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The saddest memory I have of working for a reputable oriental rug dealer was seeing the look on this poor guy’s face after he found out that he paid $25,000 for a 10’x14’ rug that was supposedly silk but was nothing more than combed cotton. He had bought the rug at one of these “going out of business” sales, had no idea where the man who sold it to him was, and was therefore out of luck. Sadly, dishonest oriental rug dealers scam thousands of people annually, partly due to the lack of information they bring to the table when purchasing a rug. In this article, I will provide some very basic and practical tips for those interested in buying an oriental rug for their home.

I have always tried to influence anyone in the rug market to buy the real thing; that is, a genuine hand-made rug with real value. Antique rugs are an entirely different subject, but if you buy a new hand-knotted rug, you are not only getting a true piece of artwork, but you are making a wise investment in something tangible. Real oriental rugs appreciate in value as they age because they will develop a worn look and a rich color scheme that rug collectors pay thousands of dollars for. Older rugs are also more rare, and are therefore much sought after collector’s items. To give you an idea of the prices I’m referring to, I remember selling a 9’x12’, antique Persian Sultanabad for about $35,000. People with lots of money will pay for the antique look, but even those of us whose salary is less than the price of one antique rug can make wise investments in a newer rug.

Comparing a hand-made rug to a machine-made rug is like comparing a Ferrari to a kit-car replica of a Ferrari. They might look somewhat similar on the outside, but once you drive them both you will quickly notice which one is about to fall apart and which one is of quality craftsmanship. Rugs are the same way in that a machine-made rug may have a similar design as a real rug, but upon close inspection you will notice just how cheaply made most of them are. Real hand-made rugs are made of either soft, dense wool or silk, both of which have an unmistakable feel. A machine-made rug may be made of a cheap blend of materials, and will definitely not feel as comfortable as the real thing. Genuine oriental rugs are composed of hundreds of thousands of hand-tied knots, and a relatively small 6’x9’ rug will take anywhere from four to six months to complete. The incredible amount of labor and the cost of quality materials are part of the reason real oriental rugs are so expensive, whereas a machine-made rug can be made in an hour or so. Don’t be fooled when it comes to what is real and what is fake!

Before you buy an oriental rug from a store or dealer, check with your local Better Business Bureau and make sure they have a clean record. Also ask someone in the store if they are a member of ORRA (Oriental Rug Retailers of America). If they are a member of ORRA, they are almost definitely an honest and reputable store to be trusted. But avoid at all costs going to these auctions or “going out of business” sales that promise 75% off, because you will get scammed even at those prices. If you are unsure how to tell a real rug from a machine-made version, here are some basic tips.

While the pile (the actual top of the rug) of a hand-made rug will be soft and dense to the touch, a machine-made rug will have a very sparse pile and a short pile. If you can easily put your finger into the pile and touch the actual knotting of the rug, that is not a good sign. While many antique rugs have lost much of their pile through wear, if the rug looks new and has a very weak pile, it’s probably machine-made. If you are still unsure, turn the rug over and look at the knotting on the back. You will see thousands of tiny knots in rows extending from end to end, and because hand-made rugs are never perfect, the rows will not always be completely straight and will still feel soft to the touch. The back of a machine-made rug looks almost like a grid, and is composed of perfectly straight rows of knots. It will also feel coarse to the touch because of the cheaper materials used in making it. The natural fringes on the ends of a real rug are there because the rug has been woven onto these strings or warp, that extend to both ends. A machine-made rug usually has the fringes sewn or glued on for appearance, which you should also be able to see on the back of the rug. If you simply fold the rug in half and it makes a cracking noise or seems to maintain the shape of the fold, then it is a very poor machine-made rug. A quality hand-made rug can be folded and rolled and will always lay flat when opened up. If your dealer is ORRA certified, they should be honest with you about which rugs are hand-made or machine-made. But I recently saw a badly used, 3’x5’ machine-made version of a Bokhara rug in a local antique store which sold for $850! I asked someone working there how they arrived at the price of $850 for a rug that was maybe worth $50, (I didn’t tell him I knew anything about rugs) and he told me it was a genuine, hand-made Pakistani Bokhara. I didn’t argue and simply left the store. This is the type of thing that goes on all of the time, and someone probably bought that rug by now at that ridiculous price, so be careful!

If you choose to buy a machine-made version of a Persian design, that is your choice and I am not one to criticize. You will undoubtedly pay less than if you buy the real thing. But once you have bought it and used it, the rug will soon begin to fall apart and will have no monetary value. If you pay more money for the real thing, you are getting a rug with a lifespan of 200+ years, as well as a work of art that will appreciate in value. Whatever you decide, make sure you get what you pay for. Ask questions, study the rug, feel the rug, and remember this; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.