Why Persian Rugs Are So Expensive
In June 2013 at Sothebys in London, a 17th century Persian vase style rug sold to an anonymous buyer for $33.8 million (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22801657).
The rug is 8 foot 9 inches by 6 foot 5 inches in size and over 360 years old and was owed by William A. Clark, an industrialist, and former US senator. The rug is believed to originate from Kerman in southeast Iran. This sale more than tripled the previous record of $9.6m in 2010 for a Persian rug sold by Christies of London. The rug apparently had one of the rarest ‘vase’ technique patterns and was possibly the only known rug with this technique on a re background.
What is a Persian rug?
Persian rugs can come from many countries but originate from Iran (formerly known as Persia). Their origins date back 2500 years to the reign of the Persian empire. This empire spanned across other countries like Turkey which is why Turkish rugs and Persian rugs share distinct similarities whilst reflecting Iranian culture and history. Persian rug weaving has now become so ingrained into Turkish culture that in 2018 they exported over $1.8 billion dollars of hand-woven Persian rugs worldwide (Iran exported £5 million in the same year). Identifying the origins of a Persian rug can depend on many things including the weave, what they are made from, the patterns on the rug and other factors.
What is a Persian Rug made from?
Traditionally from sheep’s wool which is boiled, spun, and dyed by hand. The wool varies depending on the breed of sheep, climate, the diet of the sheep and local customs relating to how and when sheep are shorn, and wool is processed.
The dyes are made from plants and insects. Many plants can yield vivid colours of red, yellow, black, green, orange, and blue. Indeed, the materials, origins and art of weaving Persian rugs are so culturally rich that they are recognised by the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
How is a Persian Rug made?
Threads called warp form the foundation bed of the rug and are inserted into a loom. The wool is then threaded in between the weft and tied using certain knots to form the weft of the rug.
Rugs can contain over 1000 knots per square inch but that still only forms part of the reason why Persian rugs can be so expensive. Materials, design, and size also contribute to the value of a Persian Rug.
A large, 12-foot Gabbeh rug could take a single person 2 years to weave and is not particularly economical. Therefore, several people often work on larger rugs to reduce the time taken. Whilst this might reduce the cost by time, it is also offset by the cost per number of weavers.
Who decides the design of a Persian rug?
That would depend on the type of rug. Some rugs follow predesigned patterns. Some rugs like Gabbeh can often be completely improvised with the weaver adding murals, motifs or images based on what they feel or see at the time. It is very much an integral, spiritual practice, akin to a painter ‘feeling’ what they are painting and adding emotion and personality to their canvas through their brush and paint; and just like a painter who paints with oils might not be able to use watercolour or another medium, a skilled weaver who makes Qahsqai carpets would probably not be able to make a good Isfaham carpet
What does the future hold for Persian Rugs?
Handweaving a Persian rug is not for the faint hearted. Whilst the finished products are worth a lot of money, this is not all passed down to the weaver who are often paid quite low sums. Younger generations see the hour, weeks and months that are invested into making a single Persian rug or carpet by their older generations as well as the inevitable side effects of back ache and hand ache. Less and less young people are therefore learning the art of weaving which makes existing Persian rugs that little bit rarer.
In 10-15 years, the original, traditional way of weaving Persian and Iranian rugs may no longer exist and will have to make way for newer methods.
Therefore, it is more important for owners of Persian rugs to look after them, keep them in good repair and have them professionally cleaned at regular intervals.
How to look after a Persian rug
Persian rugs have adorned the homes of kings and nomads for over 3500 years and, whilst durable in design, will always benefit from being cared for to protect their lifespan and beauty. Some simple ways to care for your Persian rug:
- Rotate your rug regularly to avoid wear and tear in high traffic areas
- Rearrange any furniture on top of Persian rugs to avoid damage to the threads
- Limit exposure to sunlight to avoid colour fade
- Vacuum regularly with the brush set as high as possible to avoid damaging the weft
- Turn your rug when the seasons change. This allows the fibres to rest, and the underside of the rug will show the pattern with clarity and beauty
Professional Persian rug cleaning
It is not advised to steam clean a Persian rug or bleach yellowed fringes. Ultimately, a Persian rug is a work of art and an investment and should be treated as such.
You should have your rug deep-cleaned by a professional Persian rug cleaning company (preferably one that uses traditional hand-cleaning Persian rug techniques rather than machine cleaning).
Your Persian rug should be cleaned by an experienced Persian rug cleaning company every 3-5 years but do seek advise as this can vary depending on rug size, age, and location.
James Barclay are Persian rug cleaning specialists and have a family heritage of rug cleaning that dates back over 100 years. If you would like to book your Persian rug in for cleaning, then call us on 0203 174 2427. We offer daily pick up within the M25 and weekly pick up across England and Wales
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