For generations, oriental rugs have been prominent in American and European homes. Most people, however, do not know how to tell good rugs from bad.
How to tell a handmade rug from a machine made one? There are several ways to do this. Look at the sides and ends of the rug. Since all hand made rugs were made on looms, their sides will never be 100 percent straight. The back of a handmade carpet will look the same as the front. Check the knots by bending the rug back and examining a few knots individually. In handmade carpets, no two knots will be alike, but knots in machine made rugs will be the same.
Most carpets in the American market will have been made for export. In the 1920s, for example, Iranian rug merchants shipped thousands of Sarouk rugs colored dark blue and deep burgundy to American markets. None of these rugs were ever intended for indigenous Iranian use. Today many of these “oriental” Sarouk rugs are still found in American homes.
This Sarouk rug was made in the 1920s for the American market.
As a broad rule, the older the rug, the more will be its investment value. Antique rugs are those more than 100 years old. Semi-antique refers to rugs more than 50 years old. It should not be believed, however, that all modern rugs are without value. There are many fine carpets are recent creations.
The warp and weft of a rug refer to the lengthwise and crosswise threads respectively. These are the threads that are stretched across the loom and upon which the knots are tied. Warp and weft material is typically wool, but cotton and silk are also used.
Silk carpets are meant only for display. These are the most beautiful of all Oriental rugs, because of the smoothness and shine of the silk, but also the most fragile. Not all silk carpets, incidentally, are equal in quality. The best silk carpets are made from silk that comes from the center of the cocoon. Unfortunately, many modern silk carpets are composed of inferior silk taken from the ends of the cocoon.
There is also confusion over terms like Heriz, or Kashan or other designs. Originally each of these names represented rugs that were actually made in their respective cities or regions. A Kirman rug, for example, was made in the Kirman area and recognized by traditional vase patterns on its fields. Today, however, the various regional terms do not mean that a rug was made in a specific city. The names refer now to designs only. A Kirman could still originate in the Kirman area, but it could also come from Egypt or other country.
There is a particular design of carpet called Aubusson that is unique unto itself. In the early 18th century, when carpets from the Middle East were becoming popular in Europe, the French town of Aubusson was commissioned to duplicate these carpets. The result was the design (called Aubusson to this day) that mixed Middle Eastern with European motifs. The term Aubusson therefore refers to a hybrid type of design that is a combination of European and Middle Eastern patterns.
Potential rug buyers should be aware of the different types of dyes that may be part of a rug. Originally, dyes were natural. Reds would come, for example, from the madder plant. Commencing around 1870, aniline or commercial dyes (and, later, chrome dyes) were introduced into the rug making trade. These synthetic dyes are often inferior to natural ones. In recent years, there has been a return among rug makers to the use of natural dyes.
Some repair work to carpets is acceptable, but there are some types of damage, such as dry rot and mildew, that is not restorable. Fringes are especially subject to wear. It is acceptable to replace a fringe on a rug, but the edges of the rug should not be flayed in replacing the fringes. The fringes, incidentally, are simply the original ends of the warp.
The term abrash is often used by rug dealers. This term is applicable to carpets whose color tones vary. Rugs with abrash typically were woven by nomads.
It is not unusual to see Oriental rugs with a type of repetitive paisley pattern covering the entire field. Each of these paisleys is called a boteh. Another type of design is a stylized geometric form, shaped roughly like a flower, which appears on Turkoman rugs. This is called a gul (the Persian word for flower). Different Turkoman tribes will have their own distinctive guls.
Turkoman rugs have to be distinguished from Caucasian rugs. Turkomans are made by nomads and have limited geometrical motifs. They also have subdued and have (usually) earth tone colors. Two of the more well-known Turkoman tribes are the Tekke and the Yomud. Caucasian rugs are more brightly colored and have more geometric designs covering the entire field.
Buying oriental rugs can be an exciting adventure. Although their beauty is timeless, collectors will also benefit by understanding their history and differences.