Persian handmade wool Heriz rug in a living room under a wooden coffee table

Persian Rugs as an Investment

There are a few ways of judging the attractiveness of investing in rugs. They are of course, in the older and rarer examples, a commodity like any other art form. There are rabid collectors of rugs and textiles who will compete for a fragment of 17thcentury Turkish ‘Oushak’ rug or 19thcentury Persian Q’ashqa’I salt bag. These buyers are not motivated by money but the thrill of the chase, a genuine love and admiration for the beauty and craftmanship and a fair amount of one upmanship in what is a fairly small world of arcane knowledge. A jewel toned wool or silk fragment, tribal bag or prayer rug, mounted properly and well-lit on a wall, becomes a terrifically unusual three-dimensional work of art which is very often a fraction of the price of any other option. So, in that sense they are a wise investment in taking the time and effort to source and display and, if bought from a reputable and honest dealer give some return, but not generally profit, when re-sold.

Buying a new rug from a dealer or online seller is exactly like buying a brand-new car. As soon as you take it home and use it the trade in value is at least half of what you have paid. It always struck me as odd and very frustrating that the public do not understand the levels of profit needed to run a shop or website, and the aggrieved reaction when given the re-sale value of a rug sold within 30 years of purchasing. What I call ‘furnishing rugs’, the vast majority of the rugs sold to the public to simply use as an attractive and complementary floor covering, are of a mediocre or poor quality and will be swimming around the market for decades, sold on ebay and other public auction sites for pennies in the pound. It is important to buy a rug that really strikes a chord rather than one that simply works with a current colour scheme as changing a good quality Persian or Oriental rug every five years or so does not make financial sense. To those who want to constantly re-decorate it is preferable to buy a mass-produced hand tufted or machine-made rug which can be either thrown or given away.

The lucky or hard-working buyer who can afford to buy the highest quality or oldest rugs to use will have a different experience. The ‘best’ rugs, the ones with the finest yarns, dyes and most knots per square inch are becoming more and more expensive as younger generations decide there is more excitement and interest in pursuing other forms of work. This is especially true in Turkey and Iran but even in India and Pakistan the financial crash of 2008 led to a worldwide drop in rug orders and many experienced weavers were laid off and subsequently lost to the industry. The galleries of London, New York and Milan and the rug departments of the high end department stores are places to find the diminishing quantities of finest new rugs but the prices are consequently eye watering to the average buyer. However, simply by the law of supply and demand purchasing such a rug will always result in a higher return on the purchase price when sold- but still it would take decades before the buyer  saw a profit.

One sure fire way of circumventing the problem of initial dealer profit is to attend auctions. By this I do not mean fake auctions that travel the land and turn up in the local hotel ballroom or village hall! These are a marvelously simple and clever way of appealing to peoples’ greed and offer a false sense of bypassing the established channels of commerce. The rugs sold are often of an inferior quality,  seconds with tensioning ( see How Persian and Oriental Rugs are Made ) or colour run problems. The better regional, every county has one, and all the national auction houses include rugs in their catalogue auctions. The major houses – Christies, Sothebys and Bonhams – have dedicated rug sales and in-house experts who catalogue, mostly accurately, the rugs on view. The buyer should take great care when taking this course and set aside plenty of time on the pre-sale viewing days to inspect the rugs they take a liking to. (See How to Buy a Persian Rug for an in-depth explanation of what to look for and what to look out for). If possible, you should ask for guidance from the resident expert who should explain the merits of the rugs and point out any glaring faults or general skullduggery. If you have a local rug dealer you trust then it is an option to ask them to accompany you to the viewing day to offer the same advice. It is up to you to negotiate a sensible and fair percentage of the hammer price with your advisor as this way of buying is of course taking business from their own shop or gallery. Even taking into account this fee and the auction house buyers percentage you will always save money over buying retail and therefore you can view buying these rugs an investment. Properly cared for and used sensibly these rugs will generally return the same buying price after ten to twenty years- with the advantage of giving service and adding beauty to the home. However it is important to remember that rug types come in and out of fashion like anything else, so if you have purchased a washed out Persian Lavar Kerman it may be out of vogue when the selling time arrives.Apart from the pitfalls of rugs having faults such as being re-sized (cut and shut, like two identical cars being re-joined after bad crashes), badly tensioned and with colour run problems the major disadvantage of buying at auction is that you cannot try them first at home to judge their suitability. This is not a problem however if the rug is the first item in the room – in this case the buyer can simply buy what they love and work upwards and outwards from there.

The internet has muddied the waters somewhat and thrown up opportunities to the general buyer to travel through the ether online direct to the manufacturers in the all the weaving countries. It is vitally important that there is a strong online social media presence backed up by a proper website giving the address and phone number. Ignore any online reviews of delighted customers in Los Angeles or West Sussex as these are almost always self-written. The first option here is to commission a bespoke rug – one existing in their catalogue online or give them a design of your own to design – and then to pay a deposit and wait for the finished article. The other is to simply purchase from their stock but always demand highly detailed as well as overall shots of the front and back before making a decision. Factor in shipping, duty and VAT to decide on whether it is worth it as all manufacturers from Istanbul to Beijing now know the Western retail prices and will try and achieve that sum. Ideally the rug bought direct should be at least 35-60% cheaper than the comparable UK retailer price. Bought like this rugs can be a sensible investment by merit of saving money, using for however long needed and then re-selling.

In short rugs are not a sure-fire way to riches – unless you happen to unearth a rare or unusual one at a car boot sale or buy one in Inverness to re-sell in London. Rugs should always be seen primarily as a beautiful and practical art form and any return on money- and rarely profit- should be viewed as a bonus.

How to look after your Persian or Oriental rug

  • A handmade Persian rug is very likely one of your major home furnishing purchases and just because it is on the floor does not mean it cannot be looked after very well. Your rug should both reflect your character, your spending power and perfectly suit your room colours and use. It is an artisan product crafted with care and love by weavers in Central Asia and should be cared for so that it mellows with age and becomes a cherished family heirloom.
  • Underlay ( Rug pad )The first thing you really need is a suitable underlay – rug pad in North America – and these take many forms. Ask your rug dealer for his or her advice as the type of rug and the flooring it will be laid on will dictate the type of underlay. The underlay will serve many uses- it will add some comfort to a rug laid on a hard floor, cushioning the weight of feet and thus protecting crushing of the pile; it will also protect the back of the knot from abrasion, lifting the rug off the hard surface and protecting it from heat ( ask for special underlay for underfloor heating )and damp ; it will allow dust and dirt to fall through the rug which will help avoid the build-up of particles which will otherwise act as a sandpaper abrasion mix at the base of the pile; lastly, it will, of course, reduce the movement of the rug, making it safe and perfectly positioned.
  • Furniture Cups. A larger rug will have furniture on it and if the feet of your sofa, chairs or table have sharp ends you should use furniture cups. These can be bought online and can be plastic, wood, brass or brushed metal. These will stop your rug pile from being crushed and avoid holes forming with many minuscule movements.
  • Moths! Now consider how the furniture is sitting. If you have a large heavy piece of furniture under which the rug is lying you must ensure that this dark and quiet space is thoroughly vacuumed along with the visible parts. Moths!!! They love dark undisturbed places with a plentiful supply of wool or silk to eat. Ideally, you should also have a pheromone moth trap in the room too – especially with any rug made in Afghanistan. For some reason they go crazy for this wool.
  • Sunshine. If you are lucky enough to live in a country with abundant strong sunshine you must consider the effects of UV light on your rug- obviously,  a conservatory or a patio windowed room in particular needs clear UV filter screen on the glass. Whatever your vendor tells you, ALL rugs fade- at least all rugs with natural materials.
  • Turning. Ideally you should also consider turning your rug every year or so so that any fading is evened out – however, this is rarely done as most rugs look best with the pile lying in a certain direction so they are left as is. Turning a rug will also even out feet tread wear patterns – but this only happens in areas of very heavy traffic or over the course of decades, by which time your rug has aged with you and you accept and love it.
  • Weekly Upkeep. Modern vacuum cleaners are FAR too efficient and all that satisfying fluff and dirt in your viewable bag is mostly bits of your rug being stripped. You do not need to vacuum on a high power with the revolving brush – please just use suction as this will suck out what needs to be removed. Avoid vacuuming the fringes as these are, in a handmade Persian or Oriental rug, integral warp threads and are protection against the knots being damaged or destroyed.
  • stitch in time– If you see any signs of the rug having been damaged then you should have it restored immediately. The same goes for discovering that your party guest spilled a glass of red under the sofa. Stains lock in over time and repairs become very pricey!
  • Cleaning your rug. You go to the dentist and doctor, you service your car, you clean your oven ….but most people think a rug will last forever without a proper service. Whilst they can be miraculously hard wearing items they do need a specialist soaking every 5 years to increase thie longevity and maintain the look for which you bought it. This will remove the build-up of oils ( outside tar and chemicals, human sweat and animal grease ) from the pile and restore it to its former softness and colours. Its also hygienic to remove all that gunk- dead skin from humans and dander from animals in particular.

What is the difference between a Persian and Oriental rug?

There are thousands of rug types produced across the globe, from hand knotted to hand tufted, hand loomed to power loomed, piled and flat, and in a wide array of materials. However, the term ‘Persian rug’ has come to mean a hand-knotted ( every single knot tied by hand around threads strung around a loom ) rug, generally one with a readily identifiable traditional central medallion with a surrounding floral design and a border. The most commonly found colours are red, blue and cream but most colours are used in one type or another and the sizes range from small mats to massive rugs which can fill a ballroom.

Persia was the historical name given by outsiders to Iran, the name of which derives from one of the tribes, Pars. The name was formally changed to be inclusive in 1935. Persian rugs have been exported worldwide for at least 150 years and quickly gained a reputation for being luxurious and hard wearing floor decorations. There was a mania for all things oriental in the latter half of the 19th century and so rugs became a crucial element in the furnishing of the better off home. This was in the days before the fitted carpet so a highly coloured, deep pile rug provided many attributes – comfort, looks,  a social marker, insulation on cold wooden or stone floors and over time could be regarded as an investment.

Rugs from Turkey across to China became loosely and lazily called ‘Persian’ – much as in my youth we called all vacuum cleaners ‘Hoovers’ as they were the dominant brand. However, ANY rug not made in Iran should either be called Oriental or specifically by its country of origin – Turkish, Afghan, Caucasian, Pakistani, Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan and Chinese. However Persian rugs are now copied across the rug weaving world as very often they will be sold cheaper than the original. this cost factor is due to labour and materials costs and as with anything, you get what you pay for. In my opinion, the best Iranian wool is unbeatable and when coupled with superior craftsmanship and splendid natural dyes ( derived from roots, leaves, plants, trees and rocks ) offers the superlative rug. So now you have a large market flooded with Persian rug knockoffs – which are not all bad by any means – and so should be called Oriental. They are still hand knotted using the exact techniques of the Persian weavers, using the same designs and materials, and so you might say that there is no difference between a Persian and Oriental rug. However, a genuine high-quality rug from Iran is almost always a better product with a discernible flair and spirit lacking in the copies. In particular, and as a generalization,  the Indian rugs are often too chunky and the wool too dry, the fine Chinese are too meticulous and therefore look machine made and the Pakistan rugs are too dry and flat. The positive side is that the prices will be from 25-50% lower!


So – Persian is from Iran ONLY and Oriental from all other Near, Middle and the Far East countries