Nine-Point Methodology for Evaluating Antique Oriental Carpets (Part 1)

By Jan David Winitz, President & founder, Claremont Rug Company

Over his career as a gallery owner, international investor and carpet connoisseur, Claremont founder and president Jan David Winitz has developed this concise system. He presented it as part of the PBS documentary series, “American Architectural Review,” with John Stossel.


(The attributes listed below are not shown in order of importance. All nine points combine together to determine the rug’s value and level of collectibility.)

1. Level of Artistry 

Persian Mohtasham Kashan, circa 1850, from the penultimate floral style, glowing in dispersed light of collector’s guest room.

Tribal Bidjov Shirvan, circa 1850, a staggeringly evocative rug from the deeply symbolic Caucasian weaving tradition.

Generally, in scholarly discussions of antique Oriental rugs, the aspect of artistry has been the least developed while the visual and technical differences among the myriad styles has received tremendous study, an area of concentration that has greatly assisted our appreciation of this art form. However, since the founding of Claremont Rug Company, we have been sensitive to this missing, and for us seminal, topic of artistry. The vast variation in artistic dexterity and sensibility of various antique carpets inspired us to articulate over the years the elements that help to distinguish highly accomplished from mediocre works and their intrinsic value.

The most difficult criterion to grasp, a rug’s artistry stems from its overall level of unity among the elements in the composition and the visual impact it has on the viewer. In weaving, as in all art forms, the best pieces have what is sometimes referred to as “a universal impact.” Does it have staying power, i.e. the more one looks at it, the more one sees and is intrigued by it? Does the composition slow you down, even literally encompass you, giving you the sense you could be at its presence forever?

2. Level of Beauty 

Does a rug possess an overall balance and harmony between its various motifs, and a symbiotic relationship between its colors and designs? The choice of a rug’s palette, the ability to balance 8-25 or more tonalities within a rug, and knowledgeable command of color-combining are major determinants of a rug’s aesthetic appeal. Are the individual colors intriguing and do they work together harmoniously? Also affecting the level of beauty in Oriental carpets is the sense of visual depth (or lack thereof), principally accomplished through the art of abrash, striations within one hue intentionally wrought during the dyeing process. Are these color shifts naturally occurring or do they seem abrupt and out of place? 

Equally impactful is effective use of proportion between design elements. If the scales of the largest and the smallest motifs are too similar, they will not be sufficiently visible and, therefore not compelling enough in relationship to the entire spectrum of designs. An alluring sense of fluidity or movement adds interest and impact to a carpet, achieved by the spaciousness between field designs, the syncopation of the rug’s colors, the intentional abrash technique mentioned above and the choice of pattern in the main border. 

3. The Carpet’s Age 

Rugs woven before the Commercial Period took hold (roughly 1920) are the most desirable because of their much greater originality, purer, more beautiful naturally dyed colors, including exotic hues not found in later rugs, and expressive designs. The Commercial Period transformed the Oriental Rug market with its repetition of rug designs, instead of each rug being one-of-a-kind and the eventual turning to the use of harsh chemical dyes.

4. The Carpet’s Condition Relative to Age 

The earlier the rug was woven; the more wear and restoration is allowable. The impact on value is determined by how much restoration there is and how well it is executed. Chemical washing, extreme sun-fading and staining, and reducing the size of rugs have a deep negative impact on the rug’s value. The earlier the piece, the greater the value, if its artistry and craftsmanship are elevated and its condition is commensurate with age.

5. Quality of Color

All Oriental rug colors were made from natural dyestuffs before the appearance of chemical dyes, in some cases as early as the mid-1860s. An all-naturally dyed palette of color is paramount for a carpet to have more than just decorative value, as vegetable dyes develop a prized patina over time, while chemical dyes are often garish or fade with the passage of the decades. Beyond that, dyers had varying levels of skill and invested dramatically different amounts of time in dyeing the yarns. The “quality of color”–its radiance and level of nuance within each hue – is centrally important. Certain rare colors such as Tyrian purple, saffron yellow, cochineal rose and greens add to the carpet’s value.

Read “Part 2:
9-Point Methodology for Evaluating Antique Oriental Carpets”

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Jan David Winitz