I have spent nearly four decades working with collectors and connoisseurs to help them build what have become extremely valuable private collections of rare antique rugs. Many of my clients also collect other forms of art and antiques, and are tremendously knowledgeable about antiquities, but might not be fully versed about antique Oriental rugs.
I consistently see that collectors, whether they are new to the rug milieu or already deeply involved in it, value an educational approach to understanding carpets which they often ultimately use as wall art as well as floor coverings.
To help clients understand the realm of these rugs and to better understand their value in the context of other valuable art and antiques, I developed a proprietary Oriental Rug Pyramid ™as a graphic and comprehensive tool to comprehend the market for handwoven Oriental rugs.
Rankings in the six-level rug Pyramid are based on artistry, craftsmanship, quality of materials, condition, age and provenance. The Pyramid encompasses the entire history of Oriental rug weaving with an emphasis on the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving, ca. 1800 to ca. 1910, which is the period where art and investment level rugs are still available to connoisseurs and collectors.
In the Pyramid, as the tiers descend, the number of available pieces increases significantly, while the artistry and originality decreases. Rugs in Level 1 are held primarily by museums. Art-level pieces are found in Levels 2 through 4. Rugs in Levels 5 and 6 would be considered durable floor coverings of no intrinsic art or investment value.
Level 1 | Museum-Quality
Primarily 13th to 18th-centuries — The Persian Safavid dynasty that ruled from 1501–1736 (“The Golden Age of Persian Weaving”) sponsored workshops that produced many of the finest carpets the world has ever seen. In 2013, a stunning 17th-century Persian Kirman rug sold at Sotheby’s auction for $33.8 million.
Level 2 | High-Collectible
Primarily from early 19th-century to circa 1875 — Artistic achievement and great originality flourished this period. These best-of-the-best caliber rugs exhibit fluid, subtly varied designs a highly exotic use of nuanced colors, and achieve superb aesthetic balance and harmony in the process. The finest rugs from “The Second Golden Age” were woven primarily in Persia and the Caucasus Mountains, but also in Turkey and the Central Asian plateau.
High-Collectible floral weaving styles such as Mohtasham Kashan and Laver Kirman offer specimens of unparalleled detail work and refinement, while the best of geometric rugs include Caucasian, Bakshaish, Camelhair and South Persian tribal rugs, notably Qashqai. While historical rugs from Level 1 are typically too fragile, many High-Collectible pieces are sufficiently durable for floor use.
Level 3 | Connoisseur-Caliber
Primarily from circa 1850 to late 19th-century — This category encompasses outstanding rugs from all of the major Persian and tribal groups.
The period starting around 1875 is often termed “The Revival Period” of Persian carpet weaving, as a greater number of rugs were commissioned in styles such as Hadji Jallili Tabriz, Laver Kirman, Ferahan Sarouk, the extremely popular Serapis, and from a plethora of small village and tribal groups. Highly talented artisans used an excellent quality of materials and original, captivating designs and color combinations.
In today’s international market, a selection of excellent examples in quite good condition can only be found through a handful of specialty dealers worldwide and the finest offerings of major auction houses.
Level 4 | High-Decorative
Primarily 1875 to 1910 — With international demand increasing rapidly, the number of working looms, more rugs were woven for export, and designs became less complex and color palettes changed to satisfy Western decorative taste. Yet aesthetic appeal and originality still played a large role in the finest of these carpet workshops, where alluring designs combined with the color shifting technique known as “abrash” was still adroitly employed. Sultanabad, Mahal and Bijar are central styles in this group. Synonymous with sophistication and grace, and capable of “mixing” with a broad range of furniture and art styles, both these and Level 3 rugs are widely sought after today.
Level 5 | Decorative
Primarily 1920 to 1970— When the decorative rug market exploded, most of the resultant weavings fell into this category. The level of materials, craftsmanship and innovative artistry decreased notably, with often modern chemical dyes supplanting more subtle natural pigments.
Some Persian rugs woven prior to 1910 also fall into this category, as they are damaged, chemically washed, irregular in shape, of garish or fugitive dyes or are simply uninspired.
Level 6 | Reproductions
Typically 1970 to present — The newest contributions to the hand-woven market are adaptations of traditional Persian designs created in a broad range of qualities. These are by far the most widely available Oriental rugs today. Although the pieces may be labeled with famous Persian regional names, the majority are woven in India, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Romania. Some reproductions are finely crafted using natural dyes, although the artistic spark and individuality that give earlier rugs enduring value are not present.
The best Oriental rugs are valuable art works and precious tangible assets, therefore should be appraised and insured at appropriate value levels.