Close up of the reverse of a black beige and red Persian Sultanabad rug with a geometric and floral design

How To Price Persian and Oriental Rugs

The good news is that you can gain a fair idea of the correct price of hand-knotted Persian or Oriental rugs by doing research on the internet.  The bad news is that it takes many years of experience within the rug business to gain this vital knowledge. There are 1000’s of rug types made in countries ranging from Morocco to China and the subject is vast, bewildering and ultimately impenetrable to the layperson. The only foolproof way of correctly pricing a hand-knotted Persian or Oriental rug is to find a retailer you trust. Ask a friend or family member who they would recommend or if you have an interior designer, they will have their own rug supplier. However, remember that an interior designer’s supplier will almost always factor in the commission due, which will make the rug more expensive. Very rarely will the dealer not upcharge and accept a lower margin through an interior designer project.

Look at as many online retailers a possible and make a note of the exact type of rug you like. However, you must always remember that, say a Persian Kashan, from one source may be twice the quality of weave and materials as that from another! Broadly speaking start with the categories of City/Workshop, Village or Tribal rugs. Unless vintage – rugs over 30-40 years old in good condition – these categories will set the amount you must spend.

City/workshop rugs are made using a set design and colours, are almost always a more intricate design and therefore need more knots per square metre to render the pattern correctly. The designs are almost always of a floral nature, with or without a central medallion. The dyes used will be uniform as the materials for the entire rug are bought and dyed at the same time, in the same batches. The wool is machine spun which enables a tighter weave and therefore the pile can be cut lower which ensures the design is very clear. In layman terms, they have more ‘pixels’. There are some famous Persian rug designers and master weavers with famous atelier names, and this smaller production of the very best on the market can be enormously expensive, even when new. There are indications this art form will eventually die out, as the finest rugs will become too costly to make, which will create a rarefied pre-owned market for them in the future.

*Prices for most of this type are the highest when new but some lower end mass produced rugs are made, particularly outside of Iran in India and Pakistan with Persian designs. Retail prices in the UK, outside of London, ranging from £350m2 to £5,000m2 with rugs larger than 12’x9’/3.66×2.74 sold at a higher rate. Prices in London are generally higher to account for the increased cost of doing business in the capital.

A beautiful fine Persian Isfahan rug, hand knotted in wool on a City/Workshop loom

 

Village rugs are a cottage industry and the designs are generally less intricate and busy, whilst the larger knots only allow larger less refined motifs. The rugs are commissioned by a middleman who will supply the materials as when they are needed. Therefore, you will often find changes in the colourations which become more noticeable with time. This is called ‘abrash’ and often lends a charm to the rugs that the City/Workshop rugs lack. They are a lovely halfway house between the formal workshop and the more esoteric tribal weavings. Unlike the City/Workshop rugs, the designs and colours are dictated to the weaver by a ‘caller’ or hangs in front of them on a ‘cartoon’ paper- they will often be woven from memory, which does make for some mistakes. The village rugs are generally a lower knot count but often are the equal of the ‘better’ rugs by way of the excellent hand-spun wool and the sturdy, heavy weave. The designs can be varied- from an all-over repeating motif to make a ‘geometric ‘rug through to floral medallion options which are similar to the more expensive finer City/Workshop examples.

*Prices for this type of rug are more attainable but on the whole higher than Tribal rugs. However, there are some rugs – such as the better Persian Heriz and most of the Persian Bijar – which can be as much as a finely woven City/Workshop rug and are just as expensive. Retail prices in the UK, outside of London, range from £270m2 to £1,000m2. Larger rugs, over 12’x9’/3.66×2.74 are sold at a higher rate. Prices in London are generally higher to account for the increased cost of doing business.

A superb Persian Sultanabad Village rug, hand knotted in hand-spun wool

Tribal rugs were historically hand-knotted by Iranian tribeswomen as part of wandering tribes practicing transhumance – the movement of animals from higher summer pastures to lower winter pastures within a set area. The looms used were horizontal, or ground looms, which could be rolled up and carried from place to place. Therefore, Tribal rugs were made in smaller sizes and even today, now the tribes have been forcibly settled, their rugs are below 11’x9/3.35×2.74. Tribal rugs have a set outline – either one to five medallions, with a main border and smaller ‘guard’ borders. They differ in that the infilling motifs of stylised plants, flowers, human figures and esoteric symbols is largely up to the weaver to create. This makes for much more charm and individualism than other rug types, but a Tribal rug has a lower knot count and is generally less robust. However, the wool is hand-spun and often of a beautiful lustrous softness which allows them to be used as bedspreads, table, sofa and chair throws. They generally move and ruck more than other rugs -unless you buy a stiffer Persian Abadeh – and need a suitable non-slip underlay, such as ‘Foxi’ (other brands are available).

*Prices for new Persian Tribal rugs range from £200m, which are the lowest quality and mass produced for multipole chain outlets such as IKEA, up to £600m2 for the tightest weave, best wool and subtle dyes. Prices in London can be higher due to the increased cost of doing business.

 

A lovely Persian Tribal Qashqa’i rug, hand-knotted in hand-spun wool

To summarise you should:

  • Research online, and visit retailers if possible, to find the rug type you love and which will suit your room requirements.
  • Avoid any retailers who advertise huge reductions of up to 80%. These original prices are grossly inflated to ensure the sale price still has a healthy profit margin for the retailer.
  • If you are someone who likes to take safety in high prices, assuming it will guarantee the best rug, then please at least bargain the price downwards. There is generally a very healthy profit margin in rug ticket prices and the seller may adjust his or her pricing depending on their assumptions of your wealth. The most expensive rugs are not always the best for your needs. Always trust a dealer who offers you a range of rugs in various price points and who recommends either the cheapest, or at least not the most expensive.
  • DO NOT dress up or take your Ferrari when going rug shopping.
  • DO NOT give your home address before getting close ball park figures for the rugs you see on a website. Unscrupulous dealers will Google your address and see the home you have and adjust their prices accordingly.
  • Always try to see the rug or choice of rugs in your room before buying. Your light levels and decoration will alter the appearance markedly.
  • Set yourself a realistic budget but try to reach for the better rugs, as over the years the extra money will forgotten as you enjoy looking at and using your acquisition.
  • Make sure the rug is one that can be immersion washed and restored- this is always the case with a Persian or Oriental rug.
  • Silk comes in many qualities so any rug from Kashmir or China should be less money than a Persian or Turkish example.
  • If you are told the rug is silk, or has silk highlights, be very careful it is not an ‘art silk’ (mercerised cotton) example. There is a burn test an expert should know about so ask to see a fibre held to a flame. If silk, the fibre will burn slowly and curl away from the flame leaving a dark bead which is easily crushed to leave a fine powder that is dark and gritty. There should be little or smell. It gives out little or no smoke and the fume has no hazard. The fake silk will flash and almost disappear leaving a fine powder and smell of chemicals.
  • Ensure the invoice description is accurate and clear and that the seller will be available to you if you have any problems or questions. Therefore, hotel and village hall, along with ‘closing down’ sales, offer zero comeback and may give an initial bargain but prove expensive down the line. The invoice is a legal document and you have recourse if it is not accurate.
  • Try and get a second opinion of your rug before buying but be aware that other dealers will often rubbish someone else’s stock and low ball the price.
  • BELIEVE NOTHING YOU ARE TOLD as so-called experts often have very little knowledge of the product and are simply in the business to make money; rather than being rug lovers and wanting you to have the very best rug within your budget. However charming a retailer might be, remember you are his way of making a profit and he is NOT on your side! Good Luck.

 

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.