Article Summary: Whether you buy your Oriental rugs from a local store or over the Internet, you should go equiped with at least some knowledge of what makes a good quality rug. This series of articles should help you.
Walking around the streets of Istanbul, Turkey a few years ago, I walked past a small Oriental rug retailer. The owner saw me looking into his shop and within seconds I found myself being dragged into the shop, surrounded by litteraly hundreds of rugs, each one hand made. For the average tourist, the first reaction would be, “Con”. That too was my first reaction, until I opened my eyes to what lay inside the small shop.
Once I had recovered from the initial shock, I began to take notice of some of the rugs that were scattered all around me. Whether the rug merchants of Turkey have earned their reputation as scamsters and vagabonds is debatable, certainly their haggling tactics put most people off straight from the start, but here I thought I would just open my eyes and see for myself. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. The quality of rug was astounding and the sheer quantity made me realize just how big the Oriental rug business really is.
Buying Oriental rugs is certainly not like buying used cars. A “lemon” is certainly much easier to spot, but only if you have a basic knowledge of what to look for in a rug, apart from pure aesthetics. One thing to remember about such dealers is that they know their business inside out. The business is characterized by dealers with years of experience and knowledge, and they know that a happy customer is often a repeat customer so it is not in their interest to scam people.
Where to look for an Oriental Rug
For most people a trip to Turkey just to buy a rug isn’t a practical solution, so the first port of call should be the local Oriental rug dealer. You can buy rugs with confidence from big department stores too, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Marshall Field and Jordan Marsh all sell rugs that you can be reasonably assured will be of good quality. These retailers have been making a living selling fine rugs for many years and would not intentionally mislead a customer. However, you will probably find that the actual salesperson has little real understanding of the product they are selling, so you still need to be knowledgeable.
You may find more factual information in smaller stores and specialist retailers. Some of these have specialist brochures and pamphlets that explain the facts to you in layman’s language, catalogs to give you an idea of their range, and other specially written articles of interest about Oriental rugs. Another great source of information is the annual Oriental Rug Retailers of America exhibition (lucky for US citizens). This organization was formed in 1968 and its purpose is to “bring high standards and ethical practices to a business fraught with itinerant sales and misinformation”. Enough said!
Unfortunately, demand for imitation Persian and Oriental rugs is as high in America as the real thing. Retailers therefore meet demand and probably sell as many of these “fakes” as the real thing. The point here is that because of modern home styling, sometimes a real Oriental rug just won’t fit in with the existing decor of the home, but an imitation can almost always be found that can be specially made-to-order. The bizarre thing is that these rugs end up costing almost as much as the real thing ($2000 to $8000 for a 8′ by 10′ (2.4m by 3.0m) copy). You can pick up the genuine article for not much more than this, and over the long run the uniqueness of the genuine Persian rug will always outlast that of any copy.
Auction Houses are another source of Oriental rugs. Houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have specialist departments that look after this type of sale, so you can be reasonably well assured that what you see is what you get. You can often inspect the goods prior to purchase and get catalogs and brochures with detailed information about each rug. If buying from an auction, be aware that most charge a buyers premium which can be substantial, so look for the auction sale conditions before making a purchase.
A word of warning – avoid the so-called “flying carpet” auctions. These are advertised in local papers as being overstocked, seized imports, liquidated stock, etc. They are most often than not just scams to fleece an unsuspecting public of their cash, and they succeed in doing so far too regularly.
The remaining sources consist of the usual sources; antique shops, flea markets, private ads, house sales, deceased estates, the list is endless. Once you track down a good source of Oriental rugs, you then need to go through the next stage, the Buying Process – Identifying Oriental Rugs.