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Investing In: Turkish Treasures

You may already own a piece of Turkish art, assuming that the carpet you haggled over in the Istanbul bazaar was really hand-made, composed of natural fibers, knotted or woven, dyed and designed properly.

Don’t bother to call an appraiser; there’s virtually no chance your carpet dates to the Ottoman period, from 1299 to 1922.

If you want an Oushak (also known as Usak or Ushak), be prepared to spend at least $15,000 “for something really quite nice, half that for something decent,” says William Robinson, a Christie’s senior director who heads the auction house’s international Islamic art and carpets department.

Because of Turkey’s location, history, and culture, its fine art — ceramics, carpets, metal work — is not so much Turkish as it is Islamic, Ottoman or Anatolian, a geographic and historical term for the western-most protrusion of Asia.

Given that complexity, Robinson has some advice for would-be investors. “You need to speak to the people who know — dealers, auction houses. They are very happy to talk you through the options,” he says. “It’s much better to learn hands-on than to study it in books.”

The main areas are calligraphy, carpets, ceramics and metals.

In ceramics (tiles, plates, bowls, vessels), Iznik has no peers. But among carpets, Oushak is one of many categories — Seljuk, Hereke, Ta?p?nar and Izmir — spanning the sprawling Ottoman Empire. The Iznik and Oushak styles, like many others, derive from the respective towns where they were made, fostering industries that produced these items for decades.

Iznik, however, was the ceramic manufacturing center of the empire, which may explain why one can find “decent" 17th-century pieces for about $2,400, says Sara Plumbly, who heads sales for Christie’s Islamic art department.

London dealer Simon M. W. Ray of Simon Ray Limited, who focuses mainly on 16th- and 17th-century works, describes Turkey as a “strong market.”

“It is attractive art, keeps its price and there’s a good group of collectors,” he says.

Take a look at 10 classic pieces along with analyses from market experts. (Official prices are in British pounds, and converted to U.S. dollars, based on current exchange rates .)

By CNBC.com
22 August 2012

Photo: George Tsafos | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images