Editor’s Note: Whether you think of oriental carpets as art, antiques or collectibles, they are, unquestionably, objects of great beauty and desirability. Sonal Panse tells you what you need to know when starting a collection or buying only one.
“Oriental” is a catchall word for several countries ranging from the Caucasus to Southeast Asia to the Middle East. These include China, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Oriental carpets have a long history. The earliest one known is the Pazyryk carpet from 500 B.C., discovered by the Russian archaeologist, Sergei Rudenko. Other carpets have been found in places like Turfan in Central Asia and in Fostat in Egypt. The early weavers and users of carpets were nomads. Beginning with grasses, reeds and fibers, they progressed to wool and silk. To them, the carpet was an all-purpose accessory—for sitting, for sleeping, as a tent door hanging, as a cart covering, as a saddle cloth and as a bundle into which household goods were rolled.
Persian Serapi carpet, circa 1900
Find out more about this spectacular carpet on GoAntiques.
Weaving methods, patterns and design ideas spread as the nomads traveled. When urbanization happened, the carpets, which had so far been small sized for carrying ease, began to assume larger proportions. Traders and the Crusaders introduced oriental carpets to the West. The carpets with their intricate designs, luminous colors and soft textures were an instant hit. Their popularity has never since waned.
Oriental Carpets: Types and Making
Oriental carpets are traditionally handmade on a loom. They come in wide varieties and types differentiated by:
• Region—Country where made. Each country has its own specialty. But, be warned, designs often transcend borders.
• Area—Made in a rural area or an urban setting. Rural carpets are mostly made by nomads or village weavers, working singly or in small groups. The urban ones are often by weaver collectives.
• Design—Traditional or modern.
• Colors—Bright, muted, neutral.
• Material—Silk or wool or a combination of both.
• Size—Large, medium, small.
Vibrant Heriz Persian
Click here if this Heriz Persian carpet interests you.
Factory-made oriental rugs are priced lower and are inferior in terms of artistry, design and durability. As the same rug is available in quantities, they do not have any collectible value.
Collecting Oriental Carpets: Expensive Pastime
Connoisseurs and financial investors collect handmade oriental carpets. Prices can range from a few thousand dollars to several thousand dollars. The most valuable are the antique ones that are more than 100 years old. The reasons why handmade oriental carpets have high value—
• Carpet weaving by hand is a lengthy process. A 6-feet-by-9-feet carpet, for example, could take a weaver around six months, longer for complicated designs.
• Each handmade carpet is the product of a person’s or a few persons’ unique artistic vision and weaving skill. This cannot be reproduced by machine.
• Antique carpets have beautifully glowing colors that only come with age.
• Each antique carpet is a one-of-a-kind work.
• More buyers than antique carpets. So their value continually climbs and generally stays above the inflation rate.
Late 1900s Persian Bijar carpet
This Bijar carpet can be found on GoAntiques.
Buying an Oriental Carpet
Antique carpets are sold by the piece. The knot count, material, origin, condition, age and current market demand determine the price. New handmade carpets are priced by the square foot.
As with most purchases, unless you want to be taken for a carpet ride, being well informed helps. Be reasonably acquainted with carpet types and terms. Research carpets and carpet prices at GoAntiques and other online sales and auction sites. Read books on carpet collecting. See the book list at the end of this story.
Buying carpets at antique auctions requires a certain level of expertise. Not recommended for beginners.
Go instead to a well-established, well-reputed oriental-carpet dealer’s shop. There are two reasons for this—
• They will have high-quality carpets.
• They won’t offload a chemically aged fake antique on you.
Have some idea of the kind of carpet you want, its colors, design and size. Take along your room measurements to get the size right.
Chinese floral carpet
If you are captivated by this exquisite Chinese carpet, check out GoAntiques.
See many carpets before making a buying decision. Never buy in a hurry, on a whim or under pressure.
Examine each carpet carefully—
• Is it in a good condition?
• Is it well sheared?
• Is the color scheme well balanced?
• Is the texture soft?
• Does the pile base feel thick? That’s a good sign.
• Look at the carpet’s backside. The tiny bumps there are the knots. Generally, many, small knots indicate a fine, durable carpet.
• Has the antique carpet been repaired? Expertly done, barely visible repairs may not detract from its value. Shoddy repair work, however, certainly will.
Ask if you can take the carpet home to see how it will look in your home.
Before you buy it, ask for provenance and a guarantee of authenticity.
Persian Bakhtiari from 1930s
Click here for more information on this Persian carpet.
Ask the dealers if they or a trusted service they know can provide you with future carpet-cleaning services. Unless you know what you are doing, antique carpets are best cleaned by professionals.
Place the carpet in a low-traffic area. One, preferably, not frequented by pets and very small children. Avoid putting heavy furniture or plant pots on the carpet. An oriental carpet is a work of art and perhaps best seen in an unhampered, central position in a room.
“Oriental Carpets: A Complete Guide—The Classic Reference” by Murray L. Eiland, Murray Eiland III
“Oriental Carpet Design: A Guide to Traditional Motifs, Patterns and Symbols” by P. R. J. Ford
“Oriental Rugs: A Buyer’s Guide” by Lee Allane
“The Illustrated Buyer’s Guide to Oriental Carpets (Schiffer Book for Collectors)” by J. R. Azizollahoff
“Sotheby’s Guide to Oriental Carpets” by Walter B. Denny, Norma Jean Jourdenais, Sotheby’s
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