In Search of the Rare Rugs of the World
According to nearly every rug salesperson, online and offline, every carpet is a “rare” find. Indeed, some carpets truly are rare, priceless, masterpieces, but the question is: how do you see through the hype and know if the rug you are viewing is one of the truly rare rugs?
In this article, we will discuss some of the qualities and types of rugs that are considered to be rare finds by knowledgeable, reputable collectors and rug mavens. By no means is this a complete and definitive list of all the rare rugs of the world, but it is a good place to start.
Age and Condition of Rare Rugs
One of the factors that affect rug’s rarity is the age of the rug. The older the rug, the rarer it is. Antique rugs are made from natural fibers and dyes that eventually break down over time, regardless of how well they are cared for, and the best we can do is to slow down the march of time through proper care. A high-quality antique rug can be expected to last about 150 years, and we still have many examples from the late 19th century that are in good shape.
Condition is another factor that affects the rarity of antiques. Naturally, rug repair will affect the value and rarity. The farther back in time you go, the more condition comes into play for determining the carpet value and rarity. Some of the best-preserved carpets from the 17th century are housed in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. With these rugs, It is not only the age of these pieces that make them rare; it is their well-preserved condition. There are very few carpets in existence from before the 17th century. Most of them are in museums and private collections and seldom come up for sale.
Rare Rugs by Master Weavers
This is another term that is loosely thrown around by rug salespeople, but the truth is that not every carpet was produced by a master weaver. When a serious rug collector talks about a carpet by a master weaver, what they mean is a carpet produced by one of the recognized masters of the late 1800’s. These master weavers were highly trained designers who oversaw carpet production in their shops. They did very little of the actual weaving themselves. Finding a carpet produced by a master weaver is a rare find. Some of the master weavers include Ustad Mohtashem, Haji Jalili, Aboul Ghasem Kermani and a few others.
Mashahir Rare Rugs
Mashahir carpets are an exceptionally rare group of carpets that have the faces of Iranian rulers and noblemen. The word Mashahir translates into “noblemen.” This group of antique Oriental rugs is an exceptionally fine weave, so much so that the details of the faces of the noblemen are recognizable. They also often contain script and words. They were typically only created to commemorate special occasions, or as special gifts, so few of them were ever created.
Rare Rugs with Silk and Metallic Threads
Some of the most magnificent and rare carpets in the world are the carpets produced during the Safavid Dynasty in the 16th century. Even more special are those that use silk thread wrapped in metals such as gold, silver, and copper. These rare rugs (such as the antique Persian Souf rugs)are breathtaking, and there are very few of them surviving today. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one of the largest collections of them in the world. These are now regarded as being among some of the rarest carpets in existence.
Vase and Tree of Life Designs in Rare Rugs
Antique Persian rugs using the vase designs and Tree of Life designs are highly desirable, and you do not see them often. Many of these pieces are in private collections. These carpets are extraordinary in their colors and designs. The Tree of Life design references the Garden of Eden and represents paradise. The vase pattern carpets that bring the most money at auction are those that contain the vase and sickle leaf pattern. The early Persian vase design carpets have been known to go for over $9 million at auctions such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
Rare Rugs Patterns Named After Artists
During the Renaissance, painters often depicted carpets in their masterpieces. Some of these carpets are still in existence, while others only exist on the artist’s canvas.
Carpets that are featured in paintings by these famous artists, like Holbein for example, and ones that use similar designs and patterns, are some of the rarest in the world.
Rare Antique Animal Rugs
As Islam became a world power and expanded its territory, representations of animal motifs disappeared to be replaced by geometric designs. By the end of the 15th century, most animal carpets had disappeared from European paintings. One of the rarest groups of carpets is known as the “animal rugs.” It is believed that less than 10 survive today. Two were found in European churches, and one is known as the “Marby rug” and is located in a town in Sweden. A few more were found to be surviving in Tibetan Monasteries.
Rare Renaissance Artist Rugs
This is a group of carpets are similar to those depicted in the works of 16th-century artists such as Lorenzo Lotto. Some other carpets of this type include Holbeins, Bellinis, Crivellis and Memlings. Each of these designations refers to the type of carpets found in the paintings of these artists. They are the rarest of rare, and those that do exist are considered world treasures because of their historical importance. Unfortunately, actual carpets like those depicted in these paintings are exceptionally rare.
Bellini Carpets: found in the paintings of Giovanni Bellini. They show the “keyhole” motif at the bottom of a larger figure.
Crivelli Carpets: found in the paintings of Carlo Crivelli. This carpet contains a complex sixteen pointed star with several divisions in different colors. Only two are known to exist, and they are located in Budapest.
Memling Carpets: geometric carpets found in the paintings of Hans Memling, 1488-1490. One of the few of these examples is located in the Louvre.
Holbein Carpets: this group is subdivided into four sub-types. They are the most common designs found in paintings and are of Anatolian origin. Many of the motifs are still used in carpets today. They are considered classic, but few of the actual carpets exist.
Lotto Carpets: Lotto is rumored to have owned one of the carpets that he painted, but there is no physical proof. Only a handful of these carpets exist, but patterns of this type have been copied and reproduced all over the world. There are many bases on this motif, but actual Lotto carpets are rare. The term is sometimes used to describe modern rugs based on this style.
Rare Caucasus Tribal Designs in Rare Rugs
The tribes of the Caucasus Mountains are some of the most sought after in the world, but there are only a few that stand out as rare. There are many common designs found on the market today, but there are a few tribes and patterns of note for their rarity. Some of these include:
Final Word on Rare Rugs
The carpets included in this article are by no means a complete accounting of rare rugs. It represents examples of some of the most unique carpets in the world. The world of antique carpets is filled with certain catch-phrases such as “rare” or “master weaver,” “museum quality” and we hope that at this point, you know the true meanings of those words in relation to the body of carpets that are in existence today. There are truly rare carpets to be found, but it is all relative to the number of carpets of that type that exist.
In truth, every antique carpet is a rare and unique find. Seldom do you find any two antique rugs that are exactly the same. They all have a unique design and color combination that reflects the artistry of the designer. In the case of village carpets, the designer and weaver and the same, and each rug is like a piece of tribal art that has a special place in the world.