This post started as a simple friendly response to a common question, and turned into personal rant that is a bit harsh. As is said “If you aren’t offending someone, you’re not doing it right”, so here it is, semi-edited for content. Enjoy!
Answers on request….
I was recently asked (by an unnamed associate**) to answer this question posed by the creator of the Friends of RugMark Group on Facebook (Click me for the link…If you’re on Facebook):
“Does anyone have expertise whom can offer the advantages to buying antique, vs semi-antique. vs contemporary pieces in regard to work equity and forced labor? It is difficult to determine as a layman.”
I was honoured to be thought of as apparently possessing this exact expertise! Furthermore, having been recently influenced by an episode of the popular television program “House”, I find myself missing the part of the brain that would normally filter what I am about to write, so the answer is:
Technically the answer to the question is simply: Yes. But I digress…
The primary advantage of purchasing a contemporary carpet (as it relates to this question), particularly one whose provenance is without question, is that you can eliminate any uncertainty regarding work equity and forced labour. One such way of assuring there is no forced or illegal labour is of course by purchasing a RugMark labeled carpet, being cognizant that detractors of RugMark will argue their system is not perfect and indeed no system is. The other way to assure yourself (with 100% certainty) is to weave a carpet yourself.
In an antique carpet you have no such guarantee or assurance. Given the age of an antique carpet (100 years plus) however, we must factor in appreciation of an object that has survived for such a period, and the related benefits of reuse and preservation (both as an object of value and of artistic merit) when purchasing such a carpet.
Take for instance an exaggerated example of the great pyramids. These were without doubt made using slave labour, yet we as a society still choose to appreciate their grandeur. At the same time, we no longer use forced labour in construction (as a generalization) and as an individual you can assure none is used in the construction of the project with which you are involved. (Perhaps by building it yourself?) The point is obviously that as society progresses, expectations and acceptable practices change.
Returning then to carpets. Was the antique carpet made with what we would now consider unethical labour practices? Yes. No. Maybe. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Is it still worthy of appreciation? That is for the eye of the beholder to answer, but in all likelihood it should be appreciated. There is no way of knowing for certain what labour conditions (or any other) were like when the carpet was made (the point of “not knowing” is commonly made by respected, as of yet, unnamed** authorities on the past), but at the same time we need to consider that during the time it was made, the practices may have been widely accepted. This is of course contrasted with the use of illegal and forced labour now, when there is wide agreement that it is not acceptable to use such labour. To make a long story short (too late): That was then and this is now. Applying our current thoughts is anachronistic and thus not applicable. So, the answer is not as easy as black and white. I would advise primarily that you trust the dealer from whom you purchase and ask many questions. If they are not willing to engage in active and straightforward dialog and/or you aren’t comfortable, do not purchase from them.
And I just cannot resist, while I’m at it…
As I was reading the aforementioned question, I was struck by several things the author of which writes, both in the question itself and in other places on the Facebook group.
1) “Semi-antique” Right or wrong I hate, hate, hate this term. Have I used it in the past? Yes, when I was a much younger, a more naive man, and my employer strongly sanctioned its use. I’m at least 1% wiser now, and admit this was a “youthful transgression” (among others), and no longer subscribe to its use. Actually, I will go further to say it should not be used. This is a ploy by salesmen and saleswomen (who may or may not be related to used car salesmen) to lend greater provenance to a potentially otherwise lack luster rug or carpet. What they want to say is that the rug is Old and Used, but not yet old enough to be antique. The problem is that old and used aren’t appealing (as we know from a previous post of on The Ruggist) and are not as valuable, whereas Antique and derivatives thereof seemingly are. It’s the difference between shopping at a thrift store and buying at an auction house, where in theory you could find the exact same item. I think as another birthday approaches I may call myself semi-forty, whatever that is.
2) “How many of us have a really nice rug (or desire a really nice hand knotted rug) but can’t be sure if child labor was utilized to complete the complex knots that only tiny fingers can perform?”
Seriously? Seriously? Where to start? How about with a proof:
Given: Only tiny fingers can complete complex knots.
Given: Really nice rugs (presumably) have complex knots.
And: Children have tiny fingers.
Therefore: Really nice rugs are made with tiny fingers, and thus by children.
So using the statement of “facts” in the question itself, the answer is that you can be sure that only child labour was used. There is no other answer. Now to be fair, I am being a complete and total ass. The major flaw is that the question wants to ask “How to be sure… …about child labour?” and for that, see the long winded answer above, but instead the author makes the assumption that only tiny fingers can make complex (tiny?) knots, and thus the answer can only be as above.
Continuing, there is another assumption that a “really nice rug” somehow has to be complex and made with tiny knots. Kudos to those who make and sell such rugs for brainwashing consumers. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying those rugs are not really nice, I am saying that there are other rugs that are just as equally nice, that employ knotting or weaving techniques not nearly as complex and tiny.
Furthermore, the “tiny fingers make tiny knots” argument has been used for years in an attempt to justify child labour in rugs; topically those that are both Old and Used, and Antique. This is often uttered by the same salesmen and saleswomen who sell semi-antique carpets. It is a failure to frankly and accurately answer the question (as I attempted in the first part of this post), and is an old bad argument that doesn’t hold water as they say.
This conclusion brought to you by the ^#$%^$#&#*$@# Ruggist.
Reading this you’d think I have a personal issue with the author of those questions, but I can assure you I do not, nor do I even know him. The questions he asks have been uttered by many people seeking to know more about the rugs they purchase. They have formulated these questions based on previously received information (from those same used car salesman-esque salesmen and saleswomen from whom they are again purchasing). The answers they’ve received however are often at best inaccurate, at worst patent falsehoods, and due to the number of this class of sales force, they will seemingly continue to exist in perpetuity.
The author is fully correct to say that as a laymen it is hard to know if the answers you are receiving are truthful, and to “know” what you are getting yourself into. The issue of knowing however is not confined to the layman. As I once read “Put five rug experts in a room, and you get six opinions.”
With that, I leave you my sixth opinion.
**Referencing unnamed sources makes you a real Journalist.