A short time ago a friend asked me to put together an article about Oriental rugs. “Show them how to tell rugs apart,” he suggested. After a bit of thought on the subject, it seemed more fitting to discuss the first steps first. Plus I’m not a warp and weft and my interest is the front of a carpet.
For those who’ve been into rugs for some time, it’s interesting to recall that first attraction. Sometimes it’s a garage sale with a rolled-up old piece or a Great Aunt warning you to take your shoes off when walking on her Persian rug or that old wives’ tale that they “never wear out”. Whatever turned your head, you’re through the door and now you’d like the “skinny” that the insiders have.
Before the internet, locally there existed “The Rochester Oriental Rug Society.” I was lucky enough to meet a collector who not only shared advice but steered me to the group. But, more on this later. Newcomers now have the advantage of the internet for rug sites to purchase, check prices, and view dealers with shops and piles of carpets. These are good for visual input, and some scary prices. Personally, I have found that focused periodicals, which used to be plentiful but now have been whittled down, were a great source of information. Still, in print, the English publication “Hali,” (which means rug in Turkish) is the existing flagship magazine. Technical – yes. Scholarly – yes. But also with a lot of information on what you need to know. Their glossy pages will show you amazing examples of the carpets of Kings and Nomads. In the back is an auction section that shows color photos, estimates, and selling numbers of high-end recent auctions. But best is the no-holds-barred editorial assessment after the piece has sold.
Truth is, it doesn’t matter how you get interested, but that you stay connected. It’s helpful if you live in an area near a rug store for pop-in visits. Most owners will spend time with you and try to guide you to their product. Many will let you “road test” a rug at home for a short time. It can be fun living with a loaner for a bit but don’t wear out your welcome. Ask lots of questions. Also, some Antique shows have secondary market dealers who sell older rugs. This group can be very helpful. They usually clean and perform minor repairs, and are normally pretty free with information. Make a friend if possible. Eventually, you will have to buy something. Make it a piece that speaks to you and you’ll know it when you see it. Take it home and drape it over something, or hang it if you can; (pile facing down). Walk on it if you must.
Addressing style and type, should you be an orderly person perhaps you will find the “formal” rug to your taste. Often order and busy symmetry, but not too perfect. (It’s been said only Allah is perfect). Or you may be attracted to the more so-called Tribal pieces for the opposite reason. These can be more exciting with old geometry, animals, people, unexplained color changes, and abrupt terminations. Now yer talking.
In conclusion, I’ll add that luck can play a part in any search. Very early on, I was directed to a collector who not only had a wealth of knowledge but was also a member and promoter of “the Rochester Oriental Rug Society”. This small, but interested, and interesting group welcomed newcomers and regardless of their knowledge or station in life shared their collections, homes and encouraged fledglings. For several years, this group proved to be the main source of information and camaraderie. Sadly, little by little the organization ultimately dissolved. But their legacy has not. Incidentally, the gentleman who helped me so much is still a good friend after 40 years and we’re both still collecting. Now it’s your turn.