Antique Rug Collectors Guide

Collecting antique Oriental carpets is a fascinating and, for many, lifelong endeavor, providing an intensely personal opportunity to develop and to continually retest one’s own sense of beauty and virtuoso technique. For that reason and many others, collecting 19th century Persian and tribal rugs has always been an attractive venture.

Collectors are drawn from all manner of society, including well-known historic figures such as William Randolph Hearst and John Rockefeller. In the 16th century, King Henry VIII was reportedly in competition with Cardinal Woolsey for the best rugs coming from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, and from Persia.


Today, because the classic skills of production and the culture that supported the weaving have all but disappeared, only a minuscule number of the handmade Oriental carpets that remain are considered art-level and collectible. The 20th century rug industry was largely driven by commercial interests and, while some rugs are admirable in their own right, these rugs, when placed next to a 100-200 year-old exemplary piece, pale to even an untrained viewer. It is not casually that scholars have dubbed the 19th century as the “Second Golden Age of Persian Rug Weaving.” The pieces produced during this period in Persia are remarkable and much coveted by art collectors and museums.

There is substantial evidence that Oriental rugs are a precursor to modern Western art. Many artists we revere today understood the art value of great Persian rugs. The Cubists, notably Klee and Kandinsky, studied the abstract forms of tribal rugs. Paul Gauguin, enthralled in the rug’s inventive use of color said, “O, you painters who seek to know color, study carpets and therein you will find all knowledge.” Henri Matisse was surrounded by carpets and textiles throughout his life and their influence is seen abundantly throughout his work.

While there are many factors involved in the decision to embark on an adventure in rug collecting, the two primary concerns most likely involve what to collect and what level of investment to make. This article will provide guidelines in both areas.

There are several echelons of antique carpets that qualify as collectible, which allows you to enjoy the process of collecting and rise to your level of comfort.

For the Novice

To the untrained consumer, buying antique rugs and vintage rugs may seem daunting and intimidating. After all, there are so many different styles, so much history, and so much to know in general. Below, find an educational and informative series of articles designed to assist you in your quest for an antique Oriental rug all your own.

To start to get a sense of how to put together a collection of art-level carpets, either for their aesthetic and cultural worth alone or to furnish a fine home with carpets that will appreciate in value, we offer a few guidelines:


1) With little exception, the rugs should be woven at the start of the 20th century or earlier with colors derived entirely from natural dyes.

2) They should be exemplary artistically. To determine this, one needs the guidance of a widely experienced gallery until one gains their own artistic eye.

3) They should demonstrate uniqueness and a definite creative spark in their use of design and color, or they should be exemplary examples of traditional styles.

4) They should possess a discernible level of balance and harmony in their motifs and colors. Every aspect of the rug should fit together into a unified whole.

5) Since one is motivated to collect antique rugs as much for one’s personal enjoyment as for investment, they should appeal to you personally, both intellectually and emotionally.

6) The rugs must be of sound foundation and wear should be even and moderate. In 19th century rugs, in particular, some restoration should be expected as long as the work is expertly done and does not affect either the rugs durability or aesthetic appeal.

7) Since undoubtedly your taste will grow and may change as you become evermore familiar with rugs and learn to “see into them,” it is vital only to buy in venues that offer a long-term exchange policy and also offer rugs of a quality you can upgrade into.

How To Build An Antique Rug Collection

Rugs are works of art that are unreproducible. Many people assemble a rug collection of substantial uniqueness and rarity. There is an impassioned, intimate group of international connoisseurs who recognize the artistry of the most exquisite antique rugs. Their appreciation grows as new generations discover these exceptional weavings.

Build An Antique Rug Collection

Collecting 19th century tribal and Persian rugs is a fascinating adventure. It provides the opportunity to develop and test a person’s sense of virtuoso technique and beauty. Collecting becomes an intensely personal lifelong endeavor. Collectors come from all walks of life. Every antique rug collector places slightly different value on aesthetics and quality of antique and vintage rugs. Generalizing what pleases them all is nearly impossible.

John Rockefeller and William Randolph Hearst are well known antique rug collectors. During the 16th century, Cardinal Woolsey and King Henry VIII reportedly competed for the best and finest rugs from Persia and the Ottoman Empire of Turkey for their rug collection. The culture and classic skills that supported the production of the rugs are barely in existence today.

The small number of remaining early rugs are collectible and pieces of art. Commercial interests drove the rug industry in the 20th century. When placed next to an exemplary piece that is 100 to 200 years old or even older, the newer rugs pale even to many with an untrained eye.

When deciding to embark on the adventure of rug collection, there are many factors to consider. The two main concerns are which rugs to collect and how much money to invest. This article presents guidelines in those areas. There are different echelons of collectible antique carpet that allow you to enjoy the collecting process and rise to a level that is comfortable for you.

What do antique rug collectors look for?

Collectors literally see rugs differently from other people. They look at rugs creatively, through the lens of knowledge, in a way that allows them to see past problems of condition or damage in order to appreciate the artistic worth of a great piece. At times they are not motivated by the immediate impression that the rug may make, but rather by its uniqueness or its historical importance. In the latter regard, collectors depart substantially from the great majority of rug buyers and enthusiasts.

What do antique rug collectors look for

Antique Rug Collectors – Each antique rug collector values slightly different qualities and aesthetics in vintage and antique rugs, so generalizing as to what will please them all is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Still, a few general motives and goals that many antique rug collectors share rise to the forefront.

Antique rug collectors of all specialties and interests tend to collect rugs that can be termed “culturally authentic.” This means pieces that were not specifically intended for the Western market from the late 1800’s onward. Rather, collectors want pieces that either predate this period or were intended for the specific use of a non-Western culture.

Rugs that seem for one reason or another to have been produced for local use by the weavers rather than for export or commerce are currently “hot” among collectors. Those that seem to be unusual are more desirable than types that are represented by numerous examples.

Rugs that appear to be influential, which represent the beginning of a new development or type are deemed “important” and are therefore highly desirable. Collectors compete especially fiercely for such pieces when they are “fresh” or new to the market. Age and rarity matter considerably, especially insofar as they affect or intersect with these other issues.

The Seasoned Rug Collector

While many a collector is driven to assemble a group of rugs to fill a residence, collectors buy solely what piques their personal aesthetic sense. Every city workshop, village and tribal group had its own signature design vocabulary and color palette. Because Oriental carpets come from an artistic tradition more than 4000 years in the making, each “style” has been developed into a mature understanding of art. One collector may fall in love with the very finely woven city and town rugs from the regions of Kirman, Ferahan Sarouk, Tabriz, Kashan and elsewhere, while another may seek the primitive qualities of carpets from the village of Bakshaish in Northwest Persia or the tribes weaving in the Caucasus Mountains.  A third group of collectors explore across the gamut of the art form, finding the diversity itself is what fascinates and satisfies their interest.

As with any form of collecting, moving from novice to veteran involves an investment of time and resources. The process can be endless, and is thoroughly engaging all along the way. As one moves from the carpets that one started with into more and more rarified strata, the excitement and personal rewards from each new acquisition continue to be one of the driving motivations for collecting rugs. At some point, whether one invests $100,000 or $15 million into their collection, it becomes clear that what started as a passion has become the most exhilarating of addictions. There are those who have their own museum, rug vaults and cellars.

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