Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Determining The Value Of An Oriental Rug

January 8, 2001
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By educating yourself on how a rug’s value is determined, you can decrease your liability and increase your professionalism.


 

I am often asked how a rug specialist assesses the value of an Oriental rug about to be cleaned. The following will center on the key points to look for in establishing a rug’s approximate value. In an upcoming ICS issue, I will discuss the necessary steps to becoming a qualified appraiser.

Prior to commencing any work, record the rug’s approximate value on your work authorization and inspection form (with a copy to the customer). If you are transporting or storing a particularly valuable rug, you may need to have a temporary increase of your insurance coverage. Be certain you have Bailee Coverage to insure against theft or damage during transport, in addition to your commercial liability insurance. Workmanship coverage insurance (work in progress) is now available from a select number of companies.
 

Determining Value

Asking the customer to establish the rug value seems the obvious thing to do, but you cannot always rely on their accuracy. They may have misinformation or no idea of the real value.

Your first step is to determine if the rug is machine made or hand made (previously discussed in the October 1997 issue of ICS, “Construction Techniques and Cleaning Pitfalls”). Look at the back of the rug for the thin white warp yarns that run the length of the rug (see Illustration 1) . This is the giveaway for a machine made product. Also, look for labels on the back, as machine made rugs will often have them.

Machine made rugs decrease in value similar to an automobile. If the condition of the rug is poor, the value of the rug can be approximately equal to the cost of cleaning. These rugs, when new, have a retail value of $3-$15 per square foot. Comparitively, the retail price per square foot of hand made rugs vary from $30-$200 and up. The following factors will help in determining the value of hand made rugs.

To determine if the rugs are hand knotted, look at the back again. What you won’t see are warp yarns running the length of the rug (see Illustration 2) . Some hand knotted rugs from the back will show the weft yards running the width of the rug (see Illustration 3) .

Also, determine the rug’s country of origin: India, China, Iran, Turkey, Turkoman, Tibet, etc. Ask your customer she may know.
 

Determining the Age

The approximate age of a rug can be established, in broad terms, by placing it within one of these general time periods: pre-World War I; 2) between the wars; and 3) post-World War II.

Pre-World War I rugs, for the most part, originate from Iran (Persian) and with some Caucasian (tribal rugs with geometric designs). Rugs from this period in good condition can be considered collectable. Price ranges of $150-$200 and more per square foot would not be uncommon.

A Brief Primer on Iranian Rugs

The question may be asked, “Why the emphasis on rugs from Iran?” This country (formally know as Persia) has a sophisticated tradition of rug weaving that goes back at least 1,500 years and up until the revolution, was the benchmark for judging other rugs.

The country has many different ethnic groups, languages and a complex culture in which there are no simple rules to rug classification. Here are some of the basics.

 

  • Weaving, the combination of warp, weft and face pile is a cultural heritage with millions of practitioners in the country.
  • Village rugs are usually made as part of a family cottage industry. The village designs usually reflect a village tradition.
  • City rugs are made in small factories as part of a larger industry. The rugs take their names form the cities in which they are made, such as Tabriz, Isphahan, Nain, Kashan, etc.
  • “Rugs” are defined as being less than 50 square feet and “carpets” are more than 50 square feet.
  • Rugs are usually graded into four basic categories. In descending order of quality, they are: contract, fine goods, commercial and bazaar.
  • Persian weavers made some of the most beautiful rugs in the world. With the lifting of the Iranian embargo, one hopes that the quality of Persian weaving will return over time.

Rugs from between the wars (1918-1940) will usually be decorative rugs as compared to collectable. The artistic merit of these rugs is often considered very good. The condition and artistic merit will be the primary indicators of their value. Do not be overly concerned with knot count. Certain rugs with a high knot count like a Nain are not as valuable as a Heriz that has a lower knot count.

 

Room size Iranian rugs (9' x 12' or larger) from this time period with good artistic merit are currently highly sought after. The rug should have a low pile height, even wear, and the overall condition should not detract from the visual aspect. A few minor, well-done repairs are also acceptable.

For the most part, collectable and decorative rugs won’t present major cleaning problems as long as they are undamaged (such as dry rot of the foundation or over-painting to hide wear). Generally, these rugs can range from $50-$150 per square foot in value.

Post-World War II rugs can originate anywhere from the 1950s to the present. This period has seen a great influx of rugs from Pakistan and India to this country. Almost all fall into the decorative category and will not appreciate in value. Fineness of weave and quality of wool will be primary indicators of their value, however, design will play a part. A new room-size Chinese rug that sold for $4,000 a few years ago in very good condition would be worth $1,000 today or less.

Cleaning problems run from minor to significant such as color bleeding, color fading (blues turning gray, beige and ivory becoming blotchy gold), shrinkage, shape distortion, loss of sheen and design clarity due to fuzzing of yarn tips.

Room-size Iranian post-World War II rugs are generally considered to have a low artistic merit. We have many of them in this country. If the rug’s condition is very good and has slight pile wear, then it can be worth anywhere from the $40-$50 per square foot range. However, from 1987 to March 2000, the U.S. did not allow the importation of rugs from Iran. The quality of post-embargo rugs seems to fluctuate from very good to very poor.
 

Summary

These are meant to be basic guidelines only to help you determine the approximate value of the rugs you will be cleaning.

Remember that establishing the value of a rug can limit your liability and expose a potential risk to your business. This is also an important skill, which will improve your professionalism.
 

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