A Letter from Anatolia: Part I - Istanbul
Celebrating my 64th trip along the Silk Route
by Saul Yale Barodofsky
It's been several years since I've written about the Turkish rug scene.
When I visited Turkey this October, I discovered a number of changes worth noting.
Wither the Grand Bazaar?
ne change is that the focus of the carpet business has shifted away from the Grand Bazaar
and Nuruosmaniye Cadessi (i.e. Street).
Many dealers remain but cafes and souvenir shops have displaced a
number of the carpet shops. Some old friends have left the business,
and others have moved out of the Grand Bazaar, opening show rooms in
the general area. There are even empty and boarded up spaces along Nuruosmaniye Cadessi.
Who would ever have thought. It's like seeing Gucci shuttered up on Rodeo Road in Beverly Hills.
Where are the Buyers?
A second change is that the market is hungry for buyers.
The number of tourists in Turkey fluctuates but there has been a
clear drop in those who buy rugs. This should be good news for buyers, meaning lower prices.
Yet the price of old and interesting pieces has risen dramatically.
Many foreign dealer-collectors have found prices in Istanbul higher than they are comfortable paying.
This possibly follows the old Turkish saying: "A stone is heaviest where it sits."
In this case, it is the weight of the local economy that sits atop the stone.
Where are the Rugs?
The high prices attached to collectible pieces perhaps reflect a dwindling supply.
The glory days of the textile exodus from Russia are over.
And, to make things even more interesting, dealers from Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are
traveling to Istanbul to buy back the very same rugs that they sold to
Turkish dealers only a few years ago.
This is not to say that there are no more great rugs, nor great finds in Turkey. I was there in October/November, and was very lucky. I did have to work harder than usual,
and put in more miles (so to speak) to accomplish what used to be a pleasure trip.
Perhaps the best way of describing the difference is that there used to be
(even as recently as last year) piles of old and interesting pieces to choose from.
Now there are memories and a few good pieces scattered here and there.
If the market for older pieces is becoming tougher, what does the future hold for
the rug industry in Istanbul? The answer might be new production carpets and kilims.
New pieces made with vegetable dyes and hand spun wool are getting better and better.
Turkish dealers are ranging far and wide seeking cheaper labor - India, China,
Azerbaijan. Carpets, sumacs, and kilims are woven by cheap local labor, sometimes
using wool imported from Turkey. These lower labor costs translate into lower prices
and enhanced saleability
The craftsmanship can be excellent.
In Azerbaijan the materials and designs are local and even good enough to fool the experts.
There is the well known example of a major collector dealer who was fooled
into spending $50,000 for a newly made Caucasian carpet.
Some of the pieces I saw were so well done that I was tempted to place them in my own home.
With the danger and turmoil in Pakistan and Afghanistan, more eyes return to Turkey.
Local hotel and food prices remain inexpensive, and Turkey is still easy, hospitable, safe, and fun.
Enjoy the hunt.