rug excite him, but that he has not been able to date to get many others to join him in his enthusiasm.


This rug was described as an Afshan Karabagh, from the eastern Caucasus.  It is 6′ x 5.5′ and has a “blanket-like” handle.  It has both symmetric and asymmetric knots in its structure.

David dates it to 19th century, possibly earlier.  Its auction estimate is $2000 to $4000.

Hammer price: $5500

Here are some detail of this rug.






The next piece was a panel of Uzbek flatweave.


Its auction estimate is $800 – 1000.

Withdrawn from sale.

Here are some closer detail images.





The next piece was small, Yomut Turkmen and in pile.


This little piece is a “spindle bag.”  It would have been folded on its vertical axis here and sewn up the side.  Most readers will know that one oddity of such bags is that the warps run horizontal in relation to the design. 

It was withdrawn from sale.

Here are two details of this piece.




The next rug was a sizable Turkman main carpet.


This is the sort of piece that has traditionally been attributed to more settled Turkmen weavers under the heading of “Beshiri,” and, in truth, that usage, like the term “Ersari,” is very much in use. 

But the scholarship has moved a little and the preferred designation now is “Middle Amu Dyra” a section of that river in which a wide variety of tribes lived and though which, even more, passed.  The contents of “Middle Amu Dyra” is beginning to be defined, but there is much work to do.

As you can see, this rug has some areas with condition problems.  It is dated to the late 19th century.

Hammer price: $1200

Here are some details of this rug.


The designs and drawing are dense, precise and traditional.



Here is its back.


The next piece was an interesting, old long rug in poor condition.


In the room, it was accepted, without noticeable dissent, that this piece was probably woven in eastern Turkey.  Subsequently, some students of this area have suggested that it is not Anatolian, but more likely a species of Kurdish weaving in NW Iran.

This rug is estimated to have been woven in the early 19th century and perhaps before that.  It has a lot of what was seen as a good purple and there are two greens.

Hammer price: $2400

I am going to let you look around this rug with several detail images.







Here’s a look at its back.

Eiland and Eiland distinguish four types of samplers (vagirehs).  1) ones from which an entire rug could be woven; 2) ones showing a variety of field and borders available, without, necessarily, including all those required for a complete rug; 3) ones that may exhibit designs, but which are primarily designed to show texture and colors (Zeigler made many such samplers); and 4) those that indicate only colors that are available.

David’s next piece was a sampler of this last sort.  This one is for a Chinese rug.  The auction estimate was less than $500.


Hammer price: $200

Here is the back of this sampler.


Next were two Chinese mats.  Here is the first one.  It was described as  a “seating” mat.


Both this piece and its mate, which follows, were attributed to Ningsia in the 19th century.

It was noted in the room that this piece has “eccentric” knotting in its borders.  This term is a global usage referring to several knotting practices that the Chinese use, often to achieve curvilinear designs in fairly coarse rugs.  These knotting variations from the usual practice of knots arranged in columns each on two warps, include “offset knotting,” “stacked knots, “half” knots, and “overlapping half knots.

You can see signs of such “eccentric” knotting in some of the detail images below.





Hammer price on D18: $5000 (as part of a two-piece group lot that also included D19 below)

A second Chinese mat was this one.  As yu can see it features dragon designs.


“Eccentric” knotting is also visible in its border usages.

Here are some closer detail images.




The next rug was a larger one, and for some, the “star” of the morning.


This is a rug described as likely woven in Kansu in western China.   The medallions in such rugs can either be inside compartments (called “coffers”) or simply be placed on the rug’s field.  This instance seems to be of the “uncoffered” variety.

Hammer price: $26,000

This, too, is a rug worth some detail images.


Again, the knotting variations described in the room as “eccentric knotting” is visible.





Here is the back.


We ended with two East Turkestan safs. 

This is an area in which Hans Bidder’s indications are interesting.  He makes a controversial argument that “prayer” niche designs (in general) do not, he thinks, originate in Islamic “architectural” sources. 

Bidder sees “prayer” niche designs as more likely sourced in the character and decorations associated with  pre-Islamic, pre-Christian, shamanistic burial cults and tombs. 

He also seems to argue that the pile wool saf form became prevalent in east Turkestan during Yaqub Beg’s fanatically repressive Islamic rule (1862-75) and that it stopped being woven there when his regime came to an end and the Chinese took over.

 The first of these two safs was this one.


(Again we are not seeing the entire length of these two pieces, since they were hung over the top of the front board.

I have turned this image 45 degrees to show this piece with its its niches pointing up.)

This piece has at least eight and perhaps more niched compartments.  David estimates that it was woven in the early 19th century.

Here are some details most of the visible niches in this rug.


One test of whether a piece with a saf design was intended for actual use in prayer is whether the individual niches are large enough to permit an adult to pray on them.  The individual niches on these two safs were.





Hammer price on D21: $17,000

The second of these two safs had better color.


Again, the image above is one in which I have turned 45 degrees a photo taken of this piece thrown over the top of the front board.

Here are closer details of most of the visible individual niche-topped compartments.









Hammer price on D22: $30,000

David took questions

and brought the session to an end.

There was vigorous movement forward, to get hands on some of this interesting material.

The gentleman in the striped shirt, below, liked the unusual pictorial Shirvan rug.

I encouraged him to hold it up.

He did, trying to hide his face, but I had already “blown his cover.”

I want to thank David and his Freeman colleague, Richard, for this interesting program and for being willing to have this virtual version of it produced.  Thanks is also due to them for very real assistance in the editing of this post, and for providing the “hammer” prices subsequently realized for these pieces.

David was concerned when he was initially invited to give this session, that the “luck of the draw” with regard to what he might have submitted for auction, might not support a sufficiently interesting program.  But I think you will agree that things turned out very well indeed.  The material was interesting and we got a look at the “hammer results” of David’s” low estimates” strategy.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of another interesting Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

‘Til next time,

R. John Howe


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