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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Anatolian Prayer Rug; late-19th century; 5 ft. by 4 ft. sold for $5,750. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers
In the West oriental rugs are mostly seen as floor coverings. But in the East, where woven rugs originate, it’s different.

In the East, rugs are sometimes the only furniture found in a household. They serve as sofas, chairs, door hangings and beds.

Children are cradled in hammocks made from rugs and food and clothes are stored and transported in bags made of rugs.

Some oriental rugs are strictly designed for prayer; others carpet the courts of kings.

But in each hand-tied knot of an oriental rug, there’s something else. There’s a story about the weaver’s life, tribe and history over centuries. To study rugs is to study a way of life in which individual expression showed up in weaving.

No surprise then, that people who live with hand-woven oriental rugs appreciate and collect them as works of art. The field is huge.

How do you come up with a way to reasonably assess what you’re looking at in terms of age, pattern and origin?

It requires the eye as well as the fingertips. There’s no shortcut to looking at as many rugs as your eyeballs can handle, and getting a “feel” for texture.

Some rugs have thick pile. Others have none. Some are flat-woven. Others are knotted.

The first step is to figure out if it’s the real thing? Is it handmade or machine-made? This makes all the difference in value.

Compare the back to the front. With a genuine rug, the pattern on the back is almost as clear as it is on the front. Machine-made rugs lack definition. There’s an uncomfortable consistency to them. They look like they came from a machine.

A hand woven rug is inconsistent in color and pattern. Flower designs at the borders might be incomplete because the weaver simply ran out of space.

Three borders might show flowers and one corner doesn’t. Design features are typically irregular. The human hand weaves moods, personality and individual expression into rugs. Machines don’t.

If the rug looks too perfect, it’s probably machine-made. Also, a printed warranty with a fancy label and elaborate history is another giveaway to a machine-made rug.

Most finely woven rugs are silent. At best, you might find something saying ‘Made in Afghanistan’ or ‘Product of Iran.’

Collectors gravitate to older rugs and they’re more valuable. Why?

For one thing, up until the late-19th century, rugs were colored with natural dyes made from plants and insects. Recipes were handed down through families over generations. To this day, some of those original colors have never been reproduced.

Westerners introduced aniline dyes into Turkey and Persia that saved time and were cheaper, but also unstable. Sometimes the chemicals in the dyes attacked the wool, colors in the hue changed. Add to that, shortcuts taken to increase production, and you have a rug that generally lacks the quality of older examples.

It’s important to mention that some rugs woven today are still made with natural vegetable dyes.

Are oriental rugs a good investment? If you’re looking to buy now and sell next year, rugs probably aren’t a good investment.

But if you’re thinking of selling, 10-years down the line, or longer, then yes.

On Sept. 15, Skinner Auctioneer in Boston, Mass., featured its oriental rugs and carpets sale. Here are some current values.

Rug highlights

Kurd Bagface; Northwest Persia; late-19th century; 2 feet by 2 feet approximate; $575.

Kazak; Southwest Caucasus; late-19th century; 6 feet by 5 feet; $5,635.

Chinese; late-19th century; 15 feet by 12 feet approximate; $5,750.

Anatolian Prayer Rug; late-19th century; 5 feet by 4 feet approximate; $5,750.

Bordjalou Kazak; Southwest Caucasus; late-19th century; 6 feet by 5 feet approximate; $8,625.

Fereghan; West Persia; late-19th century; 11 feet by 8 feet approximate; $13,800.

Fereghan-Sarouk; West Persia, late-19th century; 13 feet by 10 feet approximate; $16,675.

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