Rug Burn: The Story of Theodor Tuduc, Master Forger
There’s no doubt about it, a good rug can really tie a room together, and they’ve been doing so for thousands of years. Our oldest surviving example is the Pazyryk Carpet woven around the 5th century BC. The tight knots and technically proficient design suggest that it was made in Persia (modern Iran), yet it was discovered in the tomb of a nomad king over 2,000 miles away. Even in the ancient world, rugs were part of a vast trade network, treasured by royalty from China to Timbuktu. Today little has changed, the best oriental carpets may command seven figures at auction houses across the globe. The high prices and prestige of these works of art has naturally given rise to a shadowy guild of antique carpet forgers.The greatest of these underworld artisans was a mysterious Romanian named Theodor Tuduc.
You won’t find much information about Tuduc online (which is, of course, the mark of a great con man). He was born in the medieval Transylvanian city of Cluj in 1888. He set up shop in nearby Brasov shortly after World War I, a time of strong demand in the west. In the Roaring Twenties, American tycoons were fresh on the market snatching up many bona fide antiques and more than a few fakes. Tuduc’s business flourished as he produced convincing replicas of a broad array of oriental rugs. From Transylvanian to North African and Ottoman, he masterfully wove refined historical forgeries that passed as the genuine article in Mansions from New York to Cape Town, and he made a fortune in the process.
Tuduc’s legend, however, is not merely one of wealth. After all, it’s no great feat to fleece a few nouveau riche Americans who have more money than sense. His real sleight of hand was pulling the wool over the eyes of experts, museum curators, and even the owners of the original rugs. Products from his workshop were aged artificially and handed off to middlemen who sold them to collectors. From these private collections, the works made their way into museums where they often went undiscovered by staff and scholars for years. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the largest decorative arts museum in the world, had a Tuduc fake on display for decades.
Tuduc passed away in 1983 at the age of 95. At the time of his death he was living comfortably in Bucharest, long since retired and living off the wealth of 25 years of work. Perhaps the truest testament to his artistry is the fact that his works are now considered collectors pieces in their own right; people pay thousands of dollars to own a Tuduc fake. In fact, if you check out message boards for oriental carpet collectors, you will even come across a few unhappy customers who have been swindled by cheap knock-offs of the great master’s truly authentic forgeries.