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Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

Countries of origin where oriental rugs are made.

Rugs of the major producing countries

Persian Rugs

  • Weaving region: Iran
  • Categories: masterworkshops, workshop, village, and nomadic

For most people, the terms “Persian rug” and “oriental rug” are the same.  Persia is seen as the spiritual, if not actual, home of rug making and its name has become synonymous with the finest and most outstanding achievements in oriental textiles art.  Much of this is due to the magnificent Court carpets of the 16th and 17th centuries which grace Western museums, and 18th and 19th century masterpieces to be found in royal palaces and stately home throughout the world. Yet these intricate and highly sophisticated masterworks are only a part of a rug making tradition that encompasses the entire tradition of weaver’s art.
Persia is exceptional in number and variety of its groups.  No other country can boast the same of masterworkshop, workshop, village, and nomadic rugs, and none even comes close to the diversity of Persian design,  It is therefore hardly surprising that Persian compositions have not only been reproduced in countless machine made carpets in the West, but also emulated by most rug producing countries in the East. Today most oriental rugs, weather from Pakistan, India, or the Balkan, are based on Persian designs, and even China, with its own ancient and unique heritage, is now producing rugs with Persian schemes.

  • Pahlavi rugs
    Special mention must be made of these masterworkshop and workshop rugs made in a handful of major weaving centers from 1930s onwards, and generally considered to be among the most technically accomplished rugs ever made. When the late Shah’s father, Reza Shah Pahlavi, came to power in 1924 he began a program of sponsorship aimed at elevating the Persian rug industry to levels of excellence that had not been seen since the Golden Age of the 16th and 17th centuries. This patronage was continued by the late Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, until he was deposed in 1979, and the rugs produced in the top workshops in Isphahan, Tabriz, Nain, Ghoum, and to a lesser extent Kashan, Kerman and Meshed are known collectively as Pahlavi rugs.  In Reality, the term should only be applied to rugs made under royal commission, but in practice it is used for any rug from these weaving centers produced in the Pahlavi style.
  • Contemporary weaving
    In addition to the Pahlavi rugs, Persia produces workshop rugs in styles that have evolved from those made during the Ghajar dynasty, which ended in the 19th century, and there are also numerous village and nomadic groups who, allowing for some minor modifications to the market, still make rugs that have hardly changed for generations. Today Persia produces the most diverse and stylistically authentic range of rugs in the world.
  • Price and resale value
    Persian rugs have traditionally been considered the most expensive and easily resale able of all oriental rugs, and allowing for a few notable exceptions, usually older and more collectable rugs from different parts of the worlds, this assumption has generally held true. However, from the mid 1980s this situation has begun to change.  Persian rugs still possess an undoubted mystique, and are generally more expensive than those from other countries, but price differentials have been steadily eroding, and they are now generally eroding, and they are now generally cheaper in comparison to rugs from other countries than they have been for decades. This is partly due to the relative costs of production and the public’s growing recognition that other countries can make good rugs; but perhaps the main reason is simply that the output of workshop has increased dramatically in recent years. There are now approximately 2 million more weavers operating in Persia than were during the time of the late Shah, and, even if this trend is reversed, existing stocks are large enough to keep Western markets more adequately supplied for a decade or so. Consequently, the traditionally high resale values of Persian workshop rugs can no longer be automatically guaranteed, though the finest examples are still likely to retain their value.  It is advisable, if you are looking for an investment, to buy the best.  In contrast, the production of village and nomadic rugs has generally decreased, and the investment potential of better quality rugs is probably far more secure now than in the past.

Anatolian Rugs

  • Weaving region: Asian part of Turkey, separated from Europe by the Bosphorus
  • Categories produced: Masterworkshop, workshop, village and nomadic.

It is common practice in the carpet trade to use the term “Anatolian” to describe rugs made in Turkey, although they may also be referred to as Turkish or Turkey rugs. Weaving traditions in this region are extremely old, stretching back to the 2nd nad perhaps the 3rd millennium BC. Contemporary techniques and styles can probably be traced to the Seljuks, a nomadic people from central Asia who conquered the country in the 13th century.  The Seljuks’ cultural and political dominance was soon overtaken by that of the Ottomans, a more powerful invading force from Central Asia, whose empire reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries and whose influence is still evidence today.
Anatolian rugs were first brought into Europe by Italian merchants during the late Middle Ages, and although they generally lacked the intricacy and sophistication of their Persian counterparts, they nevertheless had a profound effect on Western decorative tastes, and for centuries all oriental rugs were known as Turkey rugs. Thousands were later imported as furnishings for the rapidly expanding middle class, and were simply referred to as Smyrna carpets, because the coastal town of Smyrna, now Izmir, was the main collection and distribution center for goods woven in the interior. It is only in the last hundred years that the West was taken a serious interest in exactly where the different Anatolian rugs were made.
The high reputation and influence of Anatolian rugs declined rapidly after the First World War, when the creator of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, set about purging the country of Armenians and Greeks. Approximately 2 million Greeks, whose families had lived in the country for generations, were forcibly repatriated and nearly 6 million Armenians were systematically killed or driven from their homes. These terrible persecutions had a devastating effect o the rug industry, because many of the skillful and inventive weavers were killed or forced to flee. Needless to say, standards of rug making went into rapid decline, and, exacerbated by the wide spread introduction of poor quality dyes, the reputation of Anatolian rugs soon reached an all time low from which it has only recently recovered.

  • Contemporary weaving
    The rugs produced today possess none of the flaws of their predecessors. They are generally very attractive and well made; the dyes are of excellent quality, although there is a tendency by some groups to over wash their rugs, which weakens the pile.
    In the late 1970s the government introduce a scheme to improve the quality and profitability of the rug making industry, which involved the reintroduction of natural dyes and traditional weaving methods.  The result of this innovation was the creation of the Dobag, and a number established groups began to weave Dobag rugs in addition to, and sometimes in place of, their more traditional rugs. As well as Dobags, Anatolia produces a wide range of village standard rugs, which may be either traditional in appearance or designed specifically for Western market, and some notable workshop rugs, particularly from Hereke and, to lesser degree, Kayseria.  Apart from the Yuruk, there are no truly nomadic weavers in Anatolia, although a number of groups (Tashpinar, Yahyali and Yagciberdir, etc.) are still essentially tribal and make rugs with a strong nomadic appearance and character.
  • Price and resale value
    Anatolian rugs are relatively inexpensive and represent very good value for money. At the top end of the scale, Hereke produces the finest silk rugs in the world, which, although expensive, are considered sound investments. The resale potential of other Anatolian rugs is less clear, but it seems probable that the finer quality Dobags and the more tribal rugs, whether village or nomadic, will fare better in the long term than “furnishing” or “decorative’ rugs.  Most contemporary Anatolian rugs are sufficiently attractive to be well worth buying, whatever their resale value.

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