Friday, December 30, 2016

Tribal Regalia Gold. The Gilbert Collection. By Bruce McLaren

People often ask me where we obtain so many antique rugs. Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 it was possible to simply go to Iran, purchase and return with rugs. Nowadays we need to keep an ear to the ground if there is good merchandise about. There are auctions we attend, ranging from the local auction houses, to the top-of-the-chain auction houses like Christies and Sothebys that employ multiple rug specialists full-time. We bid in these auctions but rarely win because the value of the rugs is so inflated. A rug we sell for $20000 may well fetch $50000 at one of these auctions.

Then there are the estate sales where occasionally you find an antique gem that the owners had been sitting on but didn't know what it was or how much it was worth. Finally, there are the Private Collections, which usually appear for sale when the owner is deceased. This was the case last week when we bought about 50 pieces from the Gilbert Collection.

The Gilbert Collection is named for Dr. Alan Gilbert who was Professor Emeritus of Classics at Duke University. Dr. Gilbert had wide-ranging interests when it came to rugs and textiles, as will be made apparent below. He began his collection in the 1950s, which was a great time to do so as the Middle East was yet to be completely pillaged by antiquarians. The very best pieces in the collection are housed in the Textile Museum in Washington DC. A lot of the collection was donated to the Duke University Art Museum, which consequently sold their part of the collection at a Sotherbys auction.

Still, there was more! Like panthers we pounced, protecting are quarry from other seedy-looking rug merchants. Now, we have our own part of the Gilbert Collection. There are all manner of rugs and textiles, from Uzbek Suzanis to Baluchi Tribal bags to Turkish prayer rugs, to fine fragments of antique kelims. To demonstrate how expansive this collection is I will show you a sample of some of the more impressive pieces.

1. Turkoman Pieces. Turkoman rugs and accouterments are instantly recognizable based on color, weave and design. Nearly always rendered in red with blue and white accents, Turkoman pieces are decorated with guls, tribal markings designating the tribe that made the piece in question. Professor Gilbert definitely fell into that category of "Turkomaniacs" as he had multiple rugs, pillows, bags and other trappings. Perhaps the finest Turkoman piece is the collection is this Torba, or door-hanging, richly woven with intensely colored naturally dyed yarn, dating to the 1880s, in perfect condition, even including the tassels (what are usually the first things to go).

And look at this antique pillow. The colors and design are really very fine.

But perhaps the most remarkable piece is this bag. These bags were hung inside the wall of the tent for storage. The flatweave of the bag is unbelievably fine. The knotted and piled strips are not only finely woven but are also very unusual. This is a classic.

2. Caucasian Rugs. The Caucasus Mountain range which run west to east from the Black Sea to the Caspian, is home to many tribes, some famous for rug-making, perhaps most notably the Kazak. There are different styles of Kazak rugs but some of them are immediately recognizable based on design alone. Just take a look at this "Double Eagle" Kazak, antique and in mint condition. A really fantastic piece.

Another Kazak is shown here on account of how different it is from any other Kazak I have ever seen, a remarkable design with blue as the dominant color.

The most prominent tribe apart from the Kazak are the Karabagh ("Black Garden"). The manner of weaving employed is very similar and only a few tell-tale signs to do with the warp strings separate the two. One of the most famous and desirable Karabaghs is the so-called "Cloud Band", one of which we managed to acquire - antique, distinctive, fair condition, great colors and design.

Also of note is this Talish, a lesser known Caucasian Tribal group in Azerbaijan. This Talish is very distinctive on account of having an open blue field. I for one had never seen a piece like it.

3. Persian Tribal Regalia. We are already beginning to see the wide interest that Professor Gilbert had when it came to collecting textiles. There are naturally all sorts of Persian Tribal paraphernalia included. Here are some examples, beginning with these Qashqai donkey bags.

Here is a Soumak, which is a bit like a Persian kelim, but is sturdier and more textured and akin to brocade or flat-woven pile. These are difficult to find anymore, anywhere, but the one we picked up is a classic.

There are also quite a few tribal mats, perhaps the pick being this Luri mat from Luristan in the east of Iran.

4. Turkish Rugs. I had mentioned in the introduction that the collection included Turkish pieces. Here I will show you two of the best. An absolutely cracking antique kelim with perfect colors and no blemishes.

Also of note is this Turkish Yastik, made using the classic Turkish Oushak color scheme.

So there you have it people, lots of Tribal Gold on the premises!


  1. I bet Prof. Gilbert had a few tales to tell to go with his magnificent collection!

  2. Great Blog!! That was amazing. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome.

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  3. Wonderful post! I saw all of the Gilbert Collection. Caucasian Rugs, Persian Tribal Regalia, and Kazaks pieces are absolutely fabulous, unique, and great mixture of colors.

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