Introduction To Antique Oriental Rugs
Persian Carpet Dictionary
Written by Douglas Stock
ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TYPES
ANTIQUE AFSHAR RUGS
Antique Afshar rugs were woven by the Afshar tribe who inhabited Kerman province in south central Persia. Afshar weavers tended to be very creative, often rendering bold,foundations, with more nomadic style pieces generally woven on wool warp threads (the vertical foundation threads) and sometimes featuring red wool wefts (the horizontal foundation threads). Rugs woven by sedentary villagers in the Neiriz area generally are heavier and woven on cotton foundations. A variety of designs are used including multi medallion formats, the “Dragon and Phoenix” design, the highly prized “Lattice” Afshars featuring Tulips, and central medallion designs, sometimes with dramatic “open fields”. Navy blue, red, ivory and occasionally sky blue are all used as the main field color in antique Afshar rugs.
Afshar weavers also made saddle bags for their personal use, including miniature bags and larger bags, generally in pile techniques. The backs of Afshar bags generally feature the Kilim weave technique (flat woven) and often are plain or relatively unadorned red wool. The kilim backs of antique Afshar bags do not tend to be as elaborate or colorful as the kilim backs on QashQa’i bags. The bag faces themselves, however, often feature a beautiful range of colors and charming geometric designs.
ANTIQUE BAKHTIYARI RUGS
Antique Bakhtiyari rugs are from south central Persia, including the area known as the Chahar Mahal region. Antique rugs woven by members of the Bakhtiyari tribe span a wide aesthetic and quality range, from fairly coarsely woven nomadic rugs to fine workshop rugs that are occasionally signed and/or dated.
Many designs are used by Bakhtiyari weavers with perhaps the most immediately recognizable style being the “Garden” panel designs. This format features various motifs enclosed in a patchwork of generally square panels reflecting alternating colors. This basic format is sometimes articulated with the panels being more rounded rather than the more typical squares.
Antique Bakhtiyari rugs can be woven on either wool or cotton foundations, with the nomadic examples typically on wool warps and workshop rugs and carpets generally featuring cotton warps.
The quality of wool used in antique Bakhtiyari rugs is usually good to excellent and natural dyes appear to have been utilized into the 1920s.
ANTIQUE BAKSHAISH RUGS
Antique Bakshaish rugs and carpets were woven in the Heriz district in northwest Persia’s Azerbaijan Province. The village of Bakshaish seemed to produce rugs and carpets before some of the other villages from the district did, and carpet production seems to have ceased there around the time of the First World War. Bakshaish carpets are distinguished by their charming and sometimes archaic designs. They arguably have the most character of any pieces carpets produced in the Heriz district, sometimes featuring human figures or birds along the lines of what one might expect in tribal rugs. Bakshaish weavers tended to select earth tones including sky blue, salmon, brown and camel.
The weave of Bakshaish carpets tends to be pliable, with some rugs woven on wool foundations. A range of designs is seen, from the Herati design to graphic medallion designs and all-over designs that can almost resemble Sultanabad carpets. Since few room size carpets were produced in the Caucasus Mountain region, of all Persian carpets available in room size formats, Bakshaish carpets tend to most closely approximate the aesthetics of antique Caucasian rugs.
ANTIQUE BIDJAR RUGS
Antique Bidjar rugs were woven in the province of Kurdistan in northwest Persia. Often referred to as “The Iron Rug of Persia”, Bidjar rugs are notable for their densely packed construction which generally features two, three or even four weft (horizontal foundation) threads that are compressed during the weaving process. This results in a stacked (double knotted) weave that is dense, although not necessarily stiff, and results in a very durable textile.
Bidjar rugs from the second half of the 19th century are typically woven utilizing wool warp (vertical foundation) threads and wool wefts. Finer examples from the early 20th century tend to be woven on cotton warps, though wool wefts are still sometimes used. More loosely woven pieces that reflect more of a cottage industry style, as opposed to the finer Bidjar workshop rugs and carpets, can feature wool warps and wefts well into the 20th century. The wool in Bidjar rugs tends to be of extremely high quality, a result of using wool from sheep raised in this mountainous area. Natural dyes are typically used through the 1930s, though synthetic reds and pinks can certainly be seen in pieces that appear to be as early as the 1880s.
The Bidjar design nomenclature is very broad. The classically (Safavid Dynasty) derived “Herati” design of stylized diamonds, leaves or fish, and small flowers, is the most often seen design in Bidjar rugs, but weavers also used the “Harshang”, “Mina Hani” and “Afshan” designs, as well as dramatic “Open Field” formats. Bidjars rugs can be fairly coarsely woven and quite geometric, or very finely woven and elegant. Since Bidjar is a village, the designs are rarely, if ever, as truly floral and curvilinear as rugs from cities such as Tabriz, Keshan or Isphahan.
Regardless of the type of antique rugs and carpets dealers might specialize in from the standpoint of commerce, virtually any dealer who truly appreciates antique Persian rugs admires antique Bidjar rugs as an art form and for their technical merits in terms of weave.
ANTIQUE CAUCASIAN RUGS
The term “Caucasian Rugs” refers to rugs woven in the Caucasus Mountain region. This region has been controlled by various countries over the last several hundred centuries, including Persia and The Soviet Union. At times, various sections of the Caucasus have experienced greater autonomy and include Azerbaijan; Armenia; and Georgia. The Dagestan region is currently located in southern Russia.
The term “Caucasian Rug” is a broad, catch all category that would include antique southwest Caucasian Kazak rugs of various types including: Karachoph Kazak rugs; Bordjalou Kazak rugs; Sewan Kazak rugs; Lumbago Kazak rugs; Star Kazak rugs; Pinwheel Kazak rugs; Fachralo Kazak rugs; and Lori Pambak Kazak rugs. The south Caucasus region also saw production of rugs in various parts of Karabagh. These would include Chelabard rugs, colloquially referred to as “Sunburst Kazaks” or “Eagle Kazaks”, despite the fact that their weave technique generally identifies them as being products of the Karabagh region. Other south Caucasian rugs include Genje; Lenkoran; Baku; Surahani; and Talish.
The northeastern Caucasus saw production of antique Shirvan district rugs, including Marasali rugs. North of Shirvan, the Kuba district was the source of antique Zeichur rugs; Perepedil rugs; and Karagashli rugs. North of Kuba, the Dagestan region saw production of fine, geometric rugs with closely cropped pile, sometimes with a denser handle than Shirvan rugs which often have aesthetic similarities.
The renowned “Dragon Carpets” of the 17th through 19th centuries were woven in the Caucasus region, with notable examples in the Joseph V. McMullan and James F.Ballard collections in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York. Please, visit the Kuba, Shirvan and Kazak sections here for more specific information on various types of antique Caucasian rugs.
ANTIQUE FEREGHAN SAROUK / FEREGHAN / FARAHAN RUGS
Antique Fereghan rugs were woven in the central Persian province of Sultanabad. Generally thinner and more pliable than the rugs known as “Fereghan Sarouk” rugs, Fereghan rugs are finer than the other types of rugs and carpets from this region known as Sultanabads or Mahals. Antique Fereghan rugs typically come in smaller rug sizes and in long and wide runner sizes known as “gallery carpets” or “Kellehs” (typically about 5 feet by 10 feet or slightly larger). Antique Fereghan rugs most typically feature navy blue fields and are often decorated with the classical Safavid format known as the “Herati” design, or variants thereof. A distinguishing feature of both Fereghan and some Fereghan Sarouk rugs is the yellowish green color that often oxidizes and corrodes leaving a beautiful sculpted effect. Antique Fereghan rugs in the “Dozar” (approximately 4.6 x 6.9) size sometimes feature a semi-open field with Cypress trees or large, stylized floral forms. This classic format can be among the most beautiful of all the designs in the nomenclature of Fereghan weavers.
Antique Fereghan rugs were known as “The English Gentleman’s Carpet”, as they often appeared in the homes of the British aristocracy in the late 19th century. Antique Fereghan rugs tend to feature high quality wool. Although Fereghan rugs can be quite finely woven, they are not packed as densely as the Sarouk rugs also from this province and, hence, are of medium durability. Large Fereghan carpets were woven but in limited numbers, the majority of larger decorative carpets from this area being of coarser weave and falling more into the Sultanabad or Mahal categories. Over time, I have seen very fine rugs from the Fereghan area that, on a visceral level, strike me as having been commissioned by the Anglo-Swiss firm Ziegler & Company for the British or other Western markets. I do not have any particular corroboration for this theory other than that the colors appear similar to larger Sultanabad carpets attributed to Ziegler but the weave is of much higher quality. This suggests the possibility of a stratified production, with both fine rugs of the Fereghan type and coarser carpets of the Sultanabad and Mahal types both produced by Ziegler.
In addition to Fereghan Sarouk rugs and carpets, several other types of antique rugs were made in Sultanabad (later called Arak) Province. These included antique Lillihan rugs and antique Mahajaran Sarouk rugs.
Antique Lillihans were woven in Sultanabad Province and often resemble later Sarouk designs with detached floral clusters. Finer, earlier Lillihan rugs were sometimes attributed to Armenian weavers and can be quite beautiful. Lillihan rugs have a single-knotted construction and a pliable weave.
Antique Mahajaran Sarouk rugs bridge the Fereghan Sarouk period and style with the later “Commercial” Sarouks of the 1920s – 1940s. Mahajaran Sarouk rugs are renowned for their spacious, elegant drawing, dense weave and excellent wool quality. Navy blue field examples can be especially beautiful.
Antique Jozan Sarouk rugs were technically woven to the west of Sultanabad Province in the eastern section of Hamadan Province. However, they employ a double-knotted structure and stylized floral decoration somewhat reminiscent of Fereghan Sarouk rugs, albeit with a heavier handle, and hence are colloquially grouped in the Sarouk rug category.
ANTIQUE HERIZ RUGS
Antique Heriz rugs, including rugs from Heriz satellite villages Bakshaish and Karaja, were woven in Northwest Persia’s Azerbaijan Province. Antique Heriz rugs are generally well made and durable, but they are not finely woven related to village counterparts from Sarouk or city counterparts from Kashan or Tabriz. The appeal of antique Heriz rugs is more in their warm, beautifully saturated natural dyes and charming geometric patterns. Antique Heriz carpets from the last quarter of the 19th century are often referred to colloquially as antique “Serapi” carpets, though no village of that name exists. These tend to have more open space than Heriz carpets from the first quarter of the 20th century, and they are often more finely woven, as well. Heriz rugs and carpets follow a similar design evolution, or more accurately devolution, to antique Persian carpets from other regions. Namely, the circa 1880 examples tend to reflect a better use of open space plus more rectilinear articulation of design elements than examples for circa 1910; and circa 1910 examples tend to be artistically superior to examples from circa 1925. As Heriz carpet manufacturing moved from the turn of the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the carpets tended to have more crowded designs and increasingly coarser, heavier weave. There are notable exceptions and excellent Heriz examples continued to be made into the 1920s, but the general trend reflects the trajectory of most Persian rug types in a loss of artistry of time progressed.
A product of the Heriz district, antique Bakshaish carpets are known for their soft palettes and folk art-like patterns. Generally fairly coarsely woven and with a pliable handle, production of antique Bakshaish carpets seems to have ended by the early 20th century. Some small antique Bakshaish rugs were woven by the production seemed primarily focused on room size decorative carpets , which today are highly prized and can be among the more expensive types of antique Persian carpets.
The other notable village that produced antique carpets in the Heriz district was Karaja. Antique Karaja rugs feature a single knotted construction, thus departing from the general Heriz paradigm of double-knotted (depressed warp thread) carpets. Early antique Karaja carpets from the 1860s and 1870s can be among the most beautiful carpets from the entire Heriz area, with incredible colors that include yellow, sky blue and green; and with naive, sparsely decorated designs that are as at home in modern interiors as they are in period rooms. For more information on antique Karaja rugs and carpets, please see the Karaja listing below.
For more information on antique “Serapi” carpets, please view that dedicated section.
ANTIQUE KARAJA RUGS
The village of Karaja is located in the Heriz district in northwest Persia’s Azerbaijan province. Due perhaps to proximity to the Caucasus, where tribal weaving in geometric styles was prevalent for a long period, Heriz area rugs tend to feature geometric designs. Karaja rugs and carpets are immediately recognizable relative to other village weavings from the Heriz district since they are the only types of rugs to feature a “single knotted” construction, where all of the knots are tied on a flat plane. All other rug types from the Heriz area, including Heriz, Bakshaish, Ahar, Mehriban and Goravan rugs and carpets are woven utilizing “double knots”, where half of each knot is stacked, and often offset, over the lower half of the knot. This is referred to as an “alternate depressed warp”. Karaja weavings do not feature alternate depressed warps, therefore, and, hence, tend to have a lighter and more supple handle than most other Heriz area weavings.
Karaja did produce pieces in the late 19th century but the vast majority of Karajas from that period seem to be room size carpets, with relatively few scatter size rugs produced. Karaja carpets of the late 19th century period are often referred to as antique “Serapi” carpets. They feature spaciously arrayed geometric designs. The weavers appear prescient in anticipating the radical geometry of “modern” design that would appear in the west in the 20th century. Early Karaja weavings feature subtle but often magnificent colors, including ample use of sky blue, green, salmon, coral and ivory. The weave in these early pieces tended to be quite fine, with the back of the carpet often resembling a tapestry with very little foundation visible.
As Karaja weavings progressed into the 20th century, they tended to become coarser, though they still reflect the distinctive weave technique. The bulk of production seemed to shift from room size carpets to scatter rugs, with the latter generally featuring a triple medallion format. Antique Karaja rugs are very popular as furnishing pieces since they combine much of the geometry that makes tribal weavings popular. Unlike nomadic rugs, that tend to be woven on wool foundations, rugs from the village of Karaja generally feature cotton warp (vertical foundation) threads that make them heavier and more prone to lie flat on the floor, making them generally more suitable to high traffic than their nomadic rug counterparts.
ANTIQUE KAZAK RUGS
Antique Kazak rugs are tribal weavings that were produced in the the southwest Caucasus Mountain region. There are quite a number of Kazak sub-types, including Karachoph Kazaks, Fachralo Kazaks, Bordjalu Kazaks and Sewan Kazaks. Two of the most famous types of Kazak rugs are “Eagle Kazaks” and “Cloudband Kazaks” and, curiously, neither of these two are truly Kazak rugs but were woven further east in the Karabagh region.
Antique Kazak rugs are nearly universally thick and fluffy. They tend to be more coarsely woven than Shirvan, Kuba and Dagestan rugs, which were woven in the northeast Caucasus. A fair number of Kazak rugs were woven by Armenia weavers and these occasionally include a date or inscription.
Antique Kazak rugs woven prior to circa 1900 nearly always feature entirely natural dyes. Pieces made in the early 20th century start to include synthetic pinks and other colors. One way of distinguishing antique Kazak rugs from some of the other types of rugs woven in the south Caucasus, such as Geneje or Karabagh rugs, is that antique Kazak rugs tend to have multiple red woolen wefts (horizontal foundation threads), where some of the other types use beige or brown wefts.
The best antique Kazak rugs are highly collectable and can be among the most expensive Oriental rugs, on a per square foot basis, made in the 19th century. Their geometric designs and bold colors make them not only great textile art and suitable for display on a wall or table, but fantastic decorative pieces, equally suitable with 18th century furniture or modern art.
A type of southwest Caucasian tribal rug, representing a sub-group of the broader Kazak class. Antique Karachoph Kazak rugs tend to be among the most popular and valuable of all the various types of antique Kazak rugs. They are one of the few types of 19th century rugs to consistently feature green fields. The pile tends to be thick and Karachoph Kazak rugs are nearly universally woven on wool foundations. The warp (vertical foundation) threads tend to be beige or brown wool, while the wefts (horizontal foundation) threads can sometimes be red wool. One of the most recognizable Karachoph formats consists of a large, central medallion with a row or two of smaller medallions in the field at each end of the medallion.
Lori Pambak Kazak rugs were woven in the southwest Caucasus Mountain region of southern Russia. They are among the most finely woven of all Kazak rugs and tend to feature more closely cropped pile than some other types such as Bordjalou or Karachoph Kazaks. The fields are typically red and generally feature a large medallion that is often ivory and contains stylized Tulip motifs. Unlike some other types of antique Kazak rugs, such as Fachralo or Bordjalou, that can be found in smaller sizes approximately 4′ x 5′, antique Lori Pambak Kazak rugs tend to be large, more in the 5′ – 6′ wide and 7′ – 8′ long range. Later examples can be somewhat mechanical in articulation but earlier, great examples can be very graphic and beautifully colored.
Fachralo Kazaks are another sub-group of the general Kazak rug category. Fachralo Kazak rugs tend to feature a medallion and “Mihrab”, suggesting a rug was woven as a “prayer rug”. Background colors can include sky blue, green and red. Fachralo Kazak rugs tend to be on the squarish size, often about 4 feet by 5 feet in size, though some larger examples are often seen. Pile depth is typically thick; the quality of the wool tend to be high and natural dyes are the norm. Antique Kazak rugs tend to feature multiple wool weft threads that are often red. Warps are typically beige or brown wool. Nearly all Kazak rugs are geometric in design and Fachralo Kazak rugs tend to feature ample open space between motifs.
ANTIQUE KUBA RUGS
Antique Kuba rugs fall into the broader category of antique Caucasian rugs. They were woven in the Kuba district in the Northeast Caucasus Mountain region, south of Dagestan, North of Shirvan and to the west of the Caspian Sea. There are various types of antique Kuba rugs, some of the most famous being Zeichur, Alpan, Bidjov, Perepedil, Konagend and Karagashli.
I acknowledge a personal partiality for antique Karagashli rugs. Some Karagashli rugs seemingly were woven as early as the early to mid 19th century. Unlike Kazak rugs, which were woven in the southwest Caucasus, Karagashli rugs and the other weavings from the Kuba, Shirvan and Daghesgtan regions in the northeast Caucasus are more finely woven, with lower cropped pile. Karagashli rugs are typically small and somewhat narrow, often about 3 – 4 feet in width and 5 to 7 feet in length. They usually have navy blue fields, though some of the best examples feature sky blue fields.
Antique Karagashli rugs usually feature “Harshang” design like palmettes and snowflake motifs, sometimes with a leaf and chalice border. True Karagashli rugs were woven in the Kuba district and, hence, tend to feature blue selvedges and braided wool warp end finishing. The major border is generally either yellow or ivory.
A number of rugs were woven in the Shirvan district, south of the Kuba region, that use similar designs, though typically absent the snowflake motifs and using white cotton or wool for the selvedges. Although this is not always the case, Kuba rugs tend to be somewhat heavier and more densely woven than Shirvan rugs, and the weight and handle of a true Karagashli will typically be heavier than Shirvan rugs with a similar appearance.
Antique Bidjov rugs were woven in the Kuba district in the northeast Caucasus region of southern Russia. Typically seen with navy blue backgrounds, antique Bidjov Kuba rugs seem to have their design antecedents in the Caucasian “Dragon Carpets” of the 18th century (or earlier). Bidjov rugs tend to feature a fine and dense (by the standards of antique Caucasian rugs) weave, with blue selvedges and braided warps at the ends. Early examples tend to feature natural dyes and, as is typical for Caucasian rugs, synthetic dyes began to appear more regularly in weavings post 1900 or 1910. Bidjov rugs are comparatively rare and are both collectable and very decorative in a setting that calls for a dramatic artistic presence on the floor or displayed on a wall.
ANTIQUE KURDISH RUGS
Antique Kurdish rugs were woven in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan provinces in northwest Persia, eastern Turkey, the region now known as Iraq and Khorasson province in northeastern Persia. Occasionally, one sees tribal rugs from southern Persian, especially those attributed to the Bakhtiyari tribe, that have Kurdish influence and were possibly woven by Kurdish people. The Kurdish people wove both nomadic and village rugs. In the village rug category, the finest Kurdish rugs were generally woven in the villages of Bidjar and Senneh, both located in Persian Kurdistan.
The Kurds were prolific weavers of saddle bags and tent bags. Some bags retain their original flat woven (kilim) backs but many are now in bag face form, without the back.
Kurdish rugs from eastern Turkey are typically nomadic weavings, with coarse to medium fine weave and often a lively palette.
At least two major tribes, the Jaff tribe and the Sanjabi tribe, produced rugs and bags in northwest Persia.
ANTIQUE MOHTASHEM KASHAN (MOHTASHAM KASHAN) RUGS
Finely woven city rugs from Keshan (sometimes spelled Kashan) in central Persia. Keshan has a weaving tradition dating back to the classical Safavid Dynasty period (circa 1501 – 1722). Antique Keshan rugs from the 19th century are invariably woven using cotton or silk warps and cotton or silk wefts. Wool is never used in the foundation. Pile is generally wool, though a reasonable number of silk pile rugs were also woven.
The earlier type of commercial Keshan rugs; i.e., circa 1870 to 1910, are often attributed to the “Mohtashem” workshop (please, see the section on Mohtashem Keshan rugs). As a rule, the older and finer a Keshan is, the thinner the pile was cropped and the more stylized and geometric the articulation of the floral motifs is. For example, a Keshan woven circa 1875 would typically be finer, more supple and more spacious in design than a Keshan from circa 1890 – 1900 which would be, in turn, thinner and finer than a piece from 1910. As is the case with Fereghan Sarouk rugs, as well, as Keshan weavings moved away from the 3rd quarter of the 19th century and into the late 19th / early 20th century, the designs became denser and more curvilinear and the weight became heavier.
Keshan rugs from the 1920s and 1930s (and later) are completely different to the earlier examples. Although still finely woven, the designs became very busy and floral. Ivory fields were often seen in 19th century examples, where 1920s and 1930s vintage carpets tend to feature navy blue or red fields.
In addition to the early “Mohtashem” type Keshan rugs, finely woven pieces called “Debir” Keshans were woven in the first quarter of the 20th century. These tend to be heavier than the Mohtashem types, which seemed to phase out around 1910.
There are also early 20th century Keshan carpets referred to as “Manchester” Keshans, due to the soft wool that was processed in Manchester, England.
Some Keshan carpets from the first few decades of the 20th century were sometimes “washed and painted”, though that practice was far more prevalent with Sarouk carpets from that era.
Mohtashem Keshan rugs and carpets are perhaps the most highly prized and valued of all Persian rugs from the late 19th century, rivaled perhaps only by the occasional Tabriz. Condition is, needless to say, a critical part of the valuation.
ANTIQUE SERAB RUGS
The village of Serab is located east of Heriz in northwest Persia’s Azerbaijan Province. Serab rugs are nearly universally woven utilizing some shade of camel color for the field. Small, narrow rugs and runners seemed to have been produced in abundance but relatively few room size antique Serab carpets were woven.
Small Serab rugs and some runners feature a distinctive design of diagonal stripes, sometimes in a zig zag pattern and sometimes in more of a lattice format.
Early; i.e., 19th century, Serab rugs were often woven on wool foundations, whereas pieces from the 1920s and later sometimes feature cotton foundations. Serab rugs and runners tend to be durable and make excellent furnishing rugs. They incorporate much of the geometry that makes Heriz rugs popular, while offering a different tonality by way of their camel color fields and general earth tones.
ANTIQUE SHIRVAN RUGS
Akstafa rugs are fairly finely woven village rugs from the Shirvan district in the northeast Caucasus mountain area of southern Russia. Generally woven with navy blue fields and featuring large, stylized birds, Akstafa rugs also are seen in small narrow formats featuring ivory fields and occasionally in sky blue.
ANTIQUE SULTANABAD CARPETS
Antique Sultanabad rugs and carpets were woven in the central Persian province called Sultanabad. Less finely woven than their Fereghan Sarouk and Fereghan counterparts from the same region, they are nonetheless one of the most prized of all antique Persian decorative carpets, renowned for their soft palettes and large scale patterns.
Many of the best antique Sultanabad carpets from the late 19th century were commissioned by the Anglo-Swiss firm Ziegler and Co.. For more information about carpets from this region, please see the Fereghan Sarouk section.
ANTIQUE TABRIZ RUGS
The northwest Persian city of Tabriz played a vital role in the rejunenation of Persian carpet weaving in the last quarter of the 19th century. While Tabriz rugs and carpets come in a broad range of qualities, they tend to be among the most finely woven types of antique rugs from Persia. With a weaving history that dates back to the Safavid Dynasty period of the early 16th century through the early 18th century, Tabriz carpets often follow classical models, with the “Vase” and “Herati” designs seen frequently. The finest Tabriz rugs from the late 19th century, often colloquially referred to as “Hadji Jalili” Tabriz rugs, are prized for their high quality and elegant designs. Tabriz weavers were among the first Persian weavers to adopt synthetic dyes; and Tabriz carpets often have what are referred to as “fugitive” dyes, meaning they tend to lose their intensity over time and especially with exposure to light. Curiously, and counter to many other types of Persian rugs, Tabriz rugs with softer, often faded, colors do not necessarily lose a lot of their value. In fact, given their popularity with interior designers seeking softer palettes, the faded examples can sometimes bring very high prices. Larger antique Tabriz carpets can be among the most expensive of all antique Persian carpets, with world class examples easily getting into the $ 100,000 plus category. Many Tabriz carpets from the 1920s and later are now “antique washed” to lighten the colors and make them appear more like the earlier Tabriz examples. We tend to not like this practice but it has become a major factor in the general market. Be cautious and ask any dealer or auction house, as the latter frequently do not disclose such information and sell items “as is”, you are dealing with if the carpet has been recently antique washed to lighten the color. This practice can damage the foundation.
ORIENTAL RUG DESIGNS
There are many Oriental rug designs that do not have formal names, such as the various all-over palmette designs seen in antique Sultanabad carpets produced by the Anglo-Swiss firm Ziegler and Co.; or the myriad range of central medallion design woven in as diverse areas as Kerman, Tabriz or Heriz. Of course, this does not even take into account the nearly endless array of designs composed on a one-of-a-kind basis by tribal weavers in Persia, Turkey, The Caucasus and Turkestan. There are, however, so clearly distinct Oriental rug patterns that have formal names. Many of these formats came directly from, or were inspired by, Safavid Dynasty (1501 – 1722 A.D.) court patronage. Here is a list of some of the major design groups seen in antique Persian and Oriental carpets:
The Afshan design (not to be confused with rugs by the “Afshar” tribe) is an all-over Persian carpet pattern consisting of a central flowerhead surrounded by ancillary flowers and leaves, generally with a flower at the end of a vine that features two open petals. Although the Afshan design can be seen in a variety of Persian rugs types, it is perhaps most closely associated with antique Persian Bidjar carpets.
Motifs generally extending vertically from the top and bottom of a central medallion with a shape similar to an anchor.
BID MAJNUN DESIGN:
The Bid Majnun design consists of Cypress and Weeping Willow trees. The Bid Majnun deign itself does not seem to be a Safavid Dynasty (1501 – 1722 A.D) format, but it does seem to have its antecedents in the Shrub design carpets from the Safavid Dynasty period. The Bid Majnun design is perhaps most closely associated with antique Bidjar rug from northwest Persia’s Kurdistan Province and Bakhtiyari rugs from south central Persia, but it is also seen in rugs from the Heriz district in northwest Persia’s Azerbaijan Province and in village rugs from west Persia’s Hamadan Province.
A design, most typically seen in antique Bidjar rugs and carpets, evoking the leaf shaped portion of a flower (individually called a “Sepal”) that helps to protect a flowering plant in its development stages. The Calyx design in Persian carpets is quite rare and, in antique Bidjar carpets, can be robust while maintaining a certain delicacy.
Seen in antique Persian carpets of various types, most notably in south Persian Bakhtiari rugs and northwest Persian Tabriz carpets but also seen in antique Mohtashem Kashan carpets and the occasional Sarouk carpet. The design often takes the form of square panels, though some examples have more curved panels. Within the panels are various stylized floral forms.
The Harshang design itself does not seem to date to the Safavid Dynasty period (1501 – 1722) but its antecendents seem to lie in the Vase carpets of that period. Arguably the most beautiful of all Persian carpet designs, the Harshang design appears to have been an 18th century evolution based on earlier templates and consists of various palmettes and flowerheads. 19th century Bidjar carpets from northwest Persia’s Kurdistan Province sometimes use the Harshang design to great effect and it can be particularly striking in carpets with navy blue fields.
The most famous of all classical Persian Safavid Dynasty period (circa 1501 – 1722) carpet designs, the Herati design consists of a diamond shaped motif enclosing a small flowerhead, with four stylized leaves or fish surrounding the diamond, and a flowerhead generally extending vertically in both directions from the diamond. The Herati design appears in many types of antique Persian carpets from the 19th century, from village rugs such as Bidjar and Heriz rugs, to formal city carpets from Tabriz, to QashQa’i tribal rugs from southwest Persia.
The Herati design occasionally appears in antique Caucasian rugs.
The Herati design can be rendered in an all-over format or in a design with a central medallion.
While many antique Persian carpets and antique Turkish and Caucasian rugs feature all-over designs, others feature a prominent central medallion in the middle of the field. The majority of antique Persian rugs with central medallion designs also have the field framed by corner spandrels. Nearly all central medallion design antique carpets would also have the field framed by a major border and at least two minor borders.
MINA HANI DESIGN:
The Mina Hani design is one of the classic all-over Persian formats, though in some examples a central medallion can be included. The Mina Hani design features generally rounded stylized flower heads with smaller ancillary flowers and lattice-work connecting the larger flowers. The Mina Hani design can be seen in types of antique Oriental rugs as diverse as antique Bidjar rugs; antique Bakhtiyari rugs: antique Serapi rugs; and antique Turkoman tent bags.
OPEN FIELD DESIGN:
An “Open Field” design in Oriental rugs is not so much a formal name as it is a self-evident description. The broad category can include rugs with a border and absolutely no decoration in the center. However, it more typically consists of a rug with a border, corner spandrels and a central medallion with end pendants extending vertically from the medallion. The field surrounding the medallion is free of decoration and the medallion essentially floats on a “open field”. Open field designs in Oriental rugs are perhaps the most polarizing of formats. Many people, such as myself, love them and view great examples as among the most beautiful of all antique Oriental rug styles. Perhaps even a larger group find the open field format to be too dramatic and prefer a rug with more ancillary decoration. Antique Persian carpets, such as Bidjar and Serapi carpets with open field designs are particularly well suited to mid-century modern decor. Antique Persian carpets with open field designs, or with very sparse decoration in the field, have long been popular not only in the United States but are highly prized in Italy. Many open field rugs feature what are referred to as “Anchor Pendants”; that is, a pendant extending vertically in each direction from the central medallion that is shaped like an anchor.
Unlike Persian rug formats such as the Herati or Harshang designs, there is no formal category called a “Palmette” design. A palette is essentially a large design element that is not quite a leaf and not quite a flower. Palmettes in antique Persian rugs are generally directional, which is what distinguishes them from flower heads, which tend to be more rounded. Some antique Persian carpets have a design where large palmettes are the primary motif. In other cases, such as the Harshang design, palmettes are interspersed with flower heads and can be of various sizes and shapes.
Various types of antique Persian rugs, ranging from the finest Mohtashem Kashan carpets to heavily stylized Bakhtiari tribal rugs, might feature a panel design, also sometimes referred to as a “garden” design.
SHAH ABBAS DESIGN:
SICKLE LEAF DESIGN:
The most expensive carpet to sell on public record, a small Kerman carpet generally dated to the late 16th or early 17th century, features what is referred as a “Sickle Leaf” design. In this example, which sold for more than $ 33 million dollars in 2013 after being deaccessioned from the Clark Collection at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., large leaves sweep around various styles of palmettes. This format is related to the early Vase design carpets. A major border style similar to that seen in the Bari-Clark carpet is seen in Fereghan Sarouk rugs woven in the last quarter of the 19th century.
SPLIT ARABESQUE DESIGN:
TURTLE BORDER DESIGN:
Many types of antique Persian carpets feature a border with a series of palmettes, with arms extending horizontally, that alternate with flowerheads. This format is often referred to as a “Turtle” border.
ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
ATLANTA ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
Atlanta is a city I have not visited in person, so my perception of the antique Oriental rug market there is a step removed. Traditionally, Atlanta has been known as a market with a strong preference for antique Heriz and antique Serapi carpets, along with antique Oushak carpets. In general, the South seems to be more accepting of thinner pile condition than New England or perhaps the Midwest. This might be a product of the warmer climate, where thinner Oriental rugs are often favored. An interesting alternate theory, advanced by close friends of ours both of whom grew up in the South and lived in Atlanta, is that less concern regarding the condition of antique carpets could also reflect the lower housing prices in the South, which means many new homes are larger and budgets need to cover more square footage. Thinner condition is often a factor in the price of an antique Oriental carpet, so their theory is certainly plausible.
BOSTON ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
While we have a nation wide antique Oriental rug clientele, with a high concentration of antique rug clients in New York City, Connecticut, Westchester County, the Washington D.C. area and Florida, our home antique rug market is Boston. The Boston area, and New England in general, is one of the regions in America where colorful, traditional antique Persian carpets and antique Caucasian tribal rugs are still highly prized. Antique Oriental rug trends in Boston, as in most areas, of course reflect a variety of styles. We have many clients in the Boston area who favor antique Serapi and Heriz rugs and carpets, antique Bidjar rugs, antique Fereghan Sarouk rugs and antique Caucasian Kazak, Shirvan and Kuba rugs, with their bold geometry and saturated palettes. New England also tends to be more focused on the condition of antique Oriental rugs than many other regions, perhaps because the cold climate lends itself to carpets with thicker pile. The new, natural dye Oriental rugs that we carry are also popular in New England, since they are largely hand woven reproductions of classic Persian rug formats.
CHICAGO ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
Chicago is an immense and elegant city with a suitably large and varied market for antique Oriental rugs. Antique rugs of all types seem to sell in Chicago, although my perception is that the trend toward heavily “distressed” rugs that has afflicted New York and Los Angeles has not impacted Chicago as much. Chicago has traditionally been home to a number of outstanding Oriental rug dealers, some of whom are still very active in business after close to a century or more and whom we think very highly of.
FLORIDA ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
Our experience with antique Oriental rug clients in Florida over the years has been very positive. Many clients from warmer regions in New England and the Midwest have second, or eventually retirement homes, in Florida, and many take their love for antique Oriental rugs with them. Lighter color antique rugs, such as Turkish Oushak carpets and Persian Sultanabad carpets, seem to often times be popular in Florida; but a diverse range of more traditional antique rugs also seems to resonate with Oriental rug buyers in Fisher Island, Palm Beach and Sarasota, Florida, including antique Persian Serapi, Bidjar, Fereghan Sarouk and Heriz rugs,as well as antique Caucasian rugs that have a more tribal aesthetic. Antique Oriental rug trends in Florida seem to run a range from colorful, dramatic Art Deco rugs, to flat woven kilims, to more traditional and colorful antique Persian rugs.
LOS ANGELES ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
Although I have been to San Francisco more than once, I have never visited Los Angeles or San Diego in person, so my familiarity with the antique Oriental rug market in Southern California is a step removed and based on Oriental rug sales via the internet and what I hear from other people. As is the case with New York, the Los Angeles market for antique Oriental rugs seems varied. While the “antique washed” and distressed look for antique rugs seems to be in hyper-mode in Los Angeles, we have experience selling traditional, colorful antique rugs to clients in the Los Angeles and San Diego markets, so the market for traditional rugs in very good to excellent condition also exists in Southern California. As a broader national trend, the market for antique washed rugs, which we almost never participated in, seems to be weakening and color and quality seem to be returning. So, I would expect the market for classic antique Persian rugs in Los Angeles and San Diego will strengthen over time. Antique Sultanabad carpets appear to be popular in Los Angeles and other areas in California. Antique Caucasian Soumak rugs, which are flat woven with brocade work, and flat woven Persian and Turkish kilim rugs tend to appeal to antique rug buyers in warm climates such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Florida and even Washington. D.C..
NEW YORK ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
Any city with more than 15 million residents is going to reflect a wide range of aesthetic preferences and antique Oriental rug trends. That said, rug buyers in New York seem to break into two or three major categories. First, there is the market for people who tend to collect antiques in general and do their own buying directly from dealers. Our experience with this market over a long period of time is that the taste of many of these buyers seems to run along the lines of New England preferences; that is to say, a preference for antique Persian and Caucasian rugs with saturated colors and generally in very good to excellent condition. Although many of the antique carpets our New York City and suburban New York clients from Westhchester County, Fairfield County in Connecticut and New Jersey favor are antique Heriz and Bidjar carpets with strong, clear colors, there is also a strong market in the greater New York area for antique Sultanabad carpets, Tabriz carpets and Kerman carpets, along with antique Oushak carpets and Indian Agra carpets. The best examples of these classic decorative carpets can be very expensive, especially in good condition with original, non-chemically altered colors. As a result, a sizable market has emerged for antique washed carpets. With very rare exceptions, we tend to avoid dealing in antique washed carpets, but they have emerged as a major part of the antique carpet market in New York and other areas. A substantial portion of the antique Oriental rug market in New York focuses on larger size antique Persian, Turkish and Indian decorative carpets favored by interior designers. There are great interior designers in many parts of the United States, and New York perhaps has more than anywhere else. Many designers favor traditional antique carpets and many utilize antique carpets with strong palettes and in excellent condition. While trends do change, in recent years, however, many New York interior designers have tended to favor antique Oriental carpets with pale, often times nearly entirely washed out color schemes. Few antique rugs originally came with very pale palettes, so a vast majority of carpets that fit that profile have been chemically altered by a process referred to as “antique washing”. The process of “antique washing” a carpet is not an innocuous thing and should not be confused with the process called “stripping”, where applied color such as what was done to Sarouk rugs in the 1920s, is removed. “Antique washing” a rug is a much harsher process than “stripping” and it often involves running the navy blue with one chemical before bleaching out all the colors in general. The market for the “antique washed” look in carpets is also highly transitory. In recent years, tastes in the antique washed carpet market have swung to a certain degree from the yellowish-ivory popular a few years ago to antique carpets with pale blue or steel grey palettes.
PHILADELPHIA ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
Regarding 18th century American furniture, New England people tend to buy New England furniture and Philadelphia people tend to buy Pennsylvania furniture, but there seems to be a greater commonality in terms of the types of antique Oriental rugs favored between Boston and Philadelphia than either city shares with the New York market. Antique Caucasian Kazak, Shirvan and Kuba rugs have long seemed to be popular in the Philadelphia area, as are antique Heriz and Serapi carpets. The market for antique Oriental rugs in nearby Wilmington, Delaware seems quite similar to the market in Pennsylvania itself. Antique Oriental rug trends in the Philadelphia area still seem to reflect an emphasis on classic Caucasian rugs and Persian Serapi carpets, as these blend well with traditional antique Pennsylvania furniture.
SAN FRANCISCO ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
San Francisco has long been one of the strongest markets for antique Oriental rugs in the United States, with both classic, colorful Persian rugs and softer, more “decorative” antique carpets being popular. The San Francisco market for antique Oriental rugs seems to have a large overlap with the Boston market, with antique Caucasian Kazak, Shirvan and Kuba rugs, along with antique Persian tribal rugs, being prized. Larger Persian decorative carpets of more formal appearance, such as antique Sultanabad and Fereghan Sarouk carpets, seem popular in San Francisco, Palo Alto and the Bay Area in general; as do the more geometric antique Serapi and Heriz carpets that are favored throughout the United States.
WASHINGTON, DC ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUG TRENDS:
The Washington DC area is also a strong market for antique Oriental rugs and has various antique Oriental rug trends. Years ago, I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia and we have maintained and added many friendships in that area over the years. Our subjective experience with antique rug clients in the Washington DC area is that high quality antique Persian rugs such as Mohtashem Keshan, Bidjar and Fereghan Sarouk rugs are popular, along with antique Caucasian rugs. The Washington DC area, including Maryland and Virginia, features some incredible architecture, with brick and stone homes that are often more formal than the clapboard and shingle styles prevalent in New England. While geometric antique Serapi carpets are popular, there does seem to be a strong interest in more formal, curvilinear style rugs. Traditionally, antique flat woven “kilim” rugs from Persia, the Caucasus and Turkey have been popular in Washington DC, though that market seems to be less active than it was thirty years ago, perhaps partially due to the relative scarcity of outstanding antique Persian, Caucasian and Turkish kilims in general.