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A guide to: Antique rugs

A guide to Antique rugs form Hemswell Antiques


Antique rugs are art you can literally walk on: the ultimate cultural investment entwined with exoticism, history and technical brilliance. Like most age-old items, bagging genuine antique rugs is not always straightforward. Whether you’re scouting down a travel trophy in the former Persia or bidding on antique rugs for sale in an old Blighty auction, it helps to know the basic forms, origins and styles.

Carpets and rugs: Antiques guide to picking the right threads

Artistic, indeed; but rugs and carpets were mostly always intended as functional items. Those warm from keen collectors’ eyes are from the pre-20th century, although there are worthwhile investments to be made from examples after this time. Avoid falling foul to machine-made fakes with dubious origins by paying close attention to two antique-rug-spotting factors:

1. Knot count. From antique Qashqai rugs to Caucasian carpets, a little technical know-how can help you land a genuine piece. Many Middle Eastern experts consider the number of knots in a square inch to be a strong indicator of the quality of antique rugs (usually 120 knots or above). This is true to some extent, however do be aware that modern designs are also tightly knotted. Flip over the carpet and inspect the fibres - another aspect to look out for is to see how uniform the knots are. If the piece has been handwoven on a loom, knots will be slightly irregular in shape and size.

2. Materials used. Antique rugs made from wool are most common, but silk are the most desirable. The latter are far more fragile, but you’ll still find 17th-century antique Persian rugs made from silk coming up for sale regularly. Look out for ‘Polonaise’ varieties - depending on their state of wear, these can value from £30,000 to £600,000. 

Types of antique rugs: from region to region

Antique Persian rugs
The most desirable antique Persian rugs for sale are those from the 16th and 17th century. Hefty carpets come with a hefty price-tag, but you can find the odd fragment at auction if you’re on a budget. Around 300 examples of red-ground, floral Esfahan rugs, crafted from wool pile and mixed cotton or silk, still exist. These are very expensive in mint condition but fragments sell from £400. Antique Heriz rugs (Heriz is an area in former north-west Persia) are also particularly popular. Blending hard-wearing functionality with exquisite art, prices can reach highs of £50,000 for these pieces.

Antique Turkish rugs 
Henry VIII was a well-known collector of antique Turkish rugs. He had expensive taste - many of the finest early examples from the Ushak region can fetch over £50,000. There are plenty of ‘Transylvanian’ rugs from this region still to be collected, including antique prayer rugs and floral designs known as ‘Smyrna’. Many of these antique Turkish rugs for sale are worn-in and poor quality, ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands of pounds. 

Antique Caucasian rugs
Taking many elements of Persian rugs, as well as Anatolian and tribal weaving, antique caucasian rugs peaked in the 19th century. These examples are small, with thick piles and bright colours. You’ll find great quality antique caucasian rugs for sale for a thousand pounds - sometimes even less. 

Antique Baluch rugs
Rather than identifying antique Baluch rugs from a particular region, it’s actually the style that defines them. Blending Turkish, Persian and Caucasian elements, these unique carpets can be spotted from their coarsely woven structures and tree of life design. Inspect antique Baluch rugs for sale for brilliant wool piles and rich colours to ensure quality. 

Antique Kurdish rugs
Kurdish weavers in northwestern Persia created a stylistic amalgamation and are some of the trickiest to recognise. This small minority of design works - the earliest possibly dating before 1800 - feature floral, shrubs, Memling guls and Herati motifs. Antique Kurdish rugs are all wildly varied with exceptional colour work.

Where to find antique rugs for sale

Many collectors travel for their finds. Whether you’re on the hunt for authentic antique Turkmen rugs or a hand-knotted Persian, the thrill is in the hunt for rug enthusiasts. Iran, Turkey, India, China, Morocco, Pakistan, the Caucasus, Romania and Afghanistan are stuffed with rewarding carpets to take home. But it’s not a simple shopping trip: you’ll need to be a confident haggler and know your stuff. Avoid boutique stores in larger cities and head straight for the source for a bargain, paying close attention to the knot count, fibre and colours. 

For a significantly easier shopping trip, find a whole collection of vastly varied antique rugs for sale from all over the world at our treasure-packed antiques centre. No need to risk traders abroad rubbing their hands with glee - from Turkish heirlooms to antique Afghan rugs, our pieces are quality, genuine and fairly priced. You can inspect every inch of them by heading straight to Building Two and The Guardroom and sift through our truly traditional and wonderfully unique antique rugs. 

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