Fine Antique Rugs and The Evolution of a Collection

Astoundingly Expressive Early Kermanshah Carpet Fills Sophisticated Sitting Room with Deeply Engaging, Refined Atmosphere.

Collecting antique Oriental carpets is fascinating, and for some a lifelong endeavor that is an intensely personal exercise. Collectors are drawn from all manner of society. They include well-known historic figures such as William Randolph Hearst and John D. Rockefeller as well as King Henry VIII, who remarkably, was in competition with Cardinal Woolsey for the best rugs coming from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. Modern day connoisseurs include many captains of industry across the globe.

While there are many factors involved in the decision about whether to embark on an adventure in rug collecting, two of the most likely considerations revolve around which rugs to choose and how much to invest.

Whether one invests $100,000 or ultimately $20 million to create a collection, it becomes clear that what starts as a decorative interest can become a most exhilarating passion. Putting together a suite of carpets that enhance the décor in your home, but also are chosen for their high level of artistry, is the way many people become the proud owners of a rug collection.

It has often been said that you know when you’ve become a collector when you keep buying rugs after there are no more floors (or walls) left in your home to display them.

Persian Ivory Sultanabad Antique Rug in a grand traditional foyer

A high collectible 19th-century Persian Sultanabad provides a stunning first impression to this collector’s 1911 mansion.

One of the beauties of the genre is that collectors of art-level rugs have the unique ability to choose pieces within a relatively modest price point — allowing them to pursue their new passion at an investment level they find comfortable. To seasoned art collectors for whom investments topping seven figures is de rigueur, it is nothing less than extraordinary that exquisite, art-level rugs from 1800- 1910 (known as the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving”) can be obtained in the range of $15,000 to $250,000 – with the exception of palace size pieces.

Once one decides that fine rugs is an art form they wish to explore, how to collect, what to collect and when to collect is an art all its own. It is important to find a dealer that you can put your trust in and has both great expertise and passion for the art form. As Warren Buffet famously said, “If you don’t know jewelry, know the jeweler.”

Antique Caucasian Karachov Kazak, 5′ 8” x 6′ 10”, 3rd quarter, 19th-century, connoisseur caliber. A unique interpretation of a famous design style with unusually light colors, highlighted by its apple green field.

What is paramount is to work with a gallery that not only has a vast selection at levels of quality up to high-collectible, but also a full exchange policy. It’s nearly impossible to forecast where your taste will take you over time, so working with someone who allows you to trade in your pieces carte blanche provides you with the opportunity to spread your wings as your taste becomes more refined.

A frequent question my clients ask is “how do I develop an educated eye?” I use my “Nine-Point Methodology” to help them determine a rug’s level of artistry and craftsmanship and its condition relative to its age. It also addresses a rug’s artistic aspects, such as the uniqueness of its color palette and pattern language, and the extent to which it is singularly unique.

Hadji Jallili Tabriz Antique rug in a Louis XVI sitting room

I help clients comprehend the distinction between the small percentage of antique rugs that are “art-level” and the bulk of pieces which, although original and beautiful, are more decorative in nature. Regardless of the region in which it was woven, and art-level piece combines a series of traits that separate it from the norm.

Using both the “Nine-Point Methodology” and my Oriental Rug Pyramid™ as resources provides a pragmatic approach to assessing a carpet’s merits. The six-level Pyramid groups rugs into categories that begins with historical Museum-Quality rugs, which are usually held in private museums, at the apex. Rugs in Levels 2 (High Collectible) and 3 (Connoisseur Level) of the Pyramid are art-level rugs of the magnitude appropriate for collecting and investment, as well as exquisite for home display. Levels 4 through 6 are ideal for furnishing a home with beautiful, non-collectible rugs.

Palatial reception area displays rare 150-year-old Persian Laver Kirman corridor carpet with a rare Persian Dorasht Vase Rug displayed as wall art on the stair landing. Collectors particularly enjoy using foyers, entry halls, walls, and vestibules as places to exhibit a favorite piece.

For a rug to be art-level, it must possess a breathtaking depth of beauty. A profound balance and harmony between a rug’s colors and designs, qualities central to Eastern artistic philosophy are essential. The finest of these rugs reflect both the tremendous diversity and underlying unity of the natural and cosmic worlds.

Less than two decades ago, historical Oriental carpets were still what the Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2010) described as a “little-noticed niche.” However, today they are “commanding sums more often reserved for masterpiece paintings than floor coverings.”

From Left: Extremely difficult to find, 19th century Tehrans are cherished by collectors of formal rugs for their lush, highly detailed botanical patterns. Close inspection of this one-in-the-world piece reveals a great variety of lifelike animal and bird forms.
Caucasian Karagashli Shirvan rug (circa 1850)/ Among the most oft-collected rig styles are examples of the 85 subgroups of the tribal rugs from the Caucasus Mountains. These widely sought-after rugs offer a virtually endless array of enigmatic patterns.

As Museum-Quality rugs are achieving record-breaking pieces, private connoisseurs are recognizing that the best 19th century rugs are the next segment of this market to be discovered. The finest carpets from “The Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving” (circa 1800-1910) offer a comparable level of artistic maturity, along with the great attraction that their condition allows them to still be used on the floor. As a result, they are becoming increasingly scarce, with collectors and investors voraciously acquiring them and removing them from the market.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of educating one’s eye about rugs in the process of building a collection. For as one increasingly comprehends the language of color and pattern, and the underlying harmonious structure of an art-level antique rug, collecting them brings ever-greater rewards.

High-Collectible room size Persian Mohtasham Kashan graces the seating area of this seaside home. Asian art collectors find in top-tier Persian floral carpets the level of refinement that underscores the serene ambiance they prefer.

Reposted for educational purposes only. Private Air Magazine retains sole ownership of this article.