What are Museum Quality Rugs, Really?
What is a true museum caliber area rug?
The term “museum quality rugs” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to hand-knotted rugs. For the most part, rug sellers who use this term “museum quality rugs” loosely should be viewed with the same suspicion as the proverbial real estate dealer who wants to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. That is not to say that museum quality carpets do not exist. For example, if you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Islamic Art Museum in Qatar Doha, the Topkapi Palace Museum and other museums, you are in for a treat as they truly have museum rugs and some of the rarest rugs in the world.
What Constitutes Rugs As Being Museum Quality?
When it comes to defining what museum quality rugs are, there is no single characteristic or quality that will give you a definitive answer. One of the most important factors is the age of the rug. However, this is not the only factor. Because the materials in antique rugs are organic, they will eventually decay, even under the best care.
13th and 14th century rugs
With a few extremely rare exceptions (such as the Pazyryk carpet), the oldest carpets in existence are from the 13th and 14th centuries. These rugs are truly the rarest of rare and are usually considered to be museum quality (as long as the design is discernible). Many early carpets of this age exist only as fragments which can also be considered museum quality if they were part of a rare grouping of area rugs such as the iconic early vase carpets or fragments of true Lotto rugs and Holbein carpets for example.
14th through 16th century rugs
The next category of antique Oriental rugs that falls under museum quality are those from the 14th through 16th centuries made in the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Dynasties. There are also some places in China and throughout Asia that fall into this category too. In this category, the carpet must either show the common qualities associated with carpet designs of that time or represent something unusual.
When it comes to museum quality rugs, the level of preservation also comes into play. The better preserved for its age, the more likely it is to be museum quality. Carpets that have a definitive history that is documented are also museum quality. One example of this is the Rothschild Carpet in the of Islamic Art in Doha.
The below 16th-century carpet was once in the tobacco estate of heiress Doris Duke. Another example of museum quality carpets is those carpets that are depicted in Renaissance paintings.
Other examples of rugs that can be considered museum quality are those created by known master weavers of the late 1800’s. This group of carpets demonstrates superb artistry and talent. They also represent an important era in carpet history and interior design. There were a limited number of them produced. Rarity plays a crucial role in determining if a carpet is real museum quality.
What are the chances of finding a museum caliber rug?
The chances of you finding a museum level rug for sale on the open market, or on websites such as eBay or Craigslist, are almost “0”. For the most part, the vast majority of people would only cross paths with real museum quality rugs if they visit an actual museum. That said, a handful of very exclusive antique rug dealers, such as Nazmiyal rugs will have examples of museum rugs for sale.
Where to Find Museum Quality Rugs?
As noted above, it would be safe to say that most museum quality rugs, that exist in the world today, are either in the hands of museums, a hand full of good carpet dealers, or private collection / rug collectors.
Many such rugs that are in private collections are kept in the family and handed down from generation to generation. In the rare event that one of them does decide to sell a rug, it will probably be handles by an auction house such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s. Usually, these rare carpets change hands through private sales and almost never find their way into the open market at all.
If one of these authentic museum quality rugs does come up at an auction, they will start in the hundreds of thousands and will go into the millions for most good example. For instance, a small antique Persian Isfahan rug from the June 2, 2008 Christie’s Doris Duke collection auction, brought $4,450,500.
A 17th-century rug with a brilliant red background and a Persian vase design from Kerman sold at Sotheby’s for $33 million (becoming the most expensive rug in the world) most likely to a museum. It is not uncommon for an actual museum quality carpet to go into the millions of dollars.
Most Important Thing to Know About Your Museum Quality Rugs
So there you have it, the next time someone tries to tell you they are selling a museum quality rug on eBay for $1,500, you know to keep scrolling. It is possible to find highly collectible carpets on the marketplace through reputable dealers. You can find carpets that fall somewhere between museum quality and the high-end of the common market, but you can still expect to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions for them. For the most part, what you find on general auction sites, like eBay, are lower commercial quality carpets.
If you want to find a high-end rug that is collectible, make sure that you go through a reputable dealer who has been in business for many years and knows what a carpet is genuinely worth.
The most important criterion you should use for purchasing a carpet unless you are a collector is whether you like it or not. A carpet that has been properly taken care of will last for many decades, and even centuries. The most important consideration is finding a carpet that you love and one that suits your style.
Our collection does include some very rare, high-end, antique rugs that are truly museum quality. Feel free to search our rugs online and if you see something that interests you, our rug experts will be happy to answer any carpet question or provide any additional information that you need.
Here are some museum quality rugs and textiles from the Nazmiyal collection:
This rug blog about museum quality rugs was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.