Guide to what makes a rug or carpet an antique?
What Makes A Rug or Carpet Antique?
A – For a rug or carpet to be officially antique, it needs to be at least 80 years old. At the present, rugs considered “antique” are pieces produced up to about the 1930’s.
Rugs made between this time and the 1950’s are “semi-antique,” rugs that were made from about 1940 – 1970’s are considered vintage / mid century, while those made 20 to 40 years also are usually refereed to as used or just “old.”
However, when applied to rugs and carpets, the term “antique” implies more than age. It involves a whole series of desirable characteristics pertaining to quality of design, technique, and materials, and a less well defined quality of cultural authenticity. In monetary terms antique is equatable with higher cost owing to the fact that antique rugs, i.e. those made before 1925, are a finite commodity whose number can only diminish; it can never increase.
In actuality the years around 1925 mark a point of transformation in rug production. From this time on, natural vegetable dyes were largely replaced by synthetic colors which, even when stable, had none of the depth, warmth, and subtlety of the natural dyestuffs that had been used previously. This was also a time when machine-spun wool replaced hand-spun yarns.
These developments had an enormous impact on the appearance of carpets. Not only were natural dyes warmer and richer in tone, they were variegated in their shading, which created an illusion of space or depth across the surface of the rug. Similarly, the irregular texture of hand-spun wool was more varied in its reflective properties than machine spun yarns.
Antique rugs with hand-spun wool and natural dyes therefore have a more luminous, animated surface with an illusion of deep space, while those made in in the period approaching and following the mid twentieth century have by comparison a duller, flat, monotonous surface. In addition, the design of twentieth century rugs began to change.
As western influence expanded across the Middle East, the native cultures began to lose their autonomy and authenticity, and their ability to maintain traditional patterns diminished along with their ability to preserve traditional craft techniques.
Ultimately then, the divide between antique oriental rugs and later pieces concerns far more than age. It is truly a distinction in quality on all levels.