Today we have an excerpt from Sam Ramazani’s wonderful book, Warp, Weft & Weave: A Life Collecting and Investing in Oriental Rugs. Sam sheds some light on the qualities that make a rug valuable, and consequently, worth collecting.
What makes a rug valuable? This is a tricky question. There are different categories for age, and age is where much of a rug’s value comes from. In particular, when a rug goes from a rug “semi-antique” to “antique” the value can increase quite a lot. The age of a rug matters a great deal in giving it value.
Knots per square inch
But it would be erroneous to assume that age is the only thing that makes a rug valuable. Many believe that the number of knots per square inch in a rug, or the fineness of the weave, is what gives it value. I’ve heard some collectors proclaim the more knots per square inch, automatically the more valuable the rug. While a finely knotted rug is certainly a thing of great beauty, it is not the only thing that gives a rug its value.
The next thing we might look at is the materials used to make the rug, as well as the workmanship. There are different kinds of wool and silk that give a rug value. There is a kind of wool that comes from the first shearing of a baby lamb’s neck, called Kork wool. This wool is very fine and expensive and a rug made from this wool will have a certain amount of value simply because an inexperienced or unartful rug maker will not use such a costly material. Another fine material is silk. Silk rugs are beautiful and often thought to be more valuable than wool, but even this is not necessarily true.
The skill of the rugmaker will influence a rug’s worth, and a fine weave in a rug with a well-executed, intricate pattern will impart a certain amount of value. The size will also play a role in the value, but of course that depends as well because a small rug that is 200 years old and made of the finest wool will be worth more than a large rug that was made in the last 20 years.
In truth, it is ultimately the rarity, the uniqueness of the rug, that gives it value. Materials, craftsmanship, design are all important. But nothing compares to rarity when it comes to valuing rugs. There are younger antique rugs that will have value because of their materials and construction, but once we get to a certain age range, these things become less important. At the end of the day, the age of a rug is likely to be the most causal factor, of course, because the older a rug is, the more likely it is to be rare. Let me give you an example of how this changes over time.
Serapis are one of the most valuable rugs today. The more modern iterations of these rugs are called Hariz, from the Hariz part of Iran. A Serapi is really just an older generation of Hariz, there is no “Serapi” area of Iran. About 200 years ago when rugs were being shipped from Iran to the US, they would be wrapped in a Hariz Serapi to protect them. These Serapis were at one time used like the brown paper used to wrap a valuable art piece, and not considered valuable. Now, they are so rare that they are among the most expensive rugs to be found. They are not finely made, most having only 50-60 knots per square inch with a short pile. And yet, they are ultimate collector pieces. A large Serapi can bring $20,000 – $30,000 retail depending on its condition. This is a wonderful example of how the value of a rug is completely subjective and how much variability is involved in determining its worth.
Sam Ramazani is an Oriental carpet educator, appraiser, broker, and skilled repair craftsman. With his daughter Sara, he owns Sara’s Oriental Rugs in Louisville, KY, providing beautiful handmade rugs, as well as expert rug cleaning and repair.