How to Buy Antique Rugs

Recently there has been a resurgence in ‘maximalization’, as the minimal ‘throwaway culture’ of modern pieces gives way to those searching out rugs of better quality, that will endure the test of time. Antique rugs, which are defined by being 80 years or older are often considered suited to period homes, but this is not the case, due to the vast array of designs, there are a multitude of pieces that can bring a contemporary interior to life. But what should we consider before buying one? Our very own Mark Lampe, Head of Rugs & Carpets gives us his top tips.


First step

Knowledge is power! Educate yourself on the various types of rugs on offer, so you can look for exactly what you like. You can choose from finely woven rugs with detailed floral designs, or more tribal rugs which tend to be smaller in size with overtly stylised geometric and floral forms. Look online via our sale catalogues and if there is time, come in and see the selection, to ensure you like the piece before committing to it.

Wool, cotton and silk were the main materials used for producing high quality floor rugs, which was important not only for the look and feel of a carpet, but for its durability. The highest value rugs are usually silk on silk, or silk with a fine wool blend.

Types of antique rugs


Tribal rugs

Small rugs woven in tents, predominantly by nomadic tribes. Bright, colourful, graphic designs used domestically to protect the tribes from cold and damp, but also to use to barter and sell.

Court Period rugs

Rugs were made in the Islamic world as early as the 11th century, firstly in Iran for domestic use and then through progression for the following Royal courts of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires.

These rugs were particularly ornate works of art that represented the wealth and status of those that commissioned them. They were used in court on floors in grand reception halls, as well as private chambers. They were also presented as impressive gifts to other rulers. Paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries show smaller rugs layered on top of larger carpets and many were used in outdoor pleasure pavilions and palatial parks.

Rulers were able to attain lavish materials, such as silk and employed highly skilled designers and weavers in their empires, to create luxurious rugs and carpets. Because of this court rugs are highly sought after for their stunning designs, exceptional quality and the skills employed to create them.

Current trends in antique rug collecting

The most popular area of antique rug collecting are rugs that are rare examples, dating from the 19th century or earlier. Collectors will bid furiously for rugs from the Mughal, Safavid and Ottoman periods, favouring colour, design and rarity above condition.

However, for the general buyer, collectible (rather than practical) rugs are popular. Bought to go on a wall, small tribal style rugs woven by nomadic groups sell well. Antique Seychour rugs from Azerbaijan are also in demand for their brightly coloured graphic designs.

The market continues to be strong for fine silk Persian rugs from the 19th century, due to their delicate patterning and high-quality silk. The designs tend to be more muted than tribal rugs and they lend themselves well to a broad style of homes.

Check condition

There will be some wear and tear on any antique rug, as it has survived for so long and been used on the floor usually on a daily basis. However, the condition can be important in determining what it’s worth. Serious condition issues should be avoided, as not only will it cost you heavily on restoration services, if the weave is weakened, it can only deteriorate with wear and tear. As a specialist I check for restoration, signs of water or any other damage and any reweaving that might have taken place. We produce condition reports, so that it’s absolutely clear what you are purchasing and to establish the quality and condition of the piece.

Check the date

Natural dyes were used on rugs until 1850 (and still are in the majority of contemporary rugs). These dyes were hardy and withstood the test of time for decades, they produced rich, vibrant colours. However, when chemical dyes came on to the market, rugs were dyed with lesser quality, harsher chemical dyes that produced a much less rich colour range. The colour tone produced by early natural dyes will help in verifying what you’re buying is a genuine antique rug.

Evaluate the design and weave

It is worth considering as you look at the design on the rug, whether the artist’s design has been well defined and is balanced. Are the designs symmetrical and of similar size.  As silly as this sounds, it is a good indicator of quality. A common term used in the rug industry is ‘knots per square inch’, a measurement that demonstrates the complexity and tightness of the way a rug has been woven. As a general rule of thumb, the more densely bound a rug is, the higher its quality.

Should you buy antique rugs for investment

As an auction house we do not advocate buying for investment, I would advise buying a piece for its beauty foremost, or because you would like a piece of history, or because you just want to enjoy it. However certain rugs, such as early examples in good condition, can yield a return. Persian silk rugs seem to be in high demand with no sign of stopping, so could potentially be good for resale if you can bear to part with them.

Where to buy

Always buy from a recommended source. The benefits of buying at auction are that we can authenticate the rug, while checking for quality and any damage / wear and tear. As an auction preview is held monthly, you can come and look at any of the designs first-hand and then bid from the comfort of your own home. Specialist advice is available, and you could get a bargain depending on what happens on the day.

Mark Lampe is Head of Rugs & Carpets at Chiswick Auctions. Rugs & Carpets auctions are held monthly, please refer to our auction calendar for the next sale. To contact Mark email him at: or go to the website: