Stamenic’s Antique Carpet Ride

By Mark Jaffe

Zoran Stamenic’s grandfather was a woolmonger and carter in a small Serbian town near Belgrade. His grandparents’ home was filled with interesting textiles and rugs. “I remember as a boy just lying on the carpet fascinated by the patterns,” said Stamenic, WorthPoint’s expert on antique and collectible carpets and textiles. “It was always something I was aware of, part of life.”

In 1975, Stamenic came to the United States as a student in film and television production at American University in Washington, D.C., and while he had a varied film and TV career—including working for outlets such as CNN—his interest in rugs and tribal tapestries continued to grow. “Textiles were a side interest,” he said, “but as is the case with so many collectors, what started as a hobby turned into a business.” Today, Stamenic is owner of Fairfax, Va.-based Tribal Oriental Rugs and Textiles.

There are two rug and textiles markets: a collectibles market and a decorative market, although the border between the two isn’t always sharp. Sometimes a rug is for the wall and sometimes for the floor.

Collectors go small

“Collectors tend to focus on small textile pieces and small rugs,” Stamenic said. “When you get to the large antique carpets, you are dealing with decorative carpets used in interior design.”

Small textile pieces don’t necessarily come with small prices. A 1-foot-by-1-foot, 19th-century Shahsavan saddlebag can sell for $20,000, Stamenic said.

It was the Altaic nomads who spread their technique for making carpets from China through Tibet, the Caucuses, Iran and the Middle East. But each culture took that technique and made it its own. “The designs grew out of the soil,” Stamenic said. “A carpet is an empowered object. It has the charge of its culture.”

There are three different sources for oriental carpets and textiles—the tribe, the village and the shop or studio. Tribal carpets—smaller, made for everyday use and display—are prized by collectors. “These may be intricate or rough, but they are always very individual and creative,” Stamenic said.

It takes a village . . .

The village carpets were made by families in hamlets around major rug-trading centers, such as Tabriz in Iran or Konya in Turkey. While artisanal, these rugs, unlike the tribal rugs made for personal use, were made for the market.

Bakshaish village rug

Bakshaish village rug

This rare, 19th-century Bakshaish village rug was valued at $6,000-$7,000. It was meticulously restored in Turkey prior to the sale. This picture shows what it looked like before the restoration.

Finally, there are the shop or studio rugs made by professionals in the big-market centers, like Teheran and Istanbul. While these rugs are designed in a regional style, they will be “more an expression of an individual,” using dyes made and wool spun somewhere else, Stamenic said. “These carpets have the least ethnographic value,” he explained.

Rugs and carpets are still being made in these regions today, but the work, detail and color doesn’t compare with the carpets of the 19th century and earlier. “There has been a movement to return to the old vegetable dyes and handspun wool, so the carpets now are an improvement over what they were 20 years ago,” Stamenic said, “but its remains the antique pieces that are valued by collectors and sought after by interior designers.”

The prices reflect the difference in the craft and story of these rugs, according to Stemic. As a very rough guide, a 4-foot-by-6-foot antique tribal piece can cost $5,000 to $10,000, a comparable village rug will fetch $3,000 to $4,000 and a shop piece $5,000 to $6,000. The price on a brand new, 4-foot-by-6-foot, handmade rug, using the better vegetable dyes, is about $800.

Judging rugs

And how does one judge a rug? Well, there is the technical part of the craft, like the number of knots, but Stamenic counsels that in the first instance it is a question of beauty. “Does it grab you?” he asked. The key in that aesthetic decision is color. “They say that in real estate, everything is location, location, location,” Stamenic said. “When it comes to rugs, it is color, color, color. No matter how well a rug is made, if it has an off color, that’s it.”

If a rug has beautiful, clear colors—which start with good dyes—the next element to consider is if the carpet has shining, lustrous wool, then the design and the rug’s condition, Stamenic said.

“You have to do your research,” Stamenic said. “The best way to begin is to make connections with a good dealer who will help guide you through the process.” But one thing a would-be buyer should never do is make a purchase without examining the rug. “Never buy a piece where they require the purchase outright first,” he said.

Do your homework

The magazine HALI, a magazine published in London on antique textiles, is a valuable resource.

There are other resources, including key shows—the New York International Tribal and Textile Arts Show and the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show—and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

For Stamenic, the story behind the rug remains as compelling as the craftsmanship itself. “You look at a 3-foot-by-5-foot Turkeman rug, and it is detailed and exquisite. It may have taken a girl five years to complete as a part of her dowry set. It is more than just a rug. It is an art form that has ties to a larger culture. It is an individual expression, as that girl dreams of what her life may be, and it is an expression of her culture as well.”

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