The rug industry can be confusing to the average consumer -- it’s riddled with opaque pricing, unclear quality standards, and very savvy salespeople.
Because there are so many types and styles of rugs, it can be difficult to identify an authentic Oriental rug against a sea of machine-made products.
Read our tips below to learn how to identify authentic Oriental rugs, and become a more confident shopper.
How to Know You’re Buying a Real Oriental Rug
You’ll be able to asses whether a rug is an authentic Oriental rug or not by looking at the rug’s backside. A rug’s character is revealed in its backside. The rug’s backing will reveal hints about how the rug was made, and should also have a tag with details about the rug’s size, material, production country, and knot count.
An authentic, hand-knotted Oriental rug’s backside should reveal a slightly less saturated but otherwise identical pattern to its front. You should be able to see each individual and unique knots -- for example, it should look something like a hand-knitted scarf, with slightly varying sizes and textures of each knot. The knots should not look completely uniform.
**Red flag #1:
If a rug’s backside is too smooth, too perfect, and looks like it was woven by a machine, it’s not an authentic hand-knotted Oriental piece.
An authentic, hand-knotted Oriental rug will also have necessary fringe. When rugs are knotted by hand, each knot is based on a set of foundational warp threads, and these warp threads naturally and necessarily form the rug’s fringe. Thus, the backside of an Oriental rug should show a natural, unbroken transition from the rug’s knots to its fringed warp threads. In contrast, the production style machine-made rugs doesn’t require fringe. Fringe is often sewed onto machine-made rugs as an accent piece but is unnecessary to the successful production of a machine-made rug.
**Red flag #2:
If a rug’s backside clearly shows that fringe was sewn on as an addition the rug, it is not an authentic Oriental rug.
A true hand-knotted Oriental rug’s backside should also have a tag or sticker stating details about the rug. Authentic Oriental rugs sold in America will likely be produced in Pakistan, India, Iran, or Afghanistan. Countries such as Turkey, Tibet, and a handful of others may also be the production source of an authentic Oriental rug, but these countries generally produce lower volumes (see our post on the world’s top Oriental rug producers for more information). An authentic Oriental rug will likely be made of pure wool (although some authentic Oriental rugs contain some silk or cotton) and dyed with all-natural, vegetable-based dyes.
**Red flag #3:
If a rug’s tag says it’s made somewhere in North America, South America, or Western Europe, it’s not an authentic Oriental rug. If the tag says it’s made of any synthetic material -- such as acrylic, rayon, olefin, or polyster -- it’s not an authentic Oriental rug. And, of course, if the tag says it was produced in any way other than hand-knotting (such as machine made, hand-tufted, hand-loomed, or even “handmade”), it’s not an authentic Oriental rug.
Once you’ve inspected the rug yourself, it’s important to ask the rug retailer more about the rug to assess its quality and authenticity. Reliable Oriental rug dealers should be able to tell you where the rug was produced (and possibly where it was finished and cleaned), how it was made, what materials were used, and what its knot count is. Note that higher knot counts result in a more dense, plush rug (and thus a higher price).
**Red flag #4:
If a retailer is not able to supply this information, then it’s likely that he/she is not a reliable retailer (and thus it’s questionable whether he/she is selling authentic Oriental rugs). Quality Oriental rug dealers are comparable to trusted art dealers -- they should be invested, informed, and passionate about their products, because each product is high in quality and value.