Press Release


Passion and Provenance
The Many Faces of the Modern Collector


February 24, 2016 - Having spent nearly four decades as an art dealer specializing in antique Oriental rugs, I have had the privilege to work with hundreds of clients.  They  share my passion for collecting and deeply value the satisfaction brought by  their collections, which range  from classical and contemporary art to fine wine,  furniture and sports memorabilia.

Eli Broad, the American magnate once quipped, “a real collector does not sell.” While that is generally true,  the personalities and habits of the modern collector are less readily defined. Whether we collect stamps or Pre-Columbian Art, American Impressionist paintings or rare rugs, each of us is compelled by a passion that is as unique as the treasures themselves.

My work within the genre of fine antique Persian and tribal rugs is not dissimilar from that of the collector who focuses solely on mid-century modern furniture or the aficionado who covets only Chinese porcelain.  That is, items appropriate to one’s preferred genre were often created within a clearly defined place and period and are in limited supply. The driving knowledge that each acquisition is an elusive, exclusive artifact discovered within the depths of a larger, dwindling whole is what I believe to be the common element that fuels the passion of all collectors.

Irrespective of my personal area of expertise, I note that the clients I have worked often show a penchant for collecting other art forms as well. For those whose interest is deeply steeped in fine art, acquiring rare rugs naturally complements existing collections rich in paintings, sculpture, period furniture, and the like.  Collectors with an ingrained fervor for objects of great beauty frequently extend their reach beyond near priceless watches or stunning jewels to encompass fine rugs. What quickens the pulse and piques the attention of any impassioned collector is fascinating. I am a willing audience who has been given a front row seat from which to witness what defines them as a collector as it provides an inroad into the workings of their minds.

Perceptible Patterns

The Aesthete

The Aesthete buys works of art to create a stunning individual home.  Having a place to put an objet d art is vital and they are  incredibly creative in finding display areas.  I have been in homes with Oceanic art display on shelves in the guest bathroom, early Chinese porcelain in elaborate cases in a rear corridor leading to the laundry room and high-collectible antique rugs draped over banisters, on furniture or under glass on a dining table.

Recently, when meeting a client in her home, I remarked how lovely I found the environment to be. She thanked me and replied matter-of-factly, “It is important for me to be able to look in every corner of my home and see beauty.”

Exemplifying the  personification of the aesthete collector, she is a person for whom a stirring aesthetic is not merely desirable, it is paramount to her lifestyle. While the Aesthete may possess a well-honed appreciation for artistry, craftsmanship, provenance and rarity, it is the visual allure and aesthetic appropriateness of an artwork that will ultimately win their heart.  The acquisitions of an Aesthete are celebrated only after careful selection and deliberation about how they may be viewed and appreciated. Not content to have treasures languish unseen, the Aesthete chooses only those pieces – often with precise placement in mind  - promising to work in copasetic harmony with other elements found within the intended space. This type of collector can walk away from a stunning piece that would undoubtedly sway many others, simply because it does not work within the desired aesthetic.  It is not merely the thrill of the chase; above all else it is the inherent beauty of the world around them that moves and motivates the Aesthete collector.

The Connoisseur

Overlapping with the Aesthete, the Connoisseur creates a memorable home surrounded by art forms of choice, but also has additional pieces in storage, which are periodically rotated with those in use. For instance, the connoisseur of antique rugs often has numerous dedicated storage chests and closets, and sometimes entire rug cellars, from which to draw.  For the Connoisseur, putting a previously stored piece on display is analogous to revisiting an old friend, who was previously out of sight, yet never out of mind. As one client put it, “Seeing a piece that was in storage for a year is a fascinating process. I see that my relationship to that rug actually grew during the time it was put away.”

The Connoisseur’s desire is to collect the most covetable offerings of any given genre.  Like the Aesthete, Connoisseur collectors take great pleasure in surrounding themselves with beauty.  Yet two aspects set the Connoisseur apart. Connoisseurs will allow their surroundings to be stretched or changed to include a new acquisition.  Their homes can evoke a changing display in an art museum; they are more curated.  Connoisseurs also are comfortable with having part of their collection in storage and they take great delight in changing out pieces. For Connoisseurs, knowing that they have identified, sought out and - perhaps most importantly - obtained an exquisite example for their collection is irresistible and alluring. 

During my career, I’ve worked with a great many Connoisseurs, consulting with them to fine-tune the focus and reach of their collections, assisting them hone impressive inventories, which encompass the broader genre, into more succinct portfolios and helping them to showcase those pieces to epitomize excellence within more precisely defined fields.  For the Connoisseur, regardless of context, only great examples will satisfy.

The Collector

The Collector may have no limits to quantity. Some become fascinated by studying variations in the many pieces they own:  the differences in the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon vintners, the subtle nuances of Burmese rubies, the changes in grillwork from different car companies over the years, or recognizing each of the 85 subgroups of Caucasian Oriental rugs. Some become true experts in their field of focus.

Perhaps the most unadulterated type of art gatherer I see in my business is the Pure Collector.  Unlike the Aesthete or Connoisseur, the Pure Collector is dedicated to filling specific voids, real or perceived, within a collection.  Less swayed by any personal aesthetics and less apt to surround themselves with their treasures than other who share their passion, the mark of the Pure Collector is a quiet dedication to the collection itself. 

The very existence of the Pure Collector’s noteworthy acquisitions - regardless of physical location and whether or not they will go on display in the foreseeable future – is enough to satisfy.  Unyielding in their desire for excellence, Pure Collectors are diligent in their search for pieces of great rarity and artistry.

Pure Collectors are typically more prolific in their acquisition than either the Aesthete or the Connoisseur. Indeed, many build extremely large, world-class collections that while seldom out of mind, are often held safely mostly out of sight.  In fact, some who I work with are content to view most of their rugs solely online or in dedicated photo album, while others make a habit of viewing each piece they own once a year.  In fact, at Claremont we have a program for Pure Collectors to store their surplus inventory and periodically rotate them with their pieces in use.

In looking at the three styles of collectors, one can, of course, see many overlapping areas.   Pure Collectors also take great pleasure in surrounding themselves with the products of their passion, while there are Aesthetes whose acquisitions are of the highest, most stellar quality.  There are Connoisseurs who collect everything from cookie jars to Ming vases with the same, unyielding attention, and there are preeminent fine art Collectors with an unabashed affinity for comic books. There are no rules, per se, in collecting.  There is only direction as determined by ones own, unique passions.

Ultimately, you may question why does it matter?  The elucidating differences tend to lie deeper, revealing themselves slowly. Moreover, to understand how and why one collects helps, I believe, to derive the greatest sense of pleasure from the act itself.  Defining one's style as a collector, it seems, is an evolution born of attraction and honed by experience

Understanding what motivates my clients helps me in assisting them to define and to discover those pieces that will most thoroughly please them. While the Aesthete may be enamored with a particular rug because of its rich color, the Connoisseur may covet the same piece as a pristine example of a rarely seen hue… and the Collector may desire it as a rare, one of a kind specimen featuring a dye color long lost to the world.  One rare rug and one common element found equally covetable by three different collectors, yet each defines the basis of that desirability so very differently.  Therein lies the delight of discovering the many fascinating facets of the modern day collector.  Vive la difference.

  Copyright © 2019 TOBIN and Associates. All rights reserved.