Friday, March 28, 2014

The Good Stuff #1. An Antique Persian Bidjar. By Bruce McLaren

This is the first in a series of blogs about some of the more exotic and rare carpets that we have here in the store. First up, this extremely nice and collectable Persian Bidjar.

1920's Persian Bidjar

To quote that great wordsmith and poet, Meatloaf:

I know you're looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks,
But there ain't no coupe de ville,
Hiding at the bottom of a cracker-jack box...

Well, it is a bit like that when it comes to oriental rugs. There are a lot of them out there but you have to search high and low to find the good stuff. Fortunately, over the past 40 odd years we have accumulated some gems when it comes to Persian Carpets. First off the bat is this 9x12 foot Bidjar from the 1920s, all vegetal dyed and in immaculate condition. This sort of rug sells in the $20000 range.

But hang on a minute. Where is Bidjar? Bidjar is a city of 50000 people in Kurdistan Province in northwestern Iran. The tern "Bidjar" actually means "city" in Kurdish, which most likely explains the origin of the name. 

Location of Bidjar
Bidjars are often referred to as "iron rugs" due to their firm construction. This is due to the weft being compressed using iron combs which are run between the warp strands and hammered down tight. Occasionally even three wefts are also used in this process, making for a sturdier rug, yet two wefts is the norm. On top of this, the weft strands were often put into place when damp, which further strengthened the rug.

Bidjars are made using the typical Turkish knot, illustrated here...

The Turkish Knot
Here are some closeups of the back of our Bidjar...

Now one may be forgiven for asking "what are Kurds doing using a Turkish Knot"? Well, it's a valid question. The answer is most likely found in that traditionally the eastern part of Kurdistan has been ruled by Turkish chieftains who required carpets made according to their own traditions - using the double-weft and the Turkish knot. It is of no small interest that the construction of a Bidjar is exactly the same as that seen in Ushak Carpets from Western Turkey.

Bidjar Carpets usually have a knot count of 50 to 100 knots per square inch. Our Bidjar here has a count of around 130 knots per square inch and is finer than usual and more rare. High detail in design is dependent upon a high knot count.This feature is seen in the detail of the central medallion.... 

And also in some of the border design elements...

As with most things when it comes to Persian Carpets, the key to the origin of the piece is found in the construction rather than the design. This is never more true than with a Bidjar, which has utilised most common designs in the past few hundred years. That being said, some design motifs appear more commonly than others.

The most common motif is that seen throughout the field of our Bidjar, a small diamond shaped design known as a Herati.

As you may tell from the name the Herati is thought to have originated in the vicinity of Herat in western Afghanistan. Here it is in closeup.

So there you have it. If you feel the need for an (almost) antique collectible Bidjar then simply call me. It's easy...

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Little Bit Of Afghanistan In North Carolina...By Bruce McLaren

I caught this morning, mornings minion
Daylights dappled dauphin, blah, blah, blah,
As one of those insipid English poets of yesteryear once wrote...

Let me simply say that I woke up this morning and it was a good one. And not only because I had the good fortune to wake up. It was actually really quite a pretty day.

I drove to work, whistling away, wondering what this day may bring. Life in the Rug Trade can be exciting and unpredictable, a bit like life in the Drug Trade but without the danger. Who knew what mysteries lay in wait?

Most often, if one wishes to pursue this most oriental of activities, one must go to Asia in order to purchase rugs at a fair price, cut out the middle man, go straight to the source, so on and so on. Yet every now and then it is the other way around, with Asia coming to you. Occasionally Muhammad doesn't have to go to the mountain after all...

Thus it was as I pulled up to work to discover a large yellow truck parked out front. Two dark-haired gentlemen emerged from the cab and introduced themselves.

"We have rugs to show you, Peshawar style, from Afghanistan".

I studied their faces, these two men of the east, and detected the Asiatic features found in the Kazakh. These were no Sunni Pashtuns. Indeed, if Pashtuns were around knives would be drawn, for these were Turkmen, from the northern borders of Afghanistan, from Kunduz. They were of Central Asian stock, true and proper, and like many of their kind are also to found in the Afghan Mountains.

"Sirs", I exclaimed. "How did you get here from such far-flung shores? Did you come here on Bactrian camels?

"Alas" they replied. "We are merchants and traders, this is true, but in this unromantic and mechanical age we must drive in this rented Penske truck. No longer do we traverse rolling and majestic expanses beneath the glittering empyrean. Instead, we driver this from city to city on the Interstate System, a soul-killing network of endless traffic put in place thanks to President Eisenhouer. Such is the life of the travelling rug merchant in America. We drive from town to town to show and sell out wares. We have driven here from Bedford, Massachusetts.

"Well!" I said. "You are some remarkably loquacious gents. So what is in the truck then, oh Shamen of Scythia? Bust it open baby!"

I stood aback with a gasp, for never before had I seen a truck so loaded with booty, a veritable caravan of rugs appeared before me. Before you could say Zoroastrianisam we were up in the truck and rifling through the goods.

Doug makes a cursory survey while Jan Ali looks on with Hazara stealth
The grand sultan of the shop, Professor Doug, came out a take a look, pointing at the rugs with bona fide authority. We lesser minions ran hither and non, while Jan Ali looked on from a distance at these gentlemen from Kunduz, a mere 100 miles from his own home in Mazar-i-Sharif.

"Small world hey Jan?' I said as I gave him a slap on the back. Jan remained as inscrutable as the sphinx and drew on his cigarillio. Chinngis Khan with style, that's our Jan Ali.

Selection are made.
From Kunduz to Chapel Hill.
In due course a selection was made and the possibilities were laid out in the car park. Hushed discussions were had about quality and weave and color, what we needed and what we didn't. The flaws were pointed out. They had many Kazakh carpets from Lahore, but of a lower knot density than the ones we already have. As we speak of such things these chaps become aware that we are no mugs. We point out the rugs with bad colors so that they can take this information back to Afghanistan. They are very grateful for they are trying to get inside the head of the average American and having difficulty abandoning the somewhat more lurid colors that typify Persian and Central Asian tastes.

Potential selections laid out for review.
We pick out some runners, a formal 10x14, and a large round rug. Rounds rugs are difficult to come by so if we find a good looking one we usually buy it. They also have a bunch of new Baluchi rugs, which have all of the classic Baluchi colors but just look brand new and lack the character of the old ones.

Now, it comes to the crucial moment of talking shop. How much does this all cost? How much for this weave? How much for that weave? Everything is priced by the square foot. Their prices are reasonable but the quality is only so-so. Still, it is a lot cheaper than flying over there yourself, when instead someone has brought it to your door.

The Afghans state a price. Professor Doug does the math. Hang on a minute, there is a discrepancy here. His square footage differs from theirs. Someone has done their sums incorrectly. Tut tut...But the problem is easily spotted. It is the round rug. They have calculated 10x10ft, whereas Doug has only calculated the area of the circle, which, as we all know is pie-r-squared. No one will back down. Oh-oh.

Professor Doug throws out a price for the lot, "take it or leave it"!

But they can't do it. His price is too low for them. They start packing up. Doug heads inside. He knows their game and figures that they will go away for a while and then return. It is all part of the psychology of the haggling game..

Cynthia asks about the rugs. It seems a shame to just let them leave if they are right here right now and some of them are nice rugs. Surely we can just do a deal. She strides out with purpose. The rugs are unloaded again. Decisions are made, terms are negotiated, deals are done. Business in action! America is on the move...

This all calls for tea! Come inside, my friends, and sit down on this warm Spring day. Iced tea for you.

We have come across some very nice rugs from Afghanistan but they are extremely expensive. They look great but price themselves out of the market. We show them to the Afghans.

"These are not Afghan. They are from Lahore. You can see by the knot".

Incredible to think, is it not, that these men know the actual manufacturer of these pieces, out of the hundreds upon hundreds of manufacturers from Afghanistan to Pakistan to India. He will get us in touch with the right person, we will go direct to the source and then will be in business. That's how it's done!

But now for a further surprise. Professor Doug pulls out a very old Uzbeki rug, a Turkoman from the middle reaches of the Oxus River, the modern day Amu-Darya. It is old alright, mid 1800s. Yes, it is in poor shape but it has all of the old colors, with yellows and blues, that you don't find in yourger pieces.

This rug is from my neck of the woods.
Does our Afghan friend know the right person to reproduce this rug using vegetable dyes over in Afghanistan? This is a classic design and if done right then we would sell some for sure. There are lots of "Turkomaniacs" out there...

Of course he does! In the blink of an eye the antique piece is rolled up, wrapped and goes out the door with him, on it's way to Afghanistan.

So went the first hour of my day at work, in the thrust and parry of the oriental carpet business...