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Tabriz carpets pile on the quality, colors

Fine carpets have long symbolized wealth, status and majesty. King Henry VIII of England, for example, not only graced his walls, tables and cushions with precious Turkish weavings. In his famed portrait by Hans Holbein, the monarch actually stands on one.

Though Persian carpets first reached Europe in the 16th century, most on today’s market date no earlier than the mid-1800s. Their creators not only employed age-old methods of design, dyeing and weaving. Like their forefathers, they also had access to high-quality, moist, glossy sheep fleece.

Fine, high quality Tabriz carpet (70 raj), northwest Persia, circa 1940-1950, wool/silk, 11 feet 11 inches x 8 feet, realized $15,944 in 2016. Image courtesy Henry’s Auktionshaus AG and LiveAuctioneers

These works of art were woven on traditional handlooms featuring horizontal silk, cotton or wool strands, called wefts, along with adjacent vertical strands, called warps. Interweaving warps with dyed wefts produced patterned flat-weave carpets. Tying dyed, single-looped knots between the wefts, then compacting and cutting them, produced patterned pile-carpets, those with perpendicular surface yarns. Since this looping process was so time consuming, creating a narrow runner might take months. Creating a room- or palace-size piece might take years—even if worked by teams of weavers.

Characteristics of Persian carpets, like designs, color combinations and knotting techniques, are often specific to certain towns, villages or tribal regions. These are named for their ethnic creators or places of origin.

Fine Tabriz carpet (50 raj), northwest Persia, circa 1920-1930, wool/cotton, 11 feet 5 inches x 7 feet 12 inches, impressive colors with green tones, realized $9,680 in 2016. Image courtesy Henry’s Auktionshaus AG and LiveAuctioneers

Carpets produced in Tabriz, one of the oldest weaving centers in modern-day Iran, however, are among the finest. Whether simple or complex, geometric or pictorial, pale or vivid, pile or flat-weave, all feature harmonious, formal designs, balanced use of color and exceptional quality.

Many depict delicate, detailed, overall repeating patterns of stylized palmettes, vines, florals or arabesques framed by dominant borders in complementary shades and patterns. Others feature round, ovoid, pendant, blossom, star or diamond-shaped medallions filled with kaleidoscope-like bouquets of flowers. These dominant forms, set against rectangular fields of overall floral motifs, may be flanked by bold, rectilinear outlines or complimentary architectural, artistic adornments. Whether wool or silk, they are edged by geometric or floral work borders in varying widths and complexity.    

Magnificent Tabriz palace-size carpet, cool palette with lace-like border, 11 feet x 17 feet, circa 1900, realized $11,000 in 2009. Image courtesy of Nazmiyal Auction and LiveAuctioneers

While the usual measurement in judging the quality of a Persian rug is knots per square inch, Tabriz pile carpets are traditionally rated according to raj, a term that indicates their knotted density. Raj represents the number of knots across 2¾ inches (7 centimeters) of a Tabriz rug. Pieces labeled 40 raj, for example, feature some 400-500 knots to a 2¾-inch span, 50 Raj feature 500-600 knots, 60 raj feature 600-800, and 70 feature 800-1,000 knots. Because carpets with high-knot densities allow exquisitely minute detail and shadings, they often display attractive, intricate designs.   

Carpets with exceptionally high knot-density, like those by Haji Jalili, a master weaver and innovative designer based in the Tabriz region in the late 19th century, feature exquisitely detailed motifs and hues in traditional, curvilinear patterns. Moreover, some say, they shimmer like fine porcelain.

Hadji Jalili Tabriz carpet, Persia, circa 1900, fine mansion size: 17 feet 10 inches x 27 feet 9 inches, excellent condition, weight: 205 pounds, realized $25,000 in 2018. Image courtesy of Material Culture and LiveAuctioneers

Jalili’s carpets are famed for exceptional craftmanship, finest vegetable dyes and exceedingly lustrous materials. Many, instead of classic Tabriz deep reds and blues, feature distinctive, finely drawn overall design elements in pale gold, gray or pink palettes, some with traces of indigo blue. These are often set against subdued ivory, wheat, terra-cotta or sand-colored fields scrolled with subtly toned vines and arabesques. Other Jalili rugs feature surprisingly bright, vibrant central medallions against muted, flowered fields.

Though Haji Jalili, or his workshop, created masterpieces in limited numbers, various sizes occasionally appear on the market. Since many tend to vanish into private collections, however, they are increasing difficult to find.

Rare high density, wool/gold Tabriz carpet with 3-D weaving. impressive central medallion with floral design with highly impressive colors, 7 feet 10 inches x 9 feet 6 inches, realized $5,900 in 2015. Image courtesy Tiroche Auction House and Live Auctioneers

While rarity is important in evaluating an antique Tabriz carpet, its designer, pattern, color palette, uniqueness, dye source, knot density, age, condition and size also affect its worth. Though these carpets may prove costly, they are finite in number. So, as time goes by, each tends to hold or even increase in value. As a result, many collectors, decorators, dealers and private clients treasure these creations as long-term investments.

Moreover, Tabriz carpets, like fine paintings or other works of art, are exceptionally beautiful. Those who appreciate their fascinating blend of art, culture and design find that they enhance all decors. Many, as of old, display them on walls, or draped across sofas, chairs, or tables. Others, like royalty, place them beneath their feet.

How To Care For, Store, and Display Oriental Rugs Like a Pro

Do you believe in the magic of Oriental rugs? The idea that magical properties exist within these ornate rugs may seem absurd. However, consider how a rug on a wood floor can transform a simple room in a house into a haven. Or, how a proudly displayed Oriental rug has the ability to generate discussion, inspire dreams, and prompt reflection of the past.

With proper and consistent care and preservation, Oriental wool rugs can and will provide years of enjoyment, and that in itself is a bit of magic. The question then becomes how should rugs be cared for to ensure their longevity and beauty? For expert insight we turned to A.E. “Tad” Runge Jr., owner of A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs, located in Yarmouth, Maine. Runge has more than four decades of experience buying and selling, studying and assessing Oriental rugs, and lecturing about their history and care.

Tad Runge cutting pad for a rug Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

Tad Runge cutting pad for a rug. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

The Oriental rug market has undergone changes in the 30 years since Runge began working in the business full time. However, some things remain unchanged, including the practical and proper measures that preserve Oriental rugs, Runge said.

“I’ve loved textile arts for years, and I’ve been blessed to have wonderful customers who also love textile art,” he said.

Celebrate your love of textile art with vigilance

When asked the best approach to caring for Oriental rugs, Runge’s response is clear: “Be vigilant. Give them a little attention.” Without it, a sneaky and damaging group of critters will be more than happy to cozy up to those rugs, notably the dreaded wool moth.

Wool moths are the most likely invaders of rugs, Runge explained. The wool moth, not be confused with the meal moth, is about the size of the fingernail of a pinkie finger and buckwheat in color. “They avoid light at all costs, unlike most moths that are drawn to light,” Runge said. “You can’t catch them by shining a light, they hide. The most likely place an infestation will occur is an underutilized space, like the edges of a rug or the back.”

A rug damaged by wool moths. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

A rug damaged by wool moths. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

Tip #1: Make sure to regularly “disturb” areas that wool moths are most likely to occupy. This means vacuuming the front, or face, of a rug at least monthly, and more often depending on traffic. In addition, taking the vacuum to the back of a rug a couple times a year is highly recommended.

In the event wool moths have taken up residency in a rug, telltale signs include spaces of wool missing on the rug, small holes, and the appearance of small white larvae. At this point, in order to dispose of the intruders, remove the rug from the home or business. Do an in-depth inspection of other rugs and woolen items in the area. Then take the rug and any other affected textiles to someone who washes rugs professionally.

Tip #2: Shampooing an Oriental rug is not the same as washing one. The process of shampooing leaves a soapy residue that not only dulls the rug, but compromises the wool fibers. The proper process for washing an Oriental rug should include significant use of water, Runge said.

Tabriz rug, 1980, wool, 6 feet 8 inches x 9 feet 7 inches. Sold for $460. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52

Tabriz rug, 1980, wool, 6 feet 8 inches x 9 feet 7 inches. Sold for $460. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52

Beat rugs today for a better tomorrow

When it comes to preserving Oriental rugs, incorporating a regular schedule of “beatings” ranks near the top, according to Runge.

“Oriental rugs are particularly good at trapping dirt,” said Runge, whose great-grandfather was also in the business of buying and selling rugs in the late 19th century. “That trapped dirt is what wears the rug out. The dirt cuts the wool fibers when there is traffic on the rug.”

The act of “beating”an Oriental rug is as simple as 1-2-3, and doesn’t exactly mirror the rug-beating technique of the past. First, take the rug outdoors and lay it on a clean, dry surface, Runge said. Flip it so the back of the rug is facing up, and vacuum multiple times. Then turn the rug over and vacuum the front and, again, repeat the process. This is the modern approach to beating a rug.

Tip #3: When beating the front of a rug, stick to the standard process of vacuuming. While the array of attachments that are standard with many models may be helpful in cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting, they can do more harm than good when used on Oriental rugs.

Vintage Shiraz tribal geometric Oriental rug, 5. 7 x 8.6 feet. Sold for $240

Vintage Shiraz tribal geometric Oriental rug, 5. 7 x 8.6 feet. Sold for $240. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52

Protect with padding and casters

Adding padding beneath rugs can serve double duty. In addition to preventing slippage, padding helps create a more structured base for a rug that bears the weight of furniture and regular foot traffic. Placing casters on the bottom of furniture legs and periodically moving furniture helps limit wear, Runge said.

When it comes to selecting the right pad, density and natural fiber are two qualities to keep in mind. “There is a broad range of pads, and in many cases the cheaper the pad, the poorer the pad,” Runge said. “A poor pad often will turn to powder. Good pads should last 10 to 15 years.”

 

Treating Oriental rugs as a respected item of textile art — truly functional art — will help ensure a light-on-dirt and moth-free existence for the rug and years of appreciation for you.

Find exceptional antique rugs in this week’s Jasper52 rug auction.


tad-rungeTad Runge is owner of A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs in Yarmouth, Maine. He’s been buying and selling Oriental rugs since the 1970s, when dealing helped to pay for his college tuition. He lectures on the subject of Oriental rugs and authored the book “One Woman, One Weft.” Tad said if he could speak with his late great-grandfather and fellow rug merchant, Edward Runge, his wish would be to hear all about his rug-buying travels and the people he bought from.