In June of 2013, an anonymous bidder phoned in to Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. Up for sale was a 17th century rug known as the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet: “one of the outstanding examples of Persian carpet weaving,” according to Arthur Upham Pope’s 1939 survey of Persian art.
The winning bid?
An incomprehensibly large sum of money.
If every US citizen were to chip in a dime, we still couldn’t have out-bid the anonymous new owner of the Clark Carpet.
Why Are Wool Rugs So Expensive?
A strange situation indeed, which begs the question: why are wool rugs—and wool Oriental rugs in particular—so expensive? So valuable? So consistently capable of fetching thousands upon thousands of dollars?
The Cultural Cachet of Oriental Wool Rugs
In today’s interconnected, networked world, we often take the forces of globalization for granted. Culture is no longer bound by geography; ideas, art, and commodities circumnavigate the globe freely, unfettered by physical distance.
The roots of globalization reach as far back as history, but are often traced to the Renaissance, when communication and trade between disparate parts of the world began to accelerate. This rich cultural exchange gave birth to a European fascination with all things Eastern, a phenomenon known to historians as Orientalism.
As early as the 14th century, oriental wool rugs began appearing in European religious paintings. Portraits of royalty and biblical figures alike often featured oriental rugs under the feet of the painting’s subjects. These carpets, much like the gilded thrones and crowns found above them, were presumably symbols of luxury and prestige.
Artists appreciate art, and Renaissance paintings of oriental wool rugs were finely detailed and remarkably true to the nuanced designs of the carpets themselves. The beauty of these textiles, as transmitted through European painting, fostered a worldwide fascination with and hunger for oriental rugs that lives on to this day.
The Intersection of Form and Function
Although the origins of oriental carpet weaving are lost in the mists of prehistory, it’s easy to imagine the practical necessity of rugs in the nomadic lifestyle of ancient Middle Eastern peoples.
As they traversed arid desert environments along with herds of goats, the first carpet weavers simply used the materials at hand to solve life’s little problems. These nomads likely had plenty of wool lying around, so it was a natural solution to begin weaving it into comfortable, portable floor coverings.
Over time, certain techniques and patterns were passed down, mutating and evolving into the diverse canon of rug designs that now please the eyes and feet of homeowners worldwide.
Much like furniture or pottery, oriental rugs are a seamless blend of form and function, representative of the uniquely human ability to solve problems gracefully and beautifully.
The price of an oriental wool rug, therefore, is tied not only to its practical purpose--to provide a soft, yet durable indoor flooring--but also to its artistry and aesthetic appeal. These carpets satisfy two fundamental human desires at the same time: comfort and beauty, interwoven.
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The Practical Particulars
Now that we’ve glossed over the cultural, historical, and artistic value of wool rugs, let’s get down to the particulars of price.
A rug’s size corresponds directly to the amount of material, time, and effort necessary to produce it. The larger the rug, the more expensive it will be. Rug prices are often estimated by the square foot, so it’s fairly simple to calculate a reasonable price for whatever size rug you may need. Take a look at this blog post of ours from last year for more detail on average prices per square foot.
Knot count refers to the number of hand-tied wool knots per square inch of rug surface. Lower knot counts correspond to a coarser texture; a higher knot count results in soft, luxurious texture and a noticeably steeper price.
The quality of wool used in a rug’s production also has a bearing on its final price. The fineness (or coarseness) of wool is measured by its diameter in microns, ranging from 15 micron ultrafine merino to the more common 35 to 45 micron wool generally used for carpeting.
The variety and quality of dyes used to color a wool oriental rug are equally important; a rug featuring more than 10 colors created with natural vegetable dyes will command the highest prices. Less nuanced synthetic dyes are cheaper than their natural counterparts.
Age, rarity, and design are a bit harder to pin down, and often depend on fluctuating stylistic trends and consumer demand. Older rugs are generally the most valuable, as long as they remain in good condition. Rugs more than 100 years old are considered antique; rugs between 50 and 70 years are semi-antique.
Navigating the world of wool oriental rugs can seem intimidating at first, but don’t let the flood of options discourage you. While pricing can always be disassembled into its component factors, in the end it comes down to what you’re willing to pay for a rug you love.
Please feel free to contact us here at RugKnots if you have any questions about oriental wool rug prices. We’ve been in the business for generations and we’ve watched industry trends come and go. But even as prices fluctuate from year to year and rug to rug, a quality hand-knotted wool rug is a worthy investment in art and craftsmanship that will never go out of style.