Buying An Oriental Rug
What to look for when buying an antique or semi-antique oriental rug, and the origin, value, and rarity of older rugs.
If you are in the market for an oriental rug and can’t decide on whether to buy a new rug, an antique or semi-antique rug, there are many factors that need to be taken into account. For example, the amount of money you are willing to spend, the size and style of the rug you are looking for, and the amount of foot traffic the rug will see. If you have young children, you probably don’t want to buy an antique rug for a playroom or an area where the kids might destroy it. Remember to be practical when searching for the right rug, and most rug dealers or stores will loan you the rug for a few days so you will be able to make decisions about matching colors, size, etc. in your home. Here are some basic points to remember when buying an older rug, and what sets them apart from a new rug.
Before you get involved with a dealer or store, make sure they are certified by ORRA (Oriental Rug Retailers of America), and have a good reputation. Unless you are expert in oriental rugs, avoid at all costs buying from traveling rug auctions or “going out of business sales” because you will most likely pay far too much for a low quality rug. Choose your dealer very carefully, and if they are certified by ORRA you should be dealing with reputable people.
As you hunt for oriental rugs, you will notice that the seemingly worn out antique or semi-antique rugs are very expensive compared to most new rugs. Most of these older rugs are Persian in design, and were traded or sold long before the U.S. trade embargo on Iranian goods. Because nothing from Iran is imported into the U.S. these days, real Persian rugs from Iran are rare and therefore more expensive. These rugs are true collector’s items because of their designs, rarity, and the aged, mellowed colors within them, permitting they are not badly damaged. The standard for age in the rug business is antique rugs are at least one hundred years of age, and semi-antique rugs are between fifty and one hundred years old. Obviously, the older rug is much more rare and therefore more expensive. Buying an older rug is also an investment because of its rarity, while a new rug will take years of average wear to reach semi or antique status.
Rugs are identified by the pattern design, weave, and the materials and colors used in making them. Rugs made in certain areas of the Persian Empire had the same motifs, colors, etc. When you hear someone say that a rug is a “Tabriz,” they are referring to the origin and design of the rug, and in this case the rug came from the city of Tabriz in Iran. Some common antique or semi-antique rugs that are usually available are Sarouk, Heriz, Bahktiari, Karajeh, Bijar, Sultanabad, and Kazak to name only a few of many. Each of these rugs will have different motifs, border design, colors, and weaves. The more you learn about rug types and their specific characteristics, the more you will begin to develop a personal taste for what you like in a rug. After all, you will buy a certain rug because you like everything about it. Remember that you have to pay for and live with the rug, so choose wisely.
Before you buy any rug, check it very carefully for any noticeable flaws. New rugs may be damaged during shipping, while older rugs will almost always have some imperfections. Old rugs are usually not perfectly straight along the edges, and may be a little wider at one end than at the other. This is usually acceptable if the rug is able to lay reasonably flat. Older rugs have also withstood the test of time, and have probably needed minor repairs at some point along the way. If you see any obvious areas of major damage, or any poorly repaired areas where glue has been used to mend the rug, be wary of buying the rug. If the rug has lots of “bald” spots from moth damage or is very brittle feeling, be wary of the rug as well. Again, the even wear and imperfections of an old rug are what make it valuable and desirable. But there is a fine line between a rug being too worn or badly damaged and a rug being a prized antique, so use common sense and caution when buying an older rug. The more you learn about oriental rugs, the less likely you are to be scammed by a dishonest dealer. So before you make a substantial investment in an antique, semi-antique, or new rug, do your homework and don’t let a good salesman make your decision for you. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!