In 1936 the Lidchi family emigrated into South Africa from Paris, France, bringing with them wealth of experience spanning generations, in trading what is possibly the oldest art form known to mankind – the art of knotting and weaving carpets and rugs.
Although exact records of the genesis of this magical art are lost in the mists of history, one surprisingly sophisticated rug found in a burial mound in Siberia has been carbon dated to around 500 B.C. – showing that the art must have already been centuries older as far back as 2500 years ago.
For over 15 centuries, fine handmade Persian & other Oriental rugs and carpets have been prized and loved, not only in the East, but increasingly in the West as the ultimate in floor art and decoration for royalty and the nobility – and since the 19th century, by anyone of means and taste.
A lot has obviously changed since Mr Lidchi snr set up shop in Johannesburg 82 years ago. In today’s world the finer and more exceptional rugs and carpets are actually considered as potential assets for storing monetary value; and a masterpiece can fetch hundreds of thousands of Rand or even millions! Of course, as with paintings – or any other hard asset, there are no guarantees of future worth as demand, fashion and tastes evolve causing fluctuations in the value thereof.
In an illuminating conversation, with the erudite Mr Victor Lidchi, a third generation carpet and rugs dealer and aficionado who founded the self named VICTOR LIDCHI fine rugs and carpets store, I got to learn more about the fascinating world of hand crafted rugs and carpets. Victor (as he insists on being called) started sharing his vast knowledge by explaining the distinction between handmade rugs and carpets versus machine made ones. Whilst there may not be an obvious difference to an untrained eye like mine, Victor explains that like any human and hand art, (whether painting or sculpture) hand-crafted rugs carry the “soul” and personality of the artist/weaver. They have slight “imperfections” in both side and fringe ends, as well as subtle colour and design “variations” which distinguish them from “machine-perfect” copies.
Besides being imperfect, every single hand crafted rug or carpet is unique in that there is no other exactly like it, whereas it is possible to churn out volumes of identical pieces using a machine.
Lamentably, the art of hand crafting rugs and carpets has been fast declining for several decades now, what with industrialisation, computerisation and westernisation in fabled lands like Persia (Iran), Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan amongst others. This has only accelerated with the advent of the digital era, causing Victor and other experts to believe it will practically die out within one or two generations. The only conceivable upside to this, is the fact that as handmade rugs and carpets become scarce (due to declining production) we can expect the better and best examples still available today to become more prized and potentially more valuable.
Victor emphasises investment worth should not be the main reason for acquiring these articles of seductive designs, gorgeous colours and textures. Investments of any form are never guaranteed anyway. Above all, these should be primarily appreciated for being part of fine tasteful living. Handmade rugs and carpets outlive fleeting fashion – they represent timeless style – whether traditional, contemporary or eclectic.
The Persian Empire which is modern day Iran is historically the most reputed geographical producer of some of the finest handmade pieces, hence the popularity of Persian rugs. Features such as colours and patterns can be used by the expert eye to determine the origins of a particular rug or carpet. In its purest form, crafting a Persian carpet by hand can take as long as 2 years. This is clearly a labour of love, skill and patience.
You see the thing about machines and technology is that not only do they make the production process more efficient but they denude the rug of its soul and also “the passion of the maker who is telling stories in patterns and colours that go back to antiquity” as Victor eloquently put it.
Now fully engrossed in the conversation I point out to Victor that this is all good and well but handmade made rugs and carpets are not exactly most people’s idea of affordable. He reassuringly responded by explaining that there is a spectrum of pricing grades ranging from museum master pieces which can be priceless, to collector pieces, as well as decent grade contemporary affordable pieces. What is of utmost importance is that in every price range, a rug must be a beautiful and a selected example in that price range.
The energetic and engaging semi-retiree routinely hosts existing and potential clients to exclusive and interactive presentations over wine and finger foods, in which he speaks informally about the fascinating world of rugs and carpets. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending one of these at the self named VICTOR LIDCHI carpets and rugs store in Dunkeld, and what an amazing experience it was!
Whether you are into eclectic, ultra-modern, or traditional, a beautiful quality rug is at a minimum worth a thought for any self-respecting gentleman.