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Bijan's Oriental Rug Gallery

Bijan’s Oriental Rugs
Hand-made Oriental Rugs, selected with care and sold with Integrity.

Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

  • Dating
    Discovering exactly when an undated rug was made is almost impossible. However, complete accuracy is not important, as a few years either way make little difference to its value or collectability; placing it in the right quarter of appropriate century will nearly always suffice.  The on e exception is when a rug is on the borderline between being old and antique.  The definition of antique varies between “100 years old” and “made before the turn of the century”. Accurate dating is crucial in these cases because tax regulations in some countries provide exemption for antiques; these vary from country to country, and advice should be taken locally.
  • Establishing when a rug was made
    This is achieved by carefully examining its structure and design, which usually change to some degree with time, and taking into account its general condition and appearance.  Dating a rug from its weave and design requires extensive specialist knowledge and can be undertaken by an expert.  The condition and appearance of a rug can be affected by a number of factors other than age, and it is dangerous to jump to the conclusion that something is necessarily old because it is worn and in poor state of repair.  A relatively old rug that has been well looked after may be in far better condition than a newer rug that has seen less considerate use, and some contemporary rugs are deliberately made to look old by the use of chemical washes.
    A more reliable determinant of age is the way the colors have changed. As a rug gets older the colors become more subdued; this mellowing process is caused by the reaction of the dyes to light, and it can take between 20 and 50 years before the rug reaches what is generally referred to as “the primary stage of mellowness”.  By looking into the pile of a rug and comparing the intensity of colors with those on the surface, you can obtain a rough idea of how far the mellowing process has progressed.  This is not an exact method as the rate of fading is determined by the length of time a rug has been exposed to the light and by the intensity of the light source.  Rugs that have been chemically washed to give the appearance of age normally show the same degree of fading throughout the depth of the pile.
  • Dates and Signatures
    Sometimes woven into the pile of the rug, usually in the border; these can usually be taken as a clear indication of when and by whom the rug was made. Copies of old rugs sometimes include the original date and signature, but there is rarely any attempt to pass them off as originals; even if there were, other indicators of age would make such deceit obvious.  The fact that a rug is signed or dated does not imply that it is in any way superior to similar rugs that have not been inscribed, although it is fair to say that weavers rarely sign inferior examples of their work.
  • Price and value of oriental rugs
    Price is determined by a number factors, including the cost of purchase in country of origin, shipping, washing, import tariffs and the wholesaler’s overheads; but by far the most important influence on the price you will pay in retail shops is the profit margin of the individual retail outlet. Unlike the wholesaler, who normally has reasonably fixed prices, the retailer will charge whatever he thinks the customer is willing to pay.  Retail prices are therefore very susceptible to the law of supply and demand.  Certain basic costs must be recouped if the retailer is to stay in business; only in the most exceptional circumstances will a rug be sold for less than these. Nevertheless, at any given time there can be wide discrepancies in the prices quoted for almost identical rugs by retail outlets in the same town, or even the same street.
    Local fluctuations in price are usually short lived, and the result of a recent surfeit or scarcity of sales in a particular market; this may affect either rugs in general or just specific groups.  If a particular type or category is specially popular in one country, it will tend to be slightly more expensive there than elsewhere.  Import tariffs imposed by each Western country can also vary, depending on the countries involved, and make a small, but not insignificant difference to the price.
    Worldwide fluctuations are generally caused by one or more of the rug  producing countries altering their levels of production or the basic cost of their rugs. Such action is normally taken independently, and the effect on prices is therefore limited to rugs from those countries.  However, any change in the basic costs of availability of rugs from one country will have an influence on the market as a whole, because at any given time the rugs from some countries will represent better value than those from other countries.
  • Price and quality of oriental rugs
    These are normally connected, and, with some notable exceptions, the better the rug, the more expensive it is likely to be.  This is particularly true of rugs from the same group: varying qualities of Mori Bokhara, for example, are normally reflected in their respective prices.  This also holds true for rugs of similar groups within the same country; a top quality Nain will tend to be more expensive than a second grade Isphahan, and vise versa, while both can be expected to command a higher price than the average Hamadan or Heriz. However, comparisons between rugs from different countries present a number of difficulties because of the wide variations in popularity, availability and cost of production; a simple Persian village rug, for example, may prove more expensive than a much more finely knotted and better quality rug from Pakistan, India or China.
  • What to pay for an oriental rug
    The amount you pay should primarily be determined by what can afford.  This may seem self evident, but it is not unknown for people to be carried along by the atmosphere of an auction, or the sales patter of a dealer. The first step is therefore to decide exactly how you want to spend and then at the range of rugs that can be purchased for this figure or less. This need not be an inhibiting factor, because there will be a wide selection of rugs available to suit every pocket and taste.
  • Price category
    The various local and international fluctuations in market forces make it impossible to fix the price of oriental rugs in term cash amount, they would soon become out date. However, the prices of rugs from each individual weaving group remain relatively stable in relation to those of others. Comparison between the rugs of certain groups are more difficult because they are produced in such a diverse range of qualities that the gulf between the best and worst pieces may be greater than that between the groups themselves.
    Price is directly related to size, and comparison should always be made by the square foot rather than between individual rugs.
  • Where and when to buy an oriental rug
    There are a number of different types of retail outlet in most countries of West, each of which has its own slightly different set of advantages and disadvantages for the prospective buyer. However, the type of outlet is secondary to the quality and price of the rugs being sold;  it is therefore essential to shop around, and not to allow yourself to be rushed into buying.  A number of retail stores will allow you to take a rug home for a few days so that you can see it in the context of your home, and this simple precaution can not be recommended too strongly.
  • Specialist oriental rug shops
    These have the advantage of allowing you time to consider individual rugs, both in the shop and often on a trial basis in your home; in addition , there is usually a wide and varied selection of rugs from which to choose.  The disadvantages are largely those of price.  The fact that they carry large stocks and are generally located in prestigious and expensive locations means that overheads are high and these must be passed on to the customer.
  • Department stores
    Offer many of the advantages of a specialist shop, often with the added bonus of credit facilities as installment schemes.  The main disadvantages is that the range and quality of items on offer is often limited, and although there are usually good examples of most popular groups, you are less likely for find a wide selection of village and nomadic rugs.  Department stores may also be expensive.
  • Auctions
    Suctions offer most exciting and unpredictable method of buying a rug. Excellent bargains can be obtained, and there is something deeply satisfying about owning a rug for which you have had to compete. However, unless you have some knowledge of the subject, it is just as easy to pay too much as it is to pick up a bargain. It is extremely important to your homework and to check the prices being asked in shops and stores for a similar cross section of rugs before making a purchase.  It is also a good idea to attend one or two auctions, in order to acquaint yourself with the atmosphere, procedure and prices, prior to entering a serious bid.  Do not take too much notice of the reasons put forward for the auction or put much store by claims of “no reserve on any of the item”. Auction houses have an obligation to the vendor and are unlikely to allow anything to be sold for less than cost.  Always check whether there are any payments in addition to the hammer price before the auction begins; it is customary to have local taxes and buyer’s premium added on to the final bid, although these are sometimes included in the hammer price.
    The disadvantages are that although most auctions allow a viewing period before the bidding starts, you have only a limited amount of time to examine the rugs, and full payment must be made at the end of the auction. Some auctioneers will exchange rugs if they prove to be wrong color, design or size, but this is entirely at their discretion, and much will depend on the specific instructions they have  received from the vendor.  If, for example, the rugs in a sale belong to a number of different vendors, it is extremely unlikely that they will be allowed to exchange a rug owned by one owner for a rug owned by another. But if all the rugs belong to one person or company, as is often the case, then the auctioneer may feel he can reasonably make an exchange without betraying his client’s interests.
  • Private sale
    Buying from a private individual or dealer can be extremely beneficial,  but unless you have a knowledge of the subject, or both know and trust the person involved, such transactions are not without risk.  If you are buying from a friend it may be worth obtaining an independent assessment in order to avoid the risk of either side feeling that they may have been unfairly treated. When buying from a dealer, or a person you do not know, it is advisable to take along an independent expert to negotiate on your behalf. Private dealers are neither more nor less scrupulous than dealers who operate from a retail outlets, but they may prove more to tract down if something goes wrong.  A good private dealer can offer the same advantages as a retail outlet, including home trials, often at considerably lower prices.  Dealers can also provide a useful service in locating specific types of rug or generally buying in your behalf.
  • Foreign buying
    This can be extremely hazardous and it is dangerous to assume that a rug will necessarily be cheaper in the country of origin than it is in the West; rugs on sale in the bazaars in Turkey, for example, are often just as expensive, if not more so, than they are in London or New York. However, the relative cost of living in individual countries, even in the West, can make some difference to the overall retail price as can local fluctuations.  Most countries allow their citizens to bring home articles without an import license, providing they cost less than a certain amount, without paying excess duty.  The ceiling for exemption from duty varies from country to country, but it is usually fairly low, and you can expect to pay something on most rugs bought abroad.  VAT or similar form of tax can usually be reclaimed at the point of departure (airport, etc.), and even when any excess duty has been taken into account, an item bought in another country may constitute a worthwhile saving. Check carefully with your own Customs and Excise and other country’s embassy before committing yourself to a purchase, as you can not take the rug back should it prove unsuitable.
  • Other Methods
    Catalogs and mil order services share the disadvantages of offering a limited selection, and, more importantly, not allowing you the chance to examine the rug until it arrives at your door. A photo graph is no substitute for original rug, and items that look superb in reproduction can be extremely disappointing when viewed in the flesh. These may be the most practical methods of purchase for people in rural areas, but avoid any mail order or catalog offer unless there is a free home trial period of bona fide money back guarantee.
  • When to buy
    Choosing the best time to buy is not always possible, and sometimes the inconvenience of waiting for the right moment can cause more trouble than any financial saving may be worth. Nevertheless, the rug market can be eixtremely volatile, and a few months either way can make a significant difference to prices. These state of market can be ascertained by visiting a number of shops and auctions over the period of a few weeks, and carefully noting the prices.  It is much easier to keep a reliable record if you concentrate on 3 or 4 rugs from specific groups.  Always select popular groups and rugs which represent a reasonable cross section of the sizes and price ranges on offer, because prices do not always fluctuate evenly across the board.  At any given time, you may find that due to popularity, low category rugs are relatively expensive, while more valuable rugs are proving harder to sell, or vice versa.

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