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Vintage Rugs - Tips to Identify Their Origins

Determining the Original Source of a Vintage Rug

When searching for the right vintage rug for your home, one of the greatest challenges facing new buyers is learning the vocabulary to describe what you like. For instance, you may know that you like worn rugs, particularly blue ones. But if you type “worn blue rug,” into your favorite search engine, you will quickly realize that there are thousands of worn blue rugs that look nothing like what you are searching for. What you thought was specific enough for your search for vintage rugs is nowhere near specific enough to actually find what you are seeking.

So, how can we simplify things? 

To help find your perfect vintage rug, you'll need to understand the basic differences between three predominant styles of vintage rug production: tribal, village, and city. Armed with what origin of rug you tend to like, you can more effectively search for specific styles of vintage rugs that will align with the your design aesthetic and budget.

This post will be the first of a series of posts, with subsequent posts highlighting specific vintage rug styles with tribal, village, or city origins.

Tribal Rugs

Tribal rug patterns refer to carpets produced by different ethnic groups with distinct histories, but they have some points of commonality:

  • Vintage tribal rugs were typically constructed on a loom in one’s home, which limits the size of the loom. Though there is no limit to their length, these vintage rugs are rarely wider than about 6 feet.
  • Tribal rugs were constructed by members of a family for use within the home. It was common to have multiple members of a family or several families contributing to a single rug, picking up where someone else left off based on a memorized pattern of knots
  • Tribal rugs are easily identifiable due to their angular details, though select tribes (such as Qashqai) are known for being excellent copyists of more ornate, artisanal styles
  • They often have foundations made in part or wholly of wool, since that was more readily available than cotton.
  • Knot counts per inch are generally lower, though the rugs are no less beautiful or durable.

What to look for in vintage tribal rugs: Look for angular designs and simpler repeating patterns. 

Flatwoven tribal: dhurrie, kilim, soumak

Piled rug tribal: caucacasian, Kurdish/bijar, shiraz/Qashqai, berber

vintage rug from District Rug Shoppe | shiraz tribal rug

Styles shown: 1. flatwoven soumak. 2.  area-sized shiraz

Village Rugs

Village carpets refer to rugs produced in through a cottage industry: weaving largely took place in the villages, but with the intent of sale over home use. Once complete, rug makers would sell their wares to a regional market center, and those market centers are the names used to describe the rugs. 

  • Like tribal rugs, village rug designs were made without a formal cartoon directing the pattern
  • Village rugs are generally considered more ‘primitive’ than city rugs – the same motifs (scrolls in borders, herati water designs, central medallions) are observed in both styles, because village rugs would abstract designs from city rugs and attempt to copy on home looms.
  • These vintage rugs are more likely to display abrash (color variation) or mistakes in their rug’s detail, since they were constructed without strict cartoons for reference
  • Vintage rugs with tribal origin tend to have coarser, lower knot counts.

Like tribal rugs, vintage village rugs carry such character that they are highly desired by today’s modern interior market.

What to look for: curved scrolls or boteh designs may not be as may not be perfect curves and instead look like slightly flattened, angular equivalents of shapes we see in other rugs.  Common in room sizes, but most common in scatter rug sizes.

Examples: heriz, mahal, malayer, hamadan 

3. mahal 4. mahal 5. malayer  6. malayer

City Carpets

City carpets are vintage rugs constructed in industrial workshops with the intent of commercial sale. The increased demand for oriental rugs – particularly Persian and Turkish ones -- in the 1800s enabled workers to specialize in certain components of the trade.  Dyers only dyed; artists drew detailed drawings for weavers to follow; weavers only weaved. Workshops constructed looms that could be used to make rugs wide enough for Western living rooms and salons. Even after 50 years, these antique and vintage rugs from Persian and Turkish cities reflect artistry and craftsmanship that is sought-after across the world.

  • Predominantly produced large rugs to fill European parlors
  • Ornate, highly stylized rugs often feature sweeping central medallions, pictoral motifs and multiple (e.g. 4+) outer borders
  • Tend to have higher knots per square inch, often creating more rigidity to the rug's foundation (and strengthening it)
  • Wool or silk pile, knotted onto cotton or silk foundations are most common

What to look for: ornate designs, higher knot counts, and more floral, curvilinear patterns in large area rug sizes

Examples: Persian Tabriz, Turkish Ushak, Persian Kerman, Qum, Farahan, Dorosh

Still have questions about vintage rugs? Contact us by clicking here, and tell us what more you wish we covered. If you are looking for a quick read about the construction and history of carpet origins, I recommend the following book, available for purchase on amazon: 

Oriental Carpets: From the Tents, Cottages and Workshops of Asia

If you are in the market for a great vintage rug, then visit our online store as we have a great selection of vintage rugs to choose from!