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Some tips to consider when looking at oriental antique rugs

Posted on 24 June 2013

For most of us the word Oriental conjures up the far east – China and Japan - but when it comes to rugs the widest variety come from the Middle East, notably the Caucasus, Iran (formerly Persia) and Turkey.

Generally oriental rugs are handwoven using a method of knotting short lengths of wool or silk yarn on a woven foundation which hasn't changed in 25 centuries. There are two types of knot: the symmetrical Turkish or Ghiordes double looping knot and the Persian or Senneh asymmetrical knot which is single looping and considered finer.

New rugs often struggle to compare with antiques (which were made 100 or more years ago) and semi-antiques (made 50 to 99 years ago). These older rugs were made using natural vegetable dyes, as opposed to the chemical dyes used on younger ones, Years of use soften the natural colours and make the wool more lustrous.

Rugs are typically identified by the city or region they come from, and each tends to have distinct characteristics. For example, Kashans from central Iran usually have floral patterns and velvety pile; Kazaks from the south-western Caucasus, strong geometric patterns and loose weaves; Ladiks from Turkey have colourful borders and a central arch design. Generally Oriental rugs fall into one of two general categories, tribal or city. The weave on a tribal rug is usually not very tight as few as 50 knots per square inch – this is due to the looms being smaller and having to be moved as the tribe moved their livestock to better pastures. Also the colours are bolder. Many tribal rugs have geometric designs because the looser weave limits the shapes a weaver could produce.

On the other hand City rugs are the tribal rugs more sophisticated cousins. The rugs are generally larger as the looms are static and the weavers from Iranian cities like Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman and Qum typically followed intricate, curvilinear designs sketched on paper by palace artists. Some of these city rugs have as many as 1,200 knots per square inch. A nine-foot-by-12-foot rose-red Kashan from the 1920s might have taken three master weavers three to four months to complete. Often the weavers work on several pieces simultaneously so that they have variety during their working day.

Values of the best Oriental rugs like wine ripen with age, and sometimes the process isn't slowed even by obvious wear and tear. The natural dyes used to make brown and black often contained iron, and those areas are oxidizing. You might ask if that harms a rug's value? The answer, rather surprisingly is, ‘not at all’.

The two most important factors behind the price of a piece are the rug's adherence to its region's weaving tradition and its artistic execution. Most serious collectors treasure tribal rugs more than city ones, in part because they better reflect age-old weaving traditions. That's not to say that a city rug won't make a valuable heirloom. City rugs in respectable condition from the most desirable regions, such as Isfahan, Kashan and Tabriz, will hold their value over time.

But if you buy a charming piece in very good condition, with beautiful colours and a crisply drawn design, the chances are good that its value will increase. The best strategy for buying a rug you plan to put on your floor, is to spend as much as you can on a semi-antique from the mid to late 20th century. While the rug you choose can show signs of wear, it should not be worn to the degree that the pattern is obliterated. Semi-antiques in good shape should last at least 50 to 150 years. Even when subjected to daily footfall rugs with a knot count of 200 per square inch or more will generally last longer than those with lower counts.

Of course regular expert cleaning will always preserve the integrity of your rug and attention to the stoppers and selvages which frame the rug will keep it in shape.

Just recently the world’s top auction houses have been showing an increased interest in Antique Oriental Rugs. Record prices are forcing collectors and curators around the world to sit up and take note. In 2010 Christie’s sold a mid-17th century Kerman ‘vase’ rug in London for £6.2m. Whilst earlier this year an Antique 17th Century Persian Carpet shattered all previous records, by fetching $34 million at Sotheby’s in New York.

So investing in antique rugs for their practical service and charm can also be a new way to save for a rainy day.

Image via http://nazmiyalantiquerugs.com/blog/2013/06/most-expensive-rug-ever-sold/ 


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