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Old 16th February 2012, 09:38 AM   #1
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Default Souks of Oman

Salaams all~ I would like to present a running thread on Souks of Oman The aim of the thread is to show the scope of material being sold and the influence from other countries in all its forms. There are perhaps half a dozen souks to show and I shall try to add pictures as each gets a visit.
Here is the main Souk in Oman ... The famous Mutrah Souk right on the waterfront in downtown Muscat and a must for every tourist. Being the central collecting hub it is also a key area for serious collectors and some superb antiquities are also in there ... somewhere ! ... amongst the hundreds of shops.

Right now Yemeni work is flooding in. I noted a new store of Syrian provenance yesterday ~ Mutrah Souk can absorb it all ~ and is.

I intend this to be a work in progress so there will be a lot more to come. I just managed to get a few pictures as there were two or three cruise ships docked 500 yards away and between great swathes of tourists I managed to slide in with the camera.

On weapons I discovered amazing things ... and these may be viewed on the other involved thread on Kattara for comments ...

Mutrah Souk.

Regards Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Old 17th February 2012, 09:19 AM   #2
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Hi Ibrahiim

Interesting images. I used to work in Muscat in the early 1970s. No tourists in those days ! Visited the Mutrah souk several times - there were lots of old Omani antiques for sale, including weapons. I remember those old matchlocks and swords piled in heaps, many khanjars etc....
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Old 17th February 2012, 04:03 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Hi Ibrahiim

Interesting images. I used to work in Muscat in the early 1970s. No tourists in those days ! Visited the Mutrah souk several times - there were lots of old Omani antiques for sale, including weapons. I remember those old matchlocks and swords piled in heaps, many khanjars etc....
Salaams Colin~ I hope I can add some more as we roll forward... I have to try to focus more upon the ethnographics which will be fun.. I hope it will bring back some nice memories... meanwhile I will try to avoid being trampled by tourists... Regards Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Old 1st March 2012, 06:08 PM   #4
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Salaams all~ Up the Buraimi Souk Today.

One store has Yemeni/Saudia links in the Buraimi Souk and occasionally one or two interesting daggers and swords pop up. Here are some daggers of the Saudia Habaabi region...(close to the Oman border)... said to be sized for teenagers...though that is only rumour quality info.

Anyway you can probably smell the herbs and fragrant incence in the first picture.. The final picture is a set of old scales the shop owner just will not part with... (My Dad.)

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Note; Each weapon carries the Saudia Stamp in the quadrangles of the scabbards (I wish all daggers carried a similar identifying mark ) As a matter of interest in Oman only occasionally are pieces of craftsmanship marked with a signature but that is about to change... From about now on (soon) all Omani made items will be stamped ! That would presumably include blades, swords, jewellery et al...
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Old 2nd March 2012, 04:27 PM   #5
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Great pics. Thanks.
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Old 2nd March 2012, 04:30 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DhaDha
Great pics. Thanks.
Salaams DhaDha '' You aint seen nothin yet" !
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Old 11th March 2012, 09:53 AM   #7
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Salaams all ~ I have an interesting anecdote from the book by Ian Skeet which is a must for anyone researching Omani History. Oman before 1970 (The End of An Era).
In fact, though the book was written only about 45 years ago it could describe what the country was like 300 before, as hardly anything had changed!

Quote" Mutrah is the commercial centre of Oman. There the simple necessities of life are bought and sold; cloth rice coffee versus dates and limes.That has always been the basis of the economy and it still is in 1967.The addition of oil as an export will one day transform the way of life, commercial and social, as it has done nearly everywhere else in the Arab world, but this has not yet happened.
In Muttrah, then, are the manipulators of money, whose skills must overcome the fiscal peculiarities of the country, which are as variable and inconsistent as most other things. If you are a Muttrah merchant you must be equally versatile at least in rupees, annas, naya peis, dollars, pounds, baizas, dinars; annas do not exist officially either; there are now 64 baizas in a rupee, which used to contain 16 annas and later 100 naya peis, and which is still valued at the old pre-1966 Indian devaluation rate , but only 3 baizas and 5 baizas coins exist for small change; The Maria Theresa dollar (MTD) (Officially pegged at 5 rupees but unobtainable at that price) is divided into 120 Omani baizas, which are quite different from Muscati baizas(needless to add, Dhofari baizas are different again); exchange rates tend to be described in terms of rupees to a Kuwaiti dinar, but may equally be in terms of the Bahraini dinar which used to equal 10 Muscat rupees before the 1967 sterling devaluation, or in terms of MTDs ( referred to indiscriminately as dollars or riyals which may alternatively be US dollars or Saudi riyals in a different context) to 100 rupees; and you must also be on your guard for rupees to the MTD or rupees to the gold tola bar. And once you have mastered that lot, you must start on the difference between Muscat maund, which equals 24 kiyas, each kiyas representing the weight of 6 MTD., and an Omani maund which equals 24 kiyas, each kiyas representing the weight of 6 Omani baizas, remembering that 5 Omani baizas are the same weight as 1 MTD. and that in arabic a maund is a mun; 200 Muscat maunds = 1 bahhar, which is the same weight both on the coast and in the interior but varies when applied to different produce, a bahhar of salt or firewood being equivalent to 400 Muscati maunds.
Oh I forgot to tell you that a Muscati rupee is worth one shilling and sixpence., and a kiyas weighs 5. 9375 ounces.
Curiously enough a maund (or mund or mun) is a weight of far greater pedigree than might be imagined and though this is less surprising, of great complexity; in the heyday of The East India Company ( and for all I know, still) it represented something different in almost every area of the Indian Ocean region, from 90 lb. 4 oz in Bussorah for grain to 2lb 8 drams in Bettlesakee for coffee (3 lb. for other goods). Mind you if the Muttrah merchants must be profficient in currency manipulation today, it is nothing to what the East India Company official needed at his fingertips. The maund was not the only weight or coin to fluctuate its value; The Spanish dollar was worth 5shillings and 4pence halfpenny at Surat, 5shillings and 3pence three farthing at Bombay, but 6shillings and 8 pence(about) at Bussorah; the bahhar varied between 222lb 6 oz (equivalent to 10 frazils) at Judda and 814 lb (40 frazils) at Bettlesakee. In the handbook on this general subject published in 1789, and issued no doubt, to all recruits to the Company, it may be easy enough to check up the number of budgerooks in a Muscat Mamoody but one is really up against it when one has committed to memory a list of coinage values only to read~

"The above is the calculation on real silver rupees (Surat or others) which often rise or fall in value. There are also imaginary rupees current in Tattah, in which denomination the Merchants keep their Accounts."

Sometimes you feel that the Muttrah merchants too have read that last sentence and have taken it to heart. Unquote.

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Old 2nd November 2012, 07:26 PM   #8
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Note to Forum; New Omani Government policy ; Proof stamping Omani Silver artefacts.
I have already alluded to the fact that the Omani Government were considering getting in line on international copyright law regarding Omani made products. This has now been done with Omani Silver being officially stamped~ 92.275 or thereabouts. The process involves silver being taken off to be assayed officially by a government workshop and a stamp being applied to the item. The cost to the shop or workshop is reflected to the customer but is reasonably small. All silver Omani artefacts must be thus adorned by law. Any non up to the mark items are melted down.
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Old 19th September 2013, 09:01 PM   #9
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Salaams All ~ Note to Forum. I thought now would be a good time to revisit this thread with a view to looking at where the souk finds its stock of swords and other weapons. It has been common practice for souk shop owners to run parallel with their own workshops doing small repairs and sometimes with sizeable refitting and restoration sidelines. I have outlined this practice in other threads but here it is time to observe more closely the international souk linkages that have existed for decades since 1970. Before that there was hardly any tourism because of the state of the country which had been in decline since the Suez Canal opened and before the influence of oil.

Once the dynamic leadership of the current ruler had begun to take effect the immediate transformation of the country ensued with perhaps the first big changes happening in medical facilities, clinics, hospitals, schools, colleges, communications and commerce which included a huge boost to the general souk in the capital Muscat. Muttrah Souk has dominated trade in Muscat for centuries and the lift afforded by Oman joining the 20th Century in 1970 cannot be over emphasised. Previously it had been in the dark ages by comparison. Before 1970 Oman didnt have any colleges (a couple of schools only) and no roads to speak of. The child death at birth ratio was about the worst on the planet.

What has happenend since 1970 has been the gradual errosion of artifacts through intense tourism traffic and since Muttrah Souk has been the central hub for such items the effect on the entire countries stock of antiquities has been dramatic. In addition, errosion of the local marketeers has meant that not only have the real antiquities disappeared but the local shopkeepers have also largely vanished. Replacing those... perhaps up to 80 or 90 % have gone.. are shop keepers from other countries which have always thrived in Muscat such as Persian, Indian, Pakistani and others ... I saw a new shop open recently from Syria. Whilst this may seem normal the net effect has been a slow drying up of original material. This never happened in, for example, Sharjah Souk which is relatively new and never went through the same transition as Muttrah. Sharjah is full of spurious material and always has been...In some ways however that showed the way in which Muttrah was sliding. So where does their stuff originate?

Much of the material comes out of troubled quarters as in the case of Syria whose souks have been all but obliterated by war and Yemen suffering a slow choking internal realignment but equally disruptive to Sanaa market activity with almost no tourism these days. The first individuals to get up and move or to carve out a business in such times are the market people... thus Muttrah is now "in a sense" a Sanaa outlet. I was there this week and the impact compared to a few months ago is clear. With diminishing stocks of original Omani gear the market holders are simply turning to the nearest source of Arabian goods..and since Sanaa has suffered huge losses because of internal strife it must look to other markets and with Oman on the doorstep they have flooded the diminishing market. After all the style of artifacts in Yemen is not so far removed from that of Oman or at least the average tourist cannot tell the difference .. but does it matter? It is a souk after all !

At the same time the Sanaa boys have seized an opportunity and are sucking hard to gather in from their own dwindling resources stuff enough to fill the burgeoning Omani demand. They, by the way impact the two main areas Muttrah (in Muscat) and Salalah but as yet not so much the interior souks of Nizwa, Senau, Buraimi, Sohar etc. (but its coming slowly) What this means is their own supply line particularly for sword and sword blades is Saudia and Ethiopia...both are being squeezed very hard now. Muttrah is awash with Ethiopian work via Yemen; a lot of it originating in the German blade trade in the 18th /19th C. Commonly seen are the multi grooved German/ Ethiopian blades on back street Sanaa workshop hilts and others.(many of the original hilts were rhino but these appear to have been removed and put onto Yemeni Jambia for the Sanaa Yemeni market) etc.

Some blades which look almost dead ringers for Omani blades but often stiff, inflexible items are cross hilted and matched onto Omani long hilts and scabbards which to the unsuspecting tourist eye look very Omani indeed. Shop holders don't exactly tell lies about these swords because they have no idea of their origins except that they are now in Oman so they must be Omani Swords no? and of course there is always the problem that they will always agree with a statement from a tourist like...Are these really Omani Swords?...Reply Oh Yes Omani yes yes...Hundreds of years old..thousands even....no? It should be remembered that backed up behind this tourist are 3,999 on the same cruise ship all pumping through the souk...in groups of 20 and 30... if this one doesn't buy it the next one may do.

Anyway, heres a blade I picked up which has not been played with but follows the other variation of blades passing through to buyers in the souk which aren't changed to Omani Style because they wouldn't look right.. like this European job with a six pointed star interspersed with 6 fleur de lys and containing a six sided geometry and 6 dots etc at the throat leading to a distinctive crown as the first decoration to the blade and Ethiopian script down the blade on one side and floral foliate design on the other. The blade which looks like its gone too far in the bend. Bent "straight blades" are quite common in Ethiopia I understand.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 21st September 2013, 07:12 AM   #10
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Salaams All~ Looking through notes and library this is an Ethiopian Gurade probably refashioned from a European sabre. The Rhino hilt long gone and probably on a Yemeni Jambia by now. Obtained in Muscat Muttrah 16 Sept 2013 and traded there from Sanaa Yemen two months before.

A further reference to Gurade can be seen at
http://stsathyre.tumblr.com/post/364...ord-dated-19th

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

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Old 3rd December 2013, 11:53 AM   #11
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Salaams all Note to Library ~Here is another variant off the same route~

This appears to be a mid to late 19th C German blade for the Ethiopian market rehilted with a Zanzibari/Yemeni style hilt (some sort of horn) and Yemeni crossguard (broken)..It has naive markings to the blade with a star similar to #8 above and a crowned Arabian head with a date and inscription under likely executed in Yemen. Floral decoration including wild animals heads and foliage dominate the blade pattern.. This is typically an Ethiopian 3 grooved (the full length) sword originally ending probably to a point but modified and with a single dot at the tip.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 5th December 2013, 05:10 PM   #12
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Salaams all... I happened to have my camera handy when I stumbled into an exhibition in the fort right next to Buraimi Souk... An old friend was there on one stall showing a few daggers... The one without the belt is not Omani but from the elusive Habaabi region of SAUDIA/YEMEN
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Old 6th December 2013, 05:01 PM   #13
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Default NIMCHA...YEMENI.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Salaams all Note to Library ~Here is another variant off the same route~

This appears to be a mid to late 19th C German blade for the Ethiopian market rehilted with a Zanzibari/Yemeni style hilt (some sort of horn) and Yemeni crossguard (broken)..It has naive markings to the blade with a star similar to #8 above and a crowned Arabian head with a date and inscription under likely executed in Yemen. Floral decoration including wild animals heads and foliage dominate the blade pattern.. This is typically an Ethiopian 3 grooved (the full length) sword originally ending probably to a point but modified and with a single dot at the tip.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Salaams All Note to Library in respect of #11 I think the original set up of this hilt was with hand guard and D ring. This would place it rather more firmly in the backyard of Yemeni work..Probably Sanaa...using Ethiopian blade. Orig. German and onward via the souk interchange to Oman.
As below;
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Old 21st April 2014, 10:03 AM   #14
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Default Supply Changes.

Hello all ~ Salaams ~ Something odd has occured in the resupply procurement route of Swords and stuff into the region; The goods from Yemen and thus Ethiopia/Africa have all but stopped dead! The past month or two has seen the tap being turned off... Borders are strictly closed in terms of material moving from Yemen through the Omani souk system... The market being self correcting has turned to Persian and Indian/Pakistani goods to fill the void. It has been interesting to see how long stocks lasted from holdings of Yemeni items in Muscat souk shops... It seems like in no time at all massive stock piles of goods have literally vanished... hardly surprising when you consider the through traffic of people wandering the Muttrah souk system... litterally thousands daily...One cruise ship contains 4,000 holiday makers... and they park them 500 yards from the main souk entrance...Trade...It gets brisk !!

Buyers beware the new stuff is laden with the usual problems...but it is fascinating to see how fast the markets adapt. Thats life !!

As a strange caveat to this post.. dealers of the real Omani gear are reporting that getting the original antiques is much harder but that some souk shop owners have even released their personal stocks of long held antiquity into the system... It is an interesting time to collect...but very costly... very !

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Old 11th May 2014, 06:10 AM   #15
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Muttrah Souk. The entire Souk will be demolished and a new souk constructed over the old site. The program is expected to be completed in the next 2 years.
Before it disappears here are more pictures of the souk and its contents. This is the best store in the souk... the good stuff is at the back of the shop which is like Aladdins cave...

Just dropped in for tea and then lunch overlooking the harbour...Its a hard life !!
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Old 11th May 2014, 06:14 AM   #16
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Hooplah !!! More....but when it comes to rare...just look at the Abu Futtilah ready made up charges ! These are museum quality and absolutely dead rare items. Note the decoration on the Ivory cylinders. These would be carried on the waist belt. The owner isn't selling these...that likely means they are from his personal family collection ...and in turn that means the shop is digging deep into its private stocks of choice original items .. to give an air of antiquity to the store. This store maintains a healthy link to local specialist workshops refurbishing sword blades and daggers...An example of new work is the dagger with the white hilt Ivory ...with the big red "Yacoob" stone on the pommel top. The blade looks like part of a sword ..There are several other busted/recycled sword knives.

Also below is a rare striker and combination tool in serpentine form.
A very small 3 inches across...powder flask in brass with copper wire and a steel spring...This carried powder for the pan...not the barrel charge.
A small Yemeni or Saudia work knife scabbard (knife gone) and another complete with knife of similar providence. The long dagger is from Saudia.

Not a great deal of Yemeni work about as I was saying previously the tendency is for the gap to be filled by Persian and Indian/Afghan work and the other odd appearance of shop owners personal collection items...which is very interesting !

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 11th May 2014, 06:19 AM   #17
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My favourite(or one of them) was this curved Kattara of almost Shamshiir blade proportions...whereas "normally" Omani Kattara are fairly broad blades...This one on a finely worked hilt and scabbard. Date of rehilting ...about January 2014.
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Old 15th May 2014, 06:17 PM   #18
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Every now and then...something quite startling appears in the souk... In this case 4 coffee pots that have not seen the light of day for a half a century...exquisite and incredibly rare Omani Coffee pots like these were once common here...and they just joined my private collection. You will recall that as a weapon of assassination how important the coffee pot was for poisoning !!

Coffee anyone?
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Old 16th May 2014, 12:54 PM   #19
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Dear Ibrahim,
Is it possible to buy and to bring back a kattara from your country?
Is it allowed by the custom?
Thanks
Kubur
( we plan to visit the country next year)
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Old 16th May 2014, 04:34 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kubur
Dear Ibrahim,
Is it possible to buy and to bring back a kattara from your country?
Is it allowed by the custom?
Thanks
Kubur
( we plan to visit the country next year)
Salaams Kubur..Assuming the country you are in allows it...we certainly allow export.
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Old 16th May 2014, 06:23 PM   #21
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Muttrah in front of the Souk in the not so distant past...Pre 1970...and now..and at #1 the new corniche; an elevated dual carriageway which sweeps along what was the beach.
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Old 29th June 2014, 08:28 PM   #22
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Default The Omani Coffee Pot.

I would not normally raise an eyebrow at coffee pots however the 3 items below are simply straight out of the Arc... thus ;
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Old 13th July 2014, 01:49 PM   #23
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Default Amazing thread, thanks very much!

I appreciate your hard work on this thread. One possible improvement, from the perspective of educating the reader, would be to label the photos to explain which show authentic items. For example, are the daggers in this shot recently made and "antiqued?"

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Old 13th July 2014, 01:59 PM   #24
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Default Reading this made me think...

Will future tourists from abroad visit the (former?) USA (where I live), and scour the flea markets of LA and New York for "authentic" 20th century blades? Will workshops churn out fake Busses and Ka-bars?
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Old 14th July 2014, 10:34 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scotchleaf
I appreciate your hard work on this thread. One possible improvement, from the perspective of educating the reader, would be to label the photos to explain which show authentic items. For example, are the daggers in this shot recently made and "antiqued?"


Good question which I think masks another...How to tell a real Khanjar / Jambia from a tourist item?..no? Firstly these daggers are in an Omani Souk but they are all Jambias from Sanaa in Yemen ...probably via Salalah... I doubt if they are expensive and I imagine they are somewhat tourist aimed..Muttrah Souk gets thousands of tourists so someone is sure to take one... Thats how souks work...look more closely and find where the real stuff is sitting... often behind the counter of the owner... thats where to strike a decent purchase...I mean you have to be aware all the time in souks... In arabia generally they will tell you what you want to hear... Is this old door very old... Yes 3 thousand years it belonged to my Uncle!! etc etc You have to know your stuff.

Its great fun though !!!

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Old 14th July 2014, 10:46 AM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scotchleaf
Will future tourists from abroad visit the (former?) USA (where I live), and scour the flea markets of LA and New York for "authentic" 20th century blades? Will workshops churn out fake Busses and Ka-bars?

Salaams scotchleaf ~ When I was in New York I spent hours in the flea markets and I noticed there was authentic and recently made stuff sitting side by side...Cleverly mixed. You have to know your antiques...but anyway it was great fun ....Its the same here...Theres nothing a good antiques copying workshop cant copy...but knocking out good copies is expensive ... so an eye on the price balanced with a good idea in the chosen field...and an eye on the actual item will often set the bells ringing. What I find amazing is that people cannot bargain..I always bash the price and will walk away rather than pay some daft sum...Right now in the off season is the time to buy here...When the weather cools down out come the tourists and up goes the price !!

Thanks for the posts...

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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