FOR Mubashir Ahmed, a carpet is an investment for the future. “Why do you think parents give their daughters carpets in their dowries? Because years later that carpet — which they probably bought for Rs50,000 — will be worth at least Rs800,000 or more depending on what condition it is in,” he says, as he gently holds a 150-year-old carpet.
Mr Ahmed is a collector of and dealer in antique carpets. In a small shop tucked away on Abdullah Haroon Road, he and his sons run affairs with knowledge and a grand collection of carpets from Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and Iran. In addition, there are Kashmiri shawls, silk jackets from Swat, and many more treasures. He boasts that at the moment, he has more than 50 rare items at his shop, including a double-knotted hand-woven silk carpet worth Rs1.2 million.
After Partition, Mr Ahmed’s father Manzoor decided to try his hand in the carpet business, and it went well. When it was Mr Ahmed’s turn, nearly 37 years ago, to take up the family business, he decided to go a different route and understand the stories behind carpets and become a collector and dealer in antiques. Amongst his collection is a rare piece he keeps carefully rolled away on top of a safety vault — the story of the carpet, he says, can be seen in the beautiful way the silk thread is woven and knotted.
“At the head of the carpet are the names of the couple who was gifted the carpet at their wedding. This was made in Hereke, Turkey, and these carpets were traditionally presented at weddings in Muslim households. This piece is at least a hundred years old and still in mint condition,” he explains. “It would have taken them about seven years to make this and then another couple of years to sell it.”
“You have to be very careful when handling these carpets,” he continues. “Some are so fragile that you can’t even roll them up.” He believes that unfortunately, the younger generation often has no idea of what their parents and grandparents have collected over the years.
Pointing at a Russian prayer mat that he acquired for Rs80,000, he says that he came across this at a collection. “I have come across such gorgeous antique carpets that sometimes I want to keep them for myself. It really is an addiction,” he muses. “Once, I sold this carpet which had silver in it and another with 10 karats of gold. I regretted selling them immediately after the deal was done.”
Mr Ahmed then talks about his experience of visiting auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London. “I took carpets and some other items there and it was wonderful. I have travelled a lot in search of antique carpets, including the UK, the US, Singapore and Bangladesh — which has come up as a big market for collectors. Otherwise, most of our clients are in the UK,” he explains. “I had an American woman visit a few years ago who brought several carpets for us to inspect. She had spent more than $25,000 on them per piece or so, but when I saw them I knew she had been duped. They were all copies.” In this business, you learn on the job — you train your eye to look for a few key things such as the knots, dyes and material used.
“In Karachi, Bukhara Palace used to be the place you could count on for good quality carpets and rugs. Sadly, it is no more. However, if you possess an original Bukhara, it is priceless,” he says. Digging up a fine carpet from among the rolls leaning against the wall, he continues: “This is a Turkish carpet that I’m holding, and a good one. But if someone who has no knowledge of this is told it is Chinese, they won’t know any better. They will buy/sell at a much lower rate. I found some hand-embroidered Chinese spreads and sheets and bought them for Rs80,000 from someone in Shershah … people just throw these things out with no idea of their worth. I told a client that I have these items and they were willing to pay whatever.”
According to this connoisseur of carpets, here are a few things to look out for when buying a carpet: the design, the dyes used — which indicate where it has been made — the knots, wool and threads. “If all these boxes are checked, remember, you will own something quite valuable,” he says finally.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2017