Many of us value carpets solely for their decorative and utilitarian value. While that’s a fair classification for most rugs, it’s not the case for collectible carpets, which qualify as and are priced as works of art.
Top-grade antique rugs can sell for prices well into the mid- and upper-six figures and higher: Sotheby’s auctioned a Persian carpet for over $30 million in mid-2013.
Making the Grade
As with other art categories, there are multiple sub-markets and quality grades among collectible rugs.
Jan David Winitz, president and founder of the Claremont Rug Co., in Oakland and Berkeley, California, created the Claremont Rug Pyramid as a classification tool to summarize the market’s dynamics.
At the pyramid’s pinnacle, Level 1 rugs are museum quality with historical value and date from the 13th to 18th centuries. These pieces are unlikely to show up in a private collector’s home, Winitz says.
“Rugs from the First Golden Age of Persian Weaving (Tier 1) were woven during the reign of the famous patron of the arts, Shah Abbas, in the 16th and early 17th centuries,” he explained. “These pieces rarely come to market and are almost entirely owned by royal families and museums.”
Level 2 and Level 3 carpets are considered “high collectible” and “collectible,” with dates ranging from the early 19th century to 1875 for the former and circa 1875 to the late 19th century for the latter, according to Winitz.
Levels 4 (1900-1925) and 5 (1925-1969) are the high-decorative and decorative categories, respectively, while Tier 6 rugs are reproductions that typically date from 1970 to the present.
(An example of a Tier 5 rug, a Ferahan carpet from the early-19th Century, is shown above.)
Rugs below Level 1 are more readily available to collectors, and Claremont’s inventory consists of pieces from Levels 2 through 4, which range in value from approximately $20,000 to more than $500,000.
Highly collectible to museum-level rugs (Levels 2 and 3) can easily be valued in the $70,000 to $500,000 range, depending on size, rarity and condition, he notes.
The wide array of prices and styles, which can range “from geometric rugs woven by tribal groups in the countryside to floral rugs created in the large cities,” make it difficult to summarize buyers’ preferences, Winitz notes.