Figuring Out The Age Of A Rug
How Does Someone Determine the Age of a Rug?
One of the most frequently asked question we get is – how old is my rug? The age of a rug is critical in determining the carpet’s value, but determining age is also one of the most difficult skills to acquire for the rug enthusiast. Older antique rugs will show some evidence of wear. The pile may be low or worn away exposing foundation, but relatively new modern contemporary rugs can get worn quickly, and very old rugs can sometimes survive in good condition if they have been in the possession of thoughtful owners. The back of the rug offers a better opportunity to determine age.
Newer rugs will feel fuzzy on the back since their yarns still possess their fibrous surface. As a rug ages, even if walked on carefully, the underside will become polished or abraded through pressure and friction, diminishing the fuzzy or hairy texture.
Very old rugs will feel gritty, sandy, or even smooth on the back. A rug that looks tightly woven, but that still feels somewhat floppy or supple, is old, since even tightly woven rugs become supple with time.
Color or dye quality also helps. If a rug has pale color, fold it to spread the pile open. This will reveal if the color is the same all the way down into the pile. If it gets darker inside the pile, the dye has faded on exposure to light and is probably synthetic. Such carpet dyes became more common from the late nineteenth century on. If a rug has considerable amounts of faded dye it is made well after the 19th century.
On the other hand, rugs with color that is completely uniform, lacking abrash or variegation in color, are made with later, light-fast synthetic dyes post-dating the 1920’s. In the case of Nomadic and many village rugs, a cotton rug foundation will also indicate a relatively late date since after about 1930, the new availability of inexpensive machine-spun cotton largely eliminated the use of wool warps and wefts.
These are some general characteristics of older rugs that are due to wear. However, they still do not give you a definitive way to estimate the age. Using these characteristics, you can get an idea if the rug is new or old, but how do you estimate the age beyond that? How do you tell a midcentury vintage rug from an 1880s treasure? There are several techniques.
Once you have used the general guidelines above to determine if the carpet is antique, style is an excellent way to tell the age of an antique carpet. Knowing the style of the carpet can help you tell the age of it, in many cases. For instance, you know that if the pattern is a Ziegler Mahal, then it could not have been produced earlier than a certain age. The patterns of rugs from certain times and places are easy to distinguish. For instance, the Lotto carpets point to the late Renaissance. You can easily determine some of the styles by consulting a Persian carpet encyclopedia. However, this can be tricky because modern manufacturers often reproduce these designs, which is why you must look at characteristics such as wear and color.
Wear and Damage
A skilled professional will be able to repair a carpet that has been damaged or worn in a way that might be difficult to spot on the pile side of the carpet. However, if you look at the back of the carpet, the repair will often be obvious. Although there are some exceptions, it is wise to be suspicious of any carpet that shows no signs of wear as being a modern reproduction. It is not a good way to date a carpet because storage, how much traffic they have had across them, and climate can all affect the rate at which a carpet ages, but at least you can spot an obvious forgery this way.
Knots Per Square Inch (KPSI)
Another way to date a rug is to turn it over. Count the number of horizontal and vertical rows in one inch of weaving. Multiply these numbers together, and this will give you the knots per square inch, or KPSI. Certain regions and time periods had characteristic KPSI. Many modern carpets have a higher KPSI than antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. However, there are some antique silks that can go quite high. Also, certain areas of the region were known for characteristic knot counts.
Colors and Modern Dyes
Prior to around 1920, carpets were dyed using vegetable dyes. They tend to naturally fade with age, exposure to sunlight, and exposure to chemicals. Although you can find a wide range of colors in rugs using natural dyes, they are generally mellower than natural dyes.
However, many manufactures are now bleaching and treating their carpets to give them an aged appearance, but this is easy to spot. Separate the pile and look at it with a magnifying glass. If the color is worn naturally, there will be a gentle transition in color from the top to the base. However, if it has been bleached, there will be a sharp band of color in the middle of the fiber.
Examine the Knots
One way to tell a hand-knotted antique from a modern machine-made rug is to look at the back. A machine-made carpet will be perfectly even. A hand-knotted one will show variation, crooked rows, and variation in the knots. Another way is to look at the fringe. In a hand-knotted carpet, the fringe will be an integral part of the weaving and is formed from an extension of the warp. A machine-made carpet will have a strip of fringe glued or machine stitched onto it.
Determining the exact age of a rug takes a lot of hands-on practice. Some antique rugs that have been well-kept are difficult to tell from a modern one. One of the difficulties in dating rugs is that for every rule, there is an exception. For instance, the change from all wool warp to using a cotton warp as a foundation usually indicates a newer rug. However, there are some exceptions. For instance, many village and tribal carpets still use a wool warp, even today.
When it comes to judging color, in general, older vegetable dyes are warm and inviting, whereas newer colors are often bright and electric. However, that silk carpet that has been rolled up and carefully stored in a dark attic can be so vibrant that it fools you.
It takes an expert eye to spot some of the clues that help to date rugs. For instance, some tribes used different edge treatments during certain time periods. It might be the difference between a single or double warp thread on the edge. Some regions favor Senneh knots that open to the right and others to the left. Whether the Ghiordes knot has the loop or open ends on the top or bottom can also be a telltale sign.
Many modern rug makers are still using the same techniques that they used hundreds of years ago. This makes it difficult to place an age on the rug without years of knowledge and practice. It is easy to tell a modern machine-produced rug from a hand-knotted one, but beyond that, it gets tricky.
At Nazmiyal, we believe in education. If you have any questions about a rug in our collection, or one that you already have in your collection at home, we would be happy to help you determine its age and offer advice from our decades of experience in the business.