Oriental Rugs: The Myths, the Market, and More

Thursday, September 22, 2016 in Education, Member Insights, Business Tips

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By Ellen Amirkhan, ISA CAPP

Whether they are made by hand or machine, valuing rugs is one of the most daunting appraisal specialties. Winston Churchill’s description of the former Soviet Union, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” also serves as an apt way of depicting the world of Oriental rugs. In the last 25 years, during which I’ve taught a number of rug appraisal courses, I’ve determined that the goal of the class is to give the student the tools and skills to measure, analyze, photograph and document rugs using proper techniques and terminology.

A springboard to self-study, November’s Oriental Rugs course focuses on terminology, components of identification, photography, commonly encountered rugs, factors affecting value, and finding the appropriate comparables. The class is held in “The Casbah,” a classroom in a 100+ year-old oriental rug cleaning plant in Dallas, Texas, providing those in attendance with hands-on access to over 300 rugs. 

But while I have you here, let’s dispel a few myths about oriental rugs, shall we?

Myth # 1: All oriental rugs appreciate in value.
Answer: Neither post-World War II rugs nor most new rugs being purchased today will appreciate in value. Consumers most likely paid more for some rugs in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s than they are worth today. Most rugs today are made to satisfy current design trends. When these trends in color, design and texture go out of style, the value of the rug will depreciate. 

(a) Pastel Kirmans of the ‘50s and ‘60s are coming into the secondary market as their owners are downsized or become deceased. These rugs, which were expensive and “choice” 50+ years ago, cannot even be given away today.

(b) Today, Turkish Oushaks are decoratively hot. However, they were loosely woven and their condition may be fragile. I tell my clients that even though they paid a high price for this rug, the value will plummet as styles change.

(c) Expensive luxury cars such as BMW, Mercedes, and Jaguar depreciate the moment they are driven off the showroom floor. This depreciation does not mean that the vehicles are not worthy of the price. The same applies to most contemporary and trendy oriental rugs. 

Myth # 2: All old Oriental rugs are worth a lot.
Answer: Condition is important when determining value. For instance, an old rug in poor condition is just an old rug. An old rug in good condition may not be worth much if it lacks artistic merit (i.e. bad colors). Many old rugs with artistic merit are worth repairing, as they are decorative and functional.

Myth # 3: Persian (Iranian) rugs are better than rugs from other countries.
Answer: Many pre-World War II Persian rugs such as Ferahan Sarouk, Kashan, Heriz, Tabriz, Bijar, tribal pieces and other noteworthy examples will always have a market, albeit a small one, if they are in good condition and have artistic merit. Since the fall of the Shah in 1979, along with the embargo on Persian goods (1987-1999 and 2010-2016), other countries improved the quality and increased the production of rugs that changed with design trends. The quality of Persian rugs has gradually deteriorated since the 1960s, and they have not kept pace with modern tastes. Today, there is limited production of high quality, natural dyed rugs that are worthy of their ancestors’ reputation. They have a lot of catching up to do. 

Myth # 4: Knot count is the best indication of value.
Answer: The value of only a few traditional Persian rugs is determined by knot count, and even then only partially. Two that come to mind are Nain and Isfahan. The value of silk rugs is largely determined by knot count and country of origin. The value of most older, traditional Persian rugs is based on condition, rarity, and artistic merit. Heriz and Mahal rugs have a lower knot count and used to be some of the most expensive rugs in the decorative market. Generally speaking, the price of new rugs is based on knot count and quality of materials. Once these mass produced rugs are used, their value in the secondary market is not based on knot count but rather condition and artistic merit.

Myth # 5: Oriental rugs are identified by their design.
Answer: Design is only one component of identification. Rugs are best identified by their construction. Some of the components of identification are materials used, type of knot, number and color of wefts between each row of knots, design, size, and end and side finishes. When a ‘rug person’ walks up and kicks over the corner of a rug, he or she is looking at the construction on the back of the rug. 

Myth # 6: Never clean or vacuum Oriental rugs.
Answer: 80% of soil in rugs is dry, particulate matter. It acts as sandpaper and wears the rug out. Some rugs are so thick, they do not appear to be soiled, when in fact the soil is so embedded that it is impossible to remove all of it. Beware of anyone selling rugs that say they should never be cleaned.  What they may really mean is the rug will not withstand proper cleaning due to condition, foundation painting, or other hidden defects.

There is perhaps no other subject for the generalist personal property appraiser that is filled with so many myths, misconceptions and downright nonsense! Like the guy who told me his rug was over 1000 years old and trampled by camels. (Really?!)

Some of My Favorite Stories:
1.  My rug has a twin and it’s in the Smithsonian.
2.  The Shah owned it/walked on it/gave it to my husband’s second cousin twice-removed.
3.  You can tell my rug was woven by a mother and daughter because one side is better than the other.
4.  I’m going to send the appraiser to Iran to find the weaver.
5.  The rug was repaired with yarns from its village of origin from sheep that grazed on the west side of the mountain.
6.  He thought he bought a Navajo rug from Ikea but it was a dhurrie from India.
7.  It’s one-of-a-kind, they’ve never seen it before and it’s a sculpted 90 Line Chinese from the 1980s.
8.  The rug has a label “Made in Pakistan” and they swear it’s over 100 years old.
9.  The man spent $10,000 in Turkey for what he was told was an antique Turkish silk Hereke… and it was actually modern, rayon, worth $2500.00, and made in China.
10.  My rug is “signed” and is worth more:  the inscription reads “Good Luck”.

We hope you’ll join us in class, November 10 and 11, for the Oriental Rugs course. We hope you bring some ‘favorite stories’ of your own!


  1. 2016 Courses
  2. Education
  3. Professional Development
  4. Rugs