Sotheby’s New York carpet sale good for all
Sold highlights from 'Carpets & Textiles from Distinguished Collections' at Sotheby’s New York, 31 January 2014
Judith Glass reports: Friday’s auction of 175 Carpets & Textiles from Distinguished Collections at Sotheby’s New York was an extremely successful event with total sales of $3,985,006. This sort of value in a ‘Various Owners’ carpet auction is unprecedented since the most recent recession and with the highest individual lot topping out below $400,000, the sale delivered a feel-good sell-through factor of 80.6% by lot and 89.4% by value.
This was a solid group of generally well-known and well-provenanced lots with realistic estimates from blue-chip collections that attracted collectors, institutions and dealers from around the world. The audience was actively participating in the auction rather than sitting on their paddles and watching a few ‘players’ compete. Several bidders were determinedly competing for pieces that had slipped through their fingers in previous auctions, going back twenty years or more. Traditionally dominant Middle Eastern buyers were surprisingly focused and reserved in their acquisitions.
The mood in the saleroom was positive and lively with aggressive bidding that for once, was not dominated by absentee buyers on the telephone, with a healthy balance of private and trade consumers. As with recent auctions, the top six lots were all ‘Classical’ pieces dating from 1800 or earlier, with the strong prices of yesteryear commanded by 19th century Caucasian and Persian rugs and large scale decorative carpets, but a distant memory.
The exceptional collection of seventeen Azerbaijan embroideries from the Eugene Chesrow Collection in Chicago, performed solidly with sixteen selling in the room and lot 4 selling post auction. Despite lots 1 and 2 making it onto the top ten list at $112,500 and $87,500 respectively, ten of the embroideries sold below estimate and the collection did not perform as well as many had expected.
Although it is always sad to break up such a cohesive and longstanding collection, the buyers’ profile was pleasingly diverse with lot 1 going to a prestigious New York collection, lots 2 and 5 to another important American collector (who also bought lot 143, the Bernheimer ‘Vase’- carpet fragment for $365,000), and lot 121, a northwest Persian Safavid medallion carpet, for $112,500. Five of the embroideries were purchased in the room by a prominent Milanese dealer, another five went to a doggedly determined private buyer, and the remaining three were bought by the European trade, the New York trade, and an anonymous telephone bidder.
Despite being an older collection, the eight early Turkish rugs from the collection of the late Ambassador Burton Yost Berry fared abysmally. None of the higher priced ‘Transylvanians’ found buyers, possibly due to them having been offered for sale to the trade prior to consignment to Sotheby’s, so they were not quite as fresh to the market as they may have appeared.
The large consignment of Kazaks and Turkmen weavings consigned by a well-known ‘Asian Private Collector’ fulfilled most expectations. Outstanding pieces such as lot 56, an ‘Eagle’ Kazak rug, formerly in the Bortz Collection, sold to a leading Milanese dealer for $233,000; lot 78, the superb Salor wing trapping formerly in the Jon Thompson Collection, also went to the Milan trade for $93,750 (£56,887). The three Tekke embroidered asmalyks, lots 60-62, and the superb Tekke ‘animal-tree’ asmalyk, lot 82, were all purchased by a leading Middle Eastern museum.
This same institution won lot 92, the gloriously punchy Von Hirsch northwest Persian garden carpet fragment from the collection of the late Louise Woodhead Feuerstein for $221,000. Despite its rather lacklustre appearance and atypical color, lot 93, the Dubroff Safavid prayer rug, last seen in the same rooms in 1988, was bought against a punchy estimate of $300,000- 500,000 by the same Milanese dealer as the ‘Eagle’ Kazak for $365,000. Exceptional provenance and excellent condition that belied its considerable age drove the bidding for lot 120, the ex-Ballard central (?) Anatolian rug, purchased by an eager European dealer for $125,000.
Bargain of the day may well have been lot 161, a graphic Yarkand carpet from the Robert Hendrikson Collection, picked up by a surprised Milanese dealer for a mere $62,500, having achieved $130,500 in these same rooms in 2002 and being one of a group that continues to command significant sums in the retail market.
Gone are the days of the supersized New York carpet auctions with two hundred or more room-sized decorative carpets routinely making six figure prices. With approximately 30 such pieces in this sale, the resulting sell-through rate was high, but both estimates and purchase prices were remarkably low. The highest price was for lot 175, a Ziegler Mahal carpet, the final offering in this sale. This handsome white-ground, overall design twenty-foot long ‘blonde’ is of the type that was, until recently, the belle of the carpet market ball. Having been purchased by Robert Hendrikson at Christie’s in London in April 2006 for $121,870, it was resold for a mere $37,500 – a dramatic illustration of the downward trajectory in the decorative market.
All in all this was a most lucrative day for consigners, buyers and auction house alike. Several distinguished collections were extinguished and we must hope that some good old orphans have found suitably nurturing homes.