Herat Antique Oriental Rugs

Synthetic Dyes: A Collector's Perspective

Synthetic dyes are bad. Synthetic dyes are to be avoided. Reject anything with a drop of synthetic dye. These are attitudes of long standing. Ones that remain firmly fixed with many collectors.

A brief history: the aniline and chrome dyes of the mid-19th to early-20th century were, in a word, awful. They tended to fade drastically in sunlight, run at the hint of moisture and were, to be kind, aesthetically challenged. Thus, in the beginning, there was a legitimate concern and hostility toward synthetic colors. Synthetic dyes were indeed bad. Eventually, when improved and dependable synthetic dyes became available, this concern had become accepted dogma among collectors.

How should today's collector view synthetic dyes?
Let's address the question from the perspective of one who collects tribal weavings as tribal art. Also, let's confine ourselves to antique and semi-antique tribal weavings, not contemporary production. Finally, remember that color is one component in what constitutes fine, collectible tribal art, albeit an important component.

Are modern synthetic colors 'just as good' as antique dyes from natural sources? No, they are not 'just as good'. The complexities and variables relating to wool quality, dye substances, dyeing techniques, mordants and other elements cannot be replicated with synthetic dyes in the laboratory setting.

One will never see a wonderful, mellow patina, the harmonizing of lustrous wool and deeply saturated color in a tribal weaving consisting of predominately synthetic dyes.

Bottom line: If one is acquiring antique or semi-antique tribal weavings as tribal art, avoid rugs containing predominately synthetic dyes.

Let's discuss a more problematic situation. One, however, often encountered by a collector. You are shown a fine, old rug. The condition is quite good. The wool soft and lustrous. The design motifs well done. It's a good looking rug!! BUT:

A color or two, used as accent shades, appear to be perhaps synthetic. Remember, on occasion, late 19th century rugs of fine quality, considerable beauty and very collectible had a few synthetic dyes in small amounts.

Think about the following: First, if a suspect color needs laboratory analysis to determine if it is synthetic, does it really matter, aesthetically. Probably not!!

Secondly, if the suspect color is not garish, is otherwise attractive and has an acceptable tonality, does it really matter, aesthetically. Probably not!!

In the end, as always, this is a decision that must be made by the individual collector on a rug-by-rug basis. The collector should seriously consider this type of rug and not automatically reject it.

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