Things you should know before buying a rug

About Persian Rugs

“Persian Rug” is a generic name – for carpets woven by hand in what was, loosely, the ancient Persian Empire; Turkey, The Russian Caucasus region, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. In Europe, a better name for them is “Oriental Rugs”. But of course, for Americans, Europe is “The Orient” and for Australians, New Zealand is “the Orient”.

Before buying a Persian rug you should consider a few points, also, a bit of ‘arcana’.

Point 1. To be authentic, a Persian rug has to be hand woven, or hand-knotted, and the entire weaving process carried out without the assistance of a machine. (I do not consider the weavers loom to be a “machine” and in some instances, the yarns and cords used in the weaving process are spun using mechanical means, this is acceptable). A lot of time and consummate skill is required to produce a rug in the traditional way.

Point 2. This is of crucial importance. Only ever buy a rug that you genuinely like. This may sound trite but have confidence that your capacity for aesthetic appreciation is as good as anyone else’s, don’t be intimidated.

Point 3. Don’t buy a rug as an investment (capital gain). It is possible to make a good investment in Persian rugs, but it requires a long-term plan to build a disciplined, significant collection.  If you are content with an asset that will keep pace with inflation, and, with reasonable care and maintenance, not depreciate, then you will be well served.

Point 4. There is a ‘buyers market’ in Persian rugs operating at present, caused by an enormous oversupply caused by the embargo of Iran by the United States following the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in the early 1980s. The closure of this, the world’s largest consumer market (formerly taking over 65% of the available Persian rugs in any given year) put enormous pressure on the markets in other countries (such as Australia).

However, It is noticeable that the supply of high-grade examples is drying up.  You now have to search more diligently in the source markets to find the ‘plums’. Usually, trade buyers are finding that they have to accept a much higher proportion of ordinary ‘commercial’ grades, in order to get some ‘gems’. Another factor is that by its very nature, the Persian rug business does not attract large corporations or volume retailing organizations. All the players in the field are sole traders or family operations. Also, every rug is different – think about the difficulties in marketing a commodity where the product has no standard parameters, even for something as basic as size.

About auctions persian rug 1

About Persian Rugs

In my business, I conduct on average fifty auction sales of Persian rugs every year, in all states of Australia and some overseas. The rugs for these sales come in part from estates and private vendors. The majority come from financially strapped or totally failed commercial enterprises. In those fifty sales, I sell close to 6,000 individual pieces every year, and yet, I refuse about four out of every ten rugs which are submitted for auction sale.

There are well over 2,000 different, recognizable types of Persian rugs but within all those types there are only three major categories and they are as follows.

a) Urban weaves:

These are the types from the major centers. They are woven by professional weavers, the materials used include wool, silk, and cotton. The designs are (usually) of curvilinear form, the weave is fine (closely compacted) and the pile is short and velvety. At the present time, such pieces sell at auction within the range of $500-$1,500 per sq meter. Sometimes very fine or rare items will reach $2,500-$3,000 per sq meter.

b) Village weaves:

As the name implies, woven in the smaller villages as a cottage industry. The weavers are not professional, the fabric is coarser and more ‘countrified’. Material composition is usually wool pile on cotton foundation, designs are usually angular (geometric). Auction prices for village rugs currently range from $150-$400 per sq meter.

c) Tribal weaves:

Woven by various recognizable ethnic or clan groups such as the nomadic Baluch, the Qashqai, or Turcomen to name but a few. These rugs are most often of all wool construction and have geometric patterns. The auction prices are similar to village rugs ($150-$400 per sq meter).

The average price for a rug at auction is $740 (Australian dollars), this would buy a village weave of good quality, about 3 sq.m. (2m x 1.5m, or about 7ft. x 5ft.).

Of course, you may find urban rugs with geometric designs or tribal pieces woven on cotton base cords but generally, they are as stated.

As with all textile arts and crafts, the overwhelming gender involved in rug weaving is female. Weavers are almost always women, the rug-weaving mystery is held by women and passed on from mother to daughter. Wool dyers are mostly male. Village and tribal rugs are woven into traditional designs that are specific to a region, clan, or even a family group. Sometimes a pattern, called a “varigeh”, is used, but often the design is recalled from the memory of the weaver.

An Urban weaver can only start the project after a design has been created. They need to know the color of the wool (or silk) that must be used for each individual knot. So, first, a design is conceived by a designer and is plotted in color on graph paper, with one square on the paper equal to one knot on the rug. This serves as the weaver’s guide. Fine Urban rugs are woven under the supervision of a master weaver. When comparing rugs remember you can only compare rugs of the same type (apples with apples).

Interestingly enough, there is probably no handmade rug with a perfectly balanced symmetrical design. The fact is, each handmade rug is unique in its own way which is one of the reasons why rugs are so fascinating.

About auctions persian rug 2

If you’re going to spend money on a Persian rug you’ll obviously want an item that, if cared for, will increase in value as opposed to something that will be worthless after a few years have passed. Longevity depends a lot on the purpose for which you will use the rug. If it is to go under a dining room table, it is wise to select a type that is woven on a cotton foundation, as an all-wool rug could possibly stretch in that particular type of use.

However, an all-woolen rug is wonderful on an uneven floor such as stone or slate, or quarry tiles. If the area that is to take the rug is heavily trafficked, such as an entry foyer, then a solid durable weave is best. Silk rugs are best placed in light traffic areas, or hung on a wall. Antique rugs should be gently treated. If you are prepared to exercise the discipline of removing your street shoes before entering the house, hand-woven rugs will last for many generations as they do in the Middle East.

The best Persian rug? I’ll tell you as soon as you tell me what is the best wine, the best car, the best music, the best city, the best anything. “De gustibus non disputandem”