Collecting Modern/New Oriental Rugs
What are the most important things to consider when you contemplate the purchase of an Oriental rug?
Be aware that this classification is now fairly general and can refer to goods woven in many countries. There have been lots of changes in production since the embargo on imports from Iran; Iran’s weaving industry effectively collapsed and business moved elsewhere. Now that the embargo has been lifted, imports are once again available, however quality is not as good as it used to be.
Use the following checklist if you are contemplating a new rug purchase:
1. Be certain of the country of origin. There are copies of Persian designs from several countries. There are price differentials among rugs produced in Pakistan, India, Turkey and China.
2. Know for sure of what material the pile is made. The pile is the cut surface of the knots that make the surface pattern. The term silk might be used when the fiber is really mercerized cotton, rayon or another synthetic. Be aware of the term art silk. This is an industry abbreviation for artificial silk. You may want to ask the dealer to perform a burn test on a new rug: silk burns but does not melt, leaves a black residue, will self-extinguish and has the faint odor of burned meat. Cotton burns but does not melt, leaves a fine grayish ash and has an odor similar to burning paper. Wool smells like burning hair and leaves a black bulb at the tip of the fiber.
3. The dyes need to be stable. Most dyes used today are chemical; there are different qualities. Some colors tend to run, especially red and orange. Ask to do a color test, especially if the colors are very bright. A bit of water goes a long way.
4. Look at the back of the rug. Are the colors of the pile and the back the same or similar? The more difference, the more you may be sure something has been done to the rug, such as a chemical wash or color added.
5. Knot count is usually important when ranking rugs in terms of the same category. Different types of rugs will have different knot counts. A high knot count is not always a guarantee of quality.
6. Square footage is measured from the edges of the length and width and does not include the fringe.
7. Buy from a reputable, long-established dealer. Get a written guarantee that states you will get a cash refund (limited time frame) if the rug turns out to be something else than what you were told. Make sure the sales receipt is complete. If it’s an expensive piece, or more than one rug, it may be wise to have an independent appraiser render an opinion. Be wary of buying from special auctions operating from leased spaces or shops selling lots of different elaborate antiques. Prices at places like these can often be higher than retail due to deceptive business practices, and if there is a problem with the purchase later, you will likely have no recourse.
8. There are vast differences between new and old/antique rugs. To be antique, something must be at least 100 years old. Dealers often refer to anything 10 years old or more as “semi-antique,” but these are still considered “new” in the trade. A semi-antique rug would need to be about 50 years old. The qualitative ranking and price structures for new and old rugs are completely different.
9. Buy what you like. Most new rugs are floor coverings that will not appreciate in value. Do not make your purchase based on a sales pitch that the rug is an investment.
This is a good time to buy Oriental rugs. There are abundant goods, and prices are very negotiable. Don’t be fooled by slashed price tags promising incredible buys. Shop around and get to know what’s available. Some legwork and lots of questions improve the chances of making a credible purchase. Most dealers will be happy to educate you. There are several good, basic books on the subject. If you wish to build a library or purchase one or more books, start with those more recently published. Like every subject, recent scholarship has changed. One that gives a general background for new and old rugs is The Illustrated Oriental Rugs World Buyers’ Guide, by Janice Summers. Oriental rug books often are published in small printings. If you cannot locate this particular one through a bookshop, try one of the many Internet used book sites such as www.AddAll.com, or www.ABEBookexchange.com, or use a search engine and enter “used books.”