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What To Ask When Purchasing A Vintage Rug

A vintage or antique rug can liven up any room. Some are colorful and patterned, while others offer more muted tones – but whatever your style preferences, they offer texture and story and become a statement piece in any space they adorn. 

A magnificent antique rug would be a welcome addition to any home, but finding one can be difficult. With so many fake rugs on the market (either blatantly mislabeled, or labeled as “vintage inspired”), buyers have understandably become cautious when buying antique rugs. This skepticism is particularly well warranted when buying vintage or antique rugs online

Below are 4 questions to ask to ensure you’re getting value for your money.

 Backside of a hand-knotted vintage rug

This hand-knotted mahal displays the rug's design pattern on front and back.

1. Was it Hand-Knotted?

One reason vintage and antique rugs are valuable is that they are handmade: each of the rug's tens of thousands of knots was tied by hand around a wool or cotton foundation while the rug was attached to a loom. Machine-made rugs or hand-tufted rugs use other techniques to create a rug, such as gluing or sewing tufts of wool to a canvas backing.

To tell the difference, ask to see the back of the rug to confirm if it’s hand-knotted or machine-made. A real hand-knotted rug's pattern will be almost as vivid and intricate on the back as it is on the front. If the rug’s pattern is obscured by a solid piece of canvas or cotton, it is not likely a handmade rug.

Some misleading sellers may use the weight of the rug as evidence of a rug’s handmade construction, but weight is no substitute. Insist on seeing the underside of the rug. (Note: all Passerine rugs include a photo of the rug’s underside, so we do this work for you!) 

A semi-antique Persian Khorassan rug from Passerine.

2. How Old is the Rug?

If you tour some online marketplaces, you will find some sellers who label rugs 10 or 15 years old rugs as ‘antique’. Technically, a rug must be at least 20 years old to be considered vintage, and at least 100 years old to be classified as antique. (Many of the rugs Passerine carries fall somewhere in the middle –40 to 90 years old – and are considered semi-antique.) How old or worn a rug looks is not a fair guide of true age. Rugs can be heavily distressed through natural use, but suppliers can replicate this look intentionally to appeal to buyer preferences. Many Passerine rugs are antique washed with a gentle chemical wash to accelerate the natural oxidation process, which can mute rug colors in a way that looks older than their age alone might suggest. 

Does age drive price? It is a contributing factor, yes. The saying “they just don’t make it like they used to” definitely applies, both in terms of design creativity and quality. Our shop sources rugs that predominantly include vegetable dyed pile, which have a more organic, earthy, and natural feel, and were more a common construction before the 1940s. 

So if you’re paying for an antique rug,  understand how old it actually is, not just how old it looks. Make sure the price you pay aligns with the quality and actual age of the rug. 

  1. What is the Origin of your Antique Rug?

The origin of an antique rug is one factor that drives its value. Certain styles may be more fashionable with luxury designers and design enthusiasts, and this can impact price.

Buyers typically want a piece with Middle Eastern roots. Turkey is home to popular Oushak and Kazak styles. Caucasian tribal rugs offer more primitive, geometric designs that are favorites in mid-century modern homes. Persian rugs, which were made in modern-day Iran, are likewise of excellent quality and have a long and perhaps most famed history of rug-making. Passerine sources many mahals, malayers, hamadans, and tabrizes, to name just a few styles of great popularity. There are also antique rugs of Indian, Pakistani, Moroccan, or Chinese origin, which may offer a bigger bang for your buck.

4. Research the Seller

If you're shopping online, it’s important to first research and read customer reviews on each seller to ensure that their products are genuine and that people are satisfied. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the seller directly, too. The more you research and interact, the more confident you will be in your purchase. You'll appreciate what you've purchased if you understand more about the rug.

Here are some other questions you could ask:

  • Where in the house may this rug have been used?
  • What do you know about the previous owners of this rug?
  • Is there anything special about the rug's design?
  • Is there any history behind this rug?
  • Is there any documentation, such as letters, receipts, or photographs, that goes with this rug? 

In conclusion, your end goal when purchasing a vintage or antique rug is to ensure the quality and authenticity of the rug matches what you pay for.  If you have questions about any rug from our inventory, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Passerine’s owner, Georgia, answers all customer inquiries personally and is excited to help you purchase your dream rug with confidence.