What to look for when purchasing an antique Oriental rug

What to look for when purchasing an antique Oriental rug

As part of our series on advice for purchasing an Oriental rug, this post discusses things to look for in the condition of the rug you are looking at.

In today’s market, the criteria for purchase of an Oriental rug for the majority of purchasers is based primarily on color and design.  They want the “right rug” to work with their décor.  Clients are essentially seeking a more beautiful home.

Antique Oriental rug purchasers may share the same desire for a beautiful home, but they have a somewhat different agenda.  There are those who like the feel and aged patina of old or antique home furnishings. Others see Oriental rugs as an art form that can tell you something about the people who produce them and how they live.  This of course may be a simplistic view and undoubtedly people  have diverse  reasons.  Nonetheless, with antique rugs, what is being offered for sale requires a much more significant learning curve to make an informed purchase.  The amount of time a client may wish to spend  on researching and learning is up to them. Some may wish to make an intense study and become a collector.  Fortunately, there are many excellent books on antique Oriental Rugs that can inform about the people, places and their traditional designs. Museum exhibitions are also an excellent way to see antique rugs.

Know the condition

Knowing the true condition of  an antique rug prior to purchase is critically important  to making the right choice.  While buyers may have a different levels of knowledge or of what condition they are willing to accept they should really should be familiar with the condition of the piece prior to purchase.

Understand that condition determines price; examples that are worn or highly repaired command a lesser price, or should.  Condition will also indicate what kind of service the rug will give if it is used on the floor.  While design and color preferences are subjective, the condition of a rug is forensic based on what physically exists.

Most oriental rug retailers allow their clients to view a rug in their home prior to purchase.  A perspective purchaser should use this opportunity to give the proposed rug a complete examination.

This means a very thorough examination of the rug, front and back.  It’s best to get down on your hands and knees for a close look with a strong light.

Here is what to look for in the condition of an antique oriental rug.


It is easy to see where the face of the rug is full pile or worn down to the base of the knot.    One devious practice that merchants have used is to hide the wear at the bare foundation is to color it with indelible inks or marking pens; so called “touching up.”  If you rub these areas with a clean white cloth that has been dampened with water and a small amount of dish washing liquid you will have  proof the “touch up” exists.  During cleaning these “touched up” areas can  wash away and the rug comes back looking much more worn than when it was in the home before.  This is a startling and disappointing surprise for the owner.



Here you can see white knots and other signs of wear.

In the weaving of many Oriental rugs cotton string is laid on the loom the length of the rug. If the weaver runs out he takes a new ball of this string and ties a knot and then continues to string the loom.  Those knots are trimmed somewhat and are hidden by the knotted pile. When the pile becomes worn these knots become visible.  These “white knots” of course  are found in the areas that have thin pile. They are often “touched  up” to conceal wear.


The face of a rug manifests moth damage by divots where the moths have eaten the wool.  The back of a rug can also be attacked by moths where they eat the wool knots and leave the cotton foundation bare. Sometimes the wool is still visible on the face held in place by the tying of the knot but can easily be pulled out or can come out during vacuuming or cleaning.


A close examination can often reveal repairs or restoration even to those with little experience.

The first areas to show wear are the ends and edges. The fringe may be worn and there can be rows of knots missing, and some unraveling.   The edge damage is easily seen; sometimes the wool that wrapped the edges is worn but the warps are still in good order. Original edges may be broken or missing. Other types of repair to the edges are machine serging or new machine made edges sewn to the body of the rug.

The examination can reveal holes that have been re-woven; worn areas that have been re-knotted or covered with a flat stitch. These restorations can often be detected if the repairs are old as they can be a different color than the original.  Although the repair wool had matched well when applied  it ages differently.


A rug may be re-purposed by shortening its’ length or width. The designs may indicate such work on the face by designs that do not match.  On the back you may see evidence of the sewing that was used to sew two pieces together.  Cutting down  a rug surely depreciates its’ value.


Various spills can weaken dyes and cause colors to run into one another.  Most often detected where a color abuts an ivory area.  Color runs detract from the example and can effect value.


Probably the most common stains are from pets.   The ivory in the damaged area takes on a yellow hue. The depth of the reds is diminished.  Food spills are another source of staining.  Strong light coming through the windows of a room can fade colors.  One can easily see the difference in colors in those areas that have been sun damaged.


Learn more about antique and antique-look rugs, and stay tuned for more Oriental Rug 101.