Expert’s five-point rug buyer’s checklist when shopping for vintage or antique Oriental rugs.
There are five major issues that comprise a rug buyer’s checklist. The key is to examine a rug before purchase and to be aware of the most common problems found in old rugs. Finding an old rug in pristine condition isn’t easy. Unless it was rarely walked on, a rug will inevitably show signs of wear. Knowing what to look for and determining how much wear or repair is acceptable given the cost of the rug are important criteria for a knowledgeable buyer. Over time, a collector develops an eye for the type of wear they are comfortable with — from mint condition, to threadbare, to everything in between. Each rug displays a unique charm that is discovered by the person who is drawn to it.
While fraying edges or threadbare areas may not trouble everyone, condition is important since it can affect the durability and worth of a carpet. As much as 50% or more of the value can be lost simply because of neglect. Problems caught early can help preserve a rug’s value. However, a rug that has become threadbare may not be the best choice for a busy entry while it could work in a guest room. Paying attention to certain areas of wear will also help you decide whether a rug is right for you.
A properly executed repair is an asset since it will have stabilized an otherwise weak area. It’s not uncommon for a rug to have one or several repairs during its lifetime. After all, rugs are woven to be used. For those looking for a rug in pristine condition, a repair may be a deterrent but for others it’s not. Another consideration is where in your home the rug will be used.
1. Fringe – Always check a rug’s borders for loose wefts or naps and uneven rows of naps at the fringe line [above]. A careful examination of the borders will tell you if the fringes have unraveled at some point, as borders should go all the way around the rug and be complete. That’s because a rug’s foundation is made of vertical threads called warps, and horizontal threads called wefts. Foundation threads can be made of cotton, silk, or wool. Knots tied around the warp threads create the nap or pile. After the final row of naps is tied to finish the rug’s design, a weaver will leave a length of the warps exposed, creating the fringe. Many cotton fringes slough off over time and become shorter. Trimming to make the the fringes look even is a cosmetic improvement that will not affect their overall strength.
In this photo, the blue/tan alternating border on the left edge of the rug does not continue around the bottom — the fringe is protruding from a red band. A missing section of missing border can affect a rug’s value, but not its durability. That means the last wefts of the rug became unsecured at some point and the rug can begin to unravel. This often occurs from the fringe being caught in a vacuum cleaner or from general foot traffic wearing it down. When unraveling is not stopped the naps will continue to pull out which can lead to a deterioration in the design of the rug. But if the wefts have been secured by a sewing repair, to hold the naps in place and the rug is even at the fringe line, it has a neat appearance that makes the wear barely noticeable.
2. Edges – The side edges of rugs are wrapped with threads to protect the outer warps. The wrapping is usually wool, though silk and goat’s hair also may be used. When wool is missing at the edge, outer warps are exposed. This rug has a loose edge and bit of wool is missing — exposing the outer warps. Because warps a one key element in the foundation of a rug, this wrapping is essential to protect them. Always examine the edges of a rug closely to see if they are frayed or weakened like the edge shown in the photo. Such a rug can easily be mended by re-wrapping the edges with wool. A dealer should be clear as to whether the price quote is “as is” or, if the price includes necessary repairs.
An even, color-matched wrapping shows a re-edged rug in excellent condition
3. Moth Damage – Missing patches of wool nap or pile are the telltale signs of moth damage. These areas can be rewoven but it is a labor-intensive process that, in some cases, can cost more than the value of a rug. Moth damage occurs when the moth larvae have eaten the wool in various areas. This photo shows where the naps have been literally devoured, exposing the warp and weft threads of the leaves and the rose flower near the top. Damage also may look like random bare spots scattered around. Sometimes this type of damage occurs in a curved line rather than one large area.
Moth damage can easily reduce the value of a carpet by 50% to 75%, depending on the extent of the area affected. For example, this palace-sized rug has extensive moth damage across both ends. In pristine condition, it might fetch $30,000 but the damage has reduced its value to around $7000 to $10,000.
4. Bleeding – There are a number of causes for bleeding — colors that have run from one area into another. The most common cause is poorly dyed wool rugs that have been cosmetically touched up at some point with non-fast dye. The rug in this photo shows how the blues and the reds have bled into the white areas. Depending on the extent, bleeding can reduce the value of a rug by half.
Many experts suggest the “white rag” test for bleeding: wet a white towel and rub it on an area to see if the dyes come off on the rag. I don’t find that test reliable because a rug can have wool dyed from different batches. It only tells me whether the specific area being tested will bleed. The important thing is to recognize, and be aware, of bleeding before you decide on a purchase since evidence of bleeding can — though not always — mean that a rug will bleed again during a cleaning, or if it gets wet.
5. Holes – Sometimes holes are not as obvious as the one above. On small rugs the best way to check for them is to hold the rug up to the light and look at it from the backside—the light will shine through holes. On larger rugs check for low nap which may indicate a weak area where a hole has started. Holes are repairable, either by reweaving or patching with a piece of another similar rug. How well the repair is done will have an effect on the value of the rug.
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