Histories of Handmade Rugs
in Rug & Kilim’s Collection
Antique rugs have been in Josh’s resume since he began in the industry almost 40 years ago when he was already recognized for one of the largest oriental rug collections in the United States. Each piece in the internationally recognized volume was hand picked for rarity, and of course aesthetic and beauty, now complementing one of the widest varieties of Persian rug and Turkish rug collections with the utmost attention to individuality and care. Because of Josh’s position in the wholesale rug industry he’s been responsible for promoting a number of collections throughout history, from breathtaking signature Tabriz, Sultanabad, Kerman Lavar, Agra, and Oushak classics to the more unsung jewels of the luxury industry.
Vintage has also been synonymous with who we are since our beginning, particularly for our unparalleled Kilim collection, but with the rise of Mid Century collection the term vintage carpet has become very popular — especially exciting because often times many of the vintage carpets have also been treated, washed, dyed over, sheared, and modified — and has created a very successful category. We’re especially very proud of our vintage Kilims and Turkish rugs curated for our expansive collection of both area rugs and runners alike.
Antique, Semi-Antique, Vintage, Mid-Century Rugs
While any rug older than 80-100 years old is considered antique, the lesser-known range between antique rugs and vintage rugs 50-80 years old are labeled semi-antique. Any rug 20 years or older can be listed as vintage, but the typical consensus is vintage applies to the range between 20-50 years old.
Among vintage rugs. mid-Century (sometimes spelled Mid Century) is the subclassification applied specifically to mid-20th-Century rugs (sometimes referred to under that exact classification, though mid-century/mid century is implied). Among many rug experts, this terminology has been used interchangeably to refer to mid-century modern rugs, a wide-spanning style often referring to most mid-century rugs including vintage Scandinavian rugs and other specific editions of the style from the 1940s until the 1960s/1970s (once again depending on consensus, given that the style often referred to as mid-century modern persisted well after the widely recognized 40s and 50s of inception).
Origins of Rugs
In the current field of study, remnants of the tradition of handmade rugs has been traced as early as 5,000 years ago in the primitive tribes of the era, though Moroccan fabrics of origin from tribal weavers have been believed to originate since the Paleolithic Era. Some of the first rugs, made entirely for utility in these times, were hand woven from varied hairs of animals, eventually leading to wool becoming the veritably most recognized material in the construction of rugs today.
Among collectors and curators on the international scale, the 5th century rug known as the Pazyryk rug is among the oldest carpets in the world, estimated to be from 400 BC and currently located at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia since it was first discovered in Kazakhstan in 1949. Among the many ancestral techniques used in handmade rugs — including but not limited to hand weaving, flat weaving, hand knotting, hand hooking, hand tufting and more — this rug remains the oldest-known example of hand-knotted rugs in human history.
Collecting and Designing with Antique and Vintage Rugs
As the territories of academia and the luxury market intersect, the rarity of design, origin, material blend, condition, and square footage all reign among the most widely regarded factors in pricing antique and vintage rugs.
In particular, as antique Oriental rugs and antique European rugs became essential to interior design, some of the most popular homes of antique and vintage rugs of beauty and rarity have come to include classic Persian rugs, tribal Moroccan rugs, French Aubusson rugs and Savonnerie rugs, Tibetan rugs, Turkish rugs and Kilims, European rugs, Russian rugs, Chinese rugs, Indian rugs, and the rugs of varied Native American origin including but not limited to the Navajo tribal rugs made in the last 500 years. Our own collection has continued to expand in diversity and rarity as Josh hand selects each addition for these and other factors, both considering the private collector and colleagues in interior design who understand the possibilities of classic rugs as they persisted over the years.
Antique & Vintage Persian Rugs
With artisinal origins dating back more than 2,500 years, nomadic tribal Persian rugs shared the common denominator of utility before they eventually entered the realm of tribal and aristocratic feats of hand making in the 16th century. Among many factors, this was when the city of Isfahan began to make some of its most important contributions to the grand designs in the era of Shah Abbas.
Though the craft would see little progress in the years that followed during the invasion of the Afghani people, soon the Tabriz capital would flourish in the late 19th century beginning the territory’s renown for handmade Persian rugs that has persisted today. Among the tribal and religious Persian rug families that remain acclaimed for their accomplishments in scale, material quality and drawing, some of the most reputable include:
- Bakhtiari rugs
- Bidjar rugs
- Baluch rugs
- Doroksh and Dorosk Khorassan rugs
- Gabbeh rugs
- Hamedan rugs
- Heriz rugs
- Kashan rugs
- Kerman Lavar rugs (sometimes spelled Ravar in origin)
- Serapi Rugs
- Sultanabad rugs
- Qum Rugs
- Qashqai Rugs
Antique & Vintage Persian Persian Kilim Rugs
Apart from their pile counterparts, Persian Kilim rugs have held an equally important place in the history of antique and vintage rugs, especially given that the term Kilim originates from the Persian word “gelīm” (though some debate the further-back origins of the term predating the Persian Empire). Given that Kilim rugs are often perceived as more vulnerable to wear overtime (lacking the natural protection of pile height), the rarity of any well-preserved antique and vintage Kilim rugs, including antique Persian Kilim rugs and vintage Persian Kilim rugs, is an essential part of their appeal in the market as it has endured. Some of the notably celebrated tribes and traditions in antique and vintage Persian Kilims include:
The diversity of Persian rugs and Kilims in their nomadic variations, distinctive regional styles and history of refinement over time is part of what has made the family one of the most widely acknowledged to neophyte and experienced collector alike. As access to knowledge for the care of antique Persian rugs and Kilims has become more accessible, the vintage Persian rug market has seen an interesting resurgence in vintage Persian Kilims in a surprising variety of sizes like that of their pile counterparts — with more collectors and aspiring interior designers able to learn the differences in rugs and Kilims respectively originating from the various iconic cultures of Persia leading into modern-day Iran.
While Bidjar pile rugs were known for durability and quality, for example, lesser-understood Bidjar Kilim often embody the spirit of striking intricacy with more obsequious, rich earth tones and medallion-style patterns repeated to complement a versatile nature that persists in their reputation to the present day. Conversely, while the antique Baluch tribal rug style is known to favor less definition in geometry with more attention to lush pile height and rich color, many of the vintage Baluch Kilim rugs we’ve seen over the years have favored the latter trait with greater emphasis than the lively tribal geometry.
Antique & Vintage Indian Rugs
While acknowledging their distinction and importance in discussing the history of handmade antique rugs and vintage rugs, it’s essential to understand that the culture of handmade rugs as we know it was brought to India via cultural diffusion with Persian style. Both techniques and inspirations introduced by the Mughal Empire (via Akbar the Great and his affection for Persian rugs in the 16th century) gradually established the basis of inspiration that would be transformed into India’s own antique rug languages in wake of the lacking luxury rug presence in this era. Additionally worth noting is that these Persian rug weavers in Akbar’s court in Agra laid the foundation for the antique Agra rugs that have become so beloved to the modern market — alongside the other centers that have, similarly, become capitals of the rug world and claims to India’s status as a leader in production today. Much of the field’s history, including beyond but especially in India and Persia, can be traced back to aristocratic patrons and their affinity for commissioning rugs for their palace. In this era, hundreds of hands and many years were spent on one piece with similar wools, silks, cashmeres, cottons, natural/vegetable dyes and other materials to that of Persian influence. Though vintage and modern looms gradually improved the hand-weaving and hand-knotting process, the treasures of antique Indian rugs — especially large size antique Agra rugs and Agra runners — remain among the most fabulous works of art and material celebrity today.
The other aspect of Indian rug society worth noting, once again attributed to Akbar’s influence, was the history of “jail rugs” produced quite literally for and through the jails in places like Amritsar. The styles of these rugs would borrow from the same sensibilities, but would enjoy departures from traditional Oriental rugs more appreciated later in history than in their years of creation. Varying from grand treasures to approachable classics, antique Amritsar rugs in our collection have been known to embrace both form and function with a more individualistic nature incorporated into the prevailing Persian influence, more widely regarded for their beauty today in the same degree as a variety of other jail rugs Josh has studied and curated.
Overtime antique Indian rugs drew more and more from a wider array of European influences in floral rugs and geometric rugs that influenced the style. Some of this gradual variety can be seen in the vintage Agra rug styles in and beyond our own collection, visibly incorporating more geometry and geometric floral patterns in a heavy preference toward soothing repetition than the majestic, regal rugs of ancestry. The modern connoisseur should note that current Indian productions in New Delhi, Jaipur and other regions once born of the imperial presence have seen great resurgences in classic inspiration while creating the modern Indian rug (though Josh and his peers continue to hold a special place in their hearts for antique Agra rugs, antique Amritsar rugs and classic prayer rugs exhibiting the rich history of Indian rug culture).
Antique & Vintage Turkish Rugs
Another home to some of the most famed antique and vintage rugs — particularly antique and vintage Kilims in arguably greater abundance than any other center of production — Turkey’s history of handmade rugs is another story of diverse influence since the first Anatolian tribes began their take on the craft. Once a foothold of the ancestral Ottoman Empire with influences to and from Persia and Morocco then and since, the reach of regional treasures among traditional antique Turkish rugs and Kilims (as well as their transitional counterparts seen in vintage Turkish rugs and Kilims) became some of the most dynamic works of art with the arguably widest base for name recognition in the world of luxury Oriental rugs.
Antique Oushak rugs (also spelled Ushak rugs in origin), antique Sivas rugs, and antique Hereke rugs remain among the most sought-after styles of classic Oriental rugs, particularly in decoration where the diverse representations of marrying regal and forgiving moods in Oushak rugs have led to some of the most cherished and complementary rugs in home decor — known for naturally smooth, lustrous wool and very mature senses of pattern and symmetry like those Josh enjoys the most in our archive.
Heavily sharing sensibilities to select Persian rug families, if understanding the beauty of a rug is learning to read it like a language then Oushak rugs speak eloquently to the fine line between majesty and approachability weighing into their reputation as masterpieces in luxury Oriental rugs. This boast can be measured not solely in the high price point and desirability of good-condition Oushak rugs, but also in the practice of so many European rug nations in Ireland, Spain, and beyond who emulated the style for a long time after.
Hereke rugs were the product of a similar dedication given that the region was home to the main workshop of the Ottoman Empire well into the 1800s. While continuing traditional Oriental sensibility and quality, antique Hereke rug designs are particularly sought after for many aspects including their appeal in European decoration that made it into the feats of craftsmanship, movement and color range revered today.
Antique & Vintage Turkish Kilims
As the practice of flat weaving Turkish Kilim rugs evolved between the 7th and 18th century, ancestral Turkey was among the first homes to the style alongside the tribes and regions of Persia, Kurdistan, Europe and surrounding regions. Traditional Turkish Kilim rugs exemplify the variations of the pileless rug style from region to region, while the general style since antiquity was known for bold, tribal-style geometry that would go on to influence a number of styles of Kilim in other parts of the world.
To the collector, antique Turkish Kilim often celebrate rich reds and earth tones, a dignified traditional pallet gradually giving way to the more lively, transitional variations seen more commonly in vintage kilim rugs highlighting the varieties of natural yarns available to a weaver. Some of our favorite selections, both long-time and recent, prefer the regional Kilim rugs hailing from the cities and provinces of Central Anatolia, the Aegean territories, the Mediterranean territories, and the Eastern Anatolian territories among the fully encompassing geography represented in our antique, vintage, and modern Turkish Kilim rugs.
Favorite Kilims from Central Anatolia, Aegean and Mediterranean Turkey:
Coming to represent the full spectrum of regional Kilims from each major section of ancestral and present-day Turkey, some of our most rare and favored traditional and transitional selections have come from the Sivas, Kayseri, Konya, Afyon, Denizli, Bergama, Antalya, and Fethiye regions of Central Anatolia, the Aegean territories, and the Mediterranean region respectively. Beyond Josh’s own reputation for hand-choosing each Kilim to join his collection, the classic and luxury rug communities have arguably recognized these particular ancestral Kilim centers of Central Anatolia with the utmost regard for quality, colorway variation, and diversity of pattern—though only representing a fraction of the Turkish rug centers in our Kilim & Flat Weave Collection.
A big part of Josh’s pride in his antique and vintage Turkish Kilim collection is the meticulous level of scholarly care our Kilim rugs receive on a regular basis. Having collaborated with and learned from fellow experts over time, the process of regularly inspecting and maintaining our naturally dyed Kilim rugs against fading and wear has helped Josh begin to dispel the myth of Kilim rugs as a risky, difficult-to-clean rug classification. More than utility, the diversity of patterns, attitudes and sizes in our Kilim & Flat Weave Collection can be credited in no small measure to the range of century-old and mid-century Kilim rugs from Josh’s personal Turkish selections.
Antique & Vintage Moroccan Rugs
Moroccan rug making has somewhat of an enigma among historians regarding the exact origin of the tradition, with most believing the practice extended back centuries to thousands of years before the style began receiving attention in the Mid-19th Century. The common denominator of distinctive geometry and color — a great deal of which borrowing notable Anatolian Turkish influences via cultural diffusion — has persisted well into the centuries to follow to the point where it arguably remains the most recognizable signifier of Moroccan style. Still, even as the traditional geometric influences of Turkish motifs persisted in impacting the Moroccan tribal rug styles, the ancestral styles of the nomadic and primarily matriarchal tribal weavers in Morocco maintained their own cultural distinction in the colloquial meanings behind primitivist, outstanding motifs — a lexicon of which can be seen in vintage Moroccan rugs and contemporary Moroccan rugs alike today.
Before the current tenure as a known resource for designers and collectors alike, Moroccan rug and Kilim making knew a long history of utility and cultural aspiration over Western decorative appeal, a departure from the gradually emerging tendencies of the Turkish, Persian, and Chinese rug industries in the degree to which they catered to the european market. While we’re no stranger to a deep affection for European sensibilities in classic rugs—Josh has made his love of 18th-Century Aubusson and Savonnerie rug styles known among our peers over time—this remains among the unsung distinctions of Moroccan rug making that its nigh-unmistakable identity had persisted for so long through varied cultural influences.
Eventually, though, the desire for the ‘exotic’ rug family in Western culture played no small part in the entrance of Moroccan style to the world stage and the gradual western influence on the style we see today. Among the wide-spanning nomadic techniques of roughly 45 known Moroccan tribes spread geographically throughout Northwestern Africa, perhaps the most examplative common denominator of the culturally distinct antique and vintage Moroccan rug pattern would be the diamond pattern—sometimes historically referenced as a “lozenge” in and beyond a shared context with traditional Turkish rugs.
Even accounting for the distinctive approaches of familial linages and the gradual cultural blend of styles, the diamond lozenge could be argued to be the most regarded symbol of Moroccan rug patterns in the field today, but fewer connoisseurs understand that the motif is widely regarded to connote a representation of femininity, often a fertility motif keeping with the primitivism of ancestral Moroccan rugs and the basis of their symbology in survivalist cultural language.
Though entire books can, and have, been written on the study of Moroccan rug and tribal symbols in Morocco, cultural designers and home decorators seeking a Moroccan rug for the tribal subtext in equal measure to their fabulous appeal can learn to read these pieces starting from the base concept: it’s been widely agreed among anthropologists and rug experts that symbols representing masculine subtext were often depicted in straight, geometrically simpler motifs in long forms, while symbols for feminine subtext favored lozenge diamond patterns, chevron patterns, and other more dynamic motifs.
It’s arguably rare, from our perspective as long-time collectors and curators of the style, to find a rug solely emphasizing masculine tribal symbols — especially considering many antique Moroccan rugs were meant to represent the union of men and women both as lovers and as parents. Moroccan rug symbols were less concerned with decor and more with the spiritual, religious, and magical aspirations of the weavers, often weaving these symbols together to promote a healthy birth or loving union calling back to the survivalist concerns of Moroccan tribal rug weavers and their deep sense of community.
Though feminine rug symbols have been found more often on their own — often to promote a healthy birth holding to the spiritual beliefs of mothers in their tribes — Moroccan rugs with rare emphasis on solely masculine symbols, such as the mallet/hammer, have been found in equally stunning beauty to that of their counterparts.
Antique & Vintage Moroccan Kilims
Though they reside in the lesser-known families of Kilim, the flat weave carpets from the tribal Moroccan rug weavers that’ve endured to the market today are no-less worthy of celebration than the more widely understood counterparts. It’s worth noting that while the most popular antique and vintage Moroccan Kilim rugs have departed from the North African style’s predisposition to bold geometric symbolism, their approach to lively color and natural yarn variation remains a signifier of the celebrated Moroccan style — learning toward more transitional colorway pallets with less defined but equally intricate patterns.
Conversely worth noting in broaching the lengthy discussion behind how any of the Kilim and flatweave families we’ve mentioned have been reproduced in the modern day, the more reserved adaptations of the Moroccan style favoring minimalist tribal geometry and texture of frenzied color remark the traits arguably most popular in contemporary and modern Moroccan Kilim on the market today.
Turkish looms — ancestral cousins to the Moroccan style in both pile and Kilim rugs — have particularly taken to attacking the eternal need for Moroccan style in the unique large-size Kilim emerging from Turkey today (while modern Moroccan looms capable of producing larger sizes continue to favor the equally gorgeous pile rugs of their ancestry with new capabilities).
Antique & Vintage Chinese Rugs
Next in the line of antique and vintage rug capitals of the world with hand-knotting traditions traced to the 15th century, the many and revered classifications of antique Chinese rugs that have been studied over time were a symbol of status since inception — though many agree the rug was not as widely perceived as an art form until the late 18th century. Even in the delayed cultural acknowledgement of handmade rugs as an art form well before the arguably most widely known Peking rugs and Chinese Art Deco Rugs entered the field, the dynastic changes in Chinese history led to some of the most beautiful accomplishments in the field known today.
These dynasty rugs — some of the most widely regarded including the antique Kangxi rug, antique Ming rug, antique Nangxia rug and various other time-honored traditions — are where the legacies of handmade rugs draw their names as they’re known among connoisseurs today. Even so, it’s worth noting that the many-faceted achievements in medallion style, pictorial storytelling and material creativity laid the groundwork for the antique Chinese Art Deco rug style that’s been essential to the Chinese rug market since the 1920s.
Preferences in white, gold, blue and brown hues stretching back to the origins transitioned heavily into a wider color diversity that lends a major factor in the pricing of antique Chinese Deco rugs; including those in our own collection with rare variations of the Chinese Deco rug style. Though Chinese Deco rugs remain some of the best 20th century representations of how the revered Chinese textile industry has grown over time, the subtle, graceful mythology even their most direct interpretations enjoy were the result of a long tradition in dynastic Chinese rugs, owed heavily to decor including antique pottery, painting and other artistic mediums that first told of story and status in Chinese homes long before entering the international luxury rug market.
Antique Peking rugs share a similar sensibility to the inspirations behind Chinese Art Deco rugs with mannerisms also borrowing from Central Asian techniques (among various influences on the vertical loom technique from Persian, Indian and other rug traditions). Among the most notable departures, however, is that most antique Peking rugs depict similar floral, mythological and geometric designs with a limited color palette — often favoring deep blues and browns with lesser gold presences in the wool, silk and varied material blends used in their pile. It’s widely agreed, while their origins date further back, that Peking rugs saw their halcyon days in the mid-19th century before they became popularized in the United States generations later.
Some of the best examples of the understated range of sensibilities of Chinese rugs in our collection have included antique Mongolian rugs and antique Indochinese rugs — two major classifications of the historic Chinese influence famed for embracing all manner of symbols, diverse yarns and sizes going back centuries. Some of Josh’s favorite Mongolian rugs and Indochinese rugs have become super platforms for the butterfly and dragon motif respectively — two among the most culturally fascinating symbols in antique Chinese rug history that have persisted as much as florals have into vintage Chinese rugs of influence.
Antique and Vintage Khotan Rugs
Though its own celebrated, individualistic style native to East Turkestan, the Khotan rug style is essential in understanding the reach of Taoist and Buddhist imagery from China and Chinese influence in the history of handmade rugs. Antique khotan rugs, for example, often celebrate each rug’s own interpretation of striking Chinese medallion patterns and shou symbolism seen in both styles today — one of the many distinctive preferences in antique Khotan rug symbols like that of meandering borders, ruyi clouds, lotus floral patterns, cloudbands and more intermingled with the Islamic hands in the long-recognized international rug center in Khotan.
Borrowing in equal measure from Eastern and Western elements since the 18th century, antique and vintage Khotan rugs have also earned fame for their depiction of the classic pomegranate pattern — a literally dubbed geometric floral pattern widely regarded to signify themes of abundance, fertility and harvest in the debated cultural subtext. Whether depicted in the rich tangerine and crimson red hues, sky blue hues, gold-yellow hues or rustic beige-brown and black hues that mid-century vintage Khotan rug makers loved, the pomegranate pattern has almost become as synonymous with more transitional Khotan rugs as the Silk Road was with helping put Khotan rugs on the map.
Besides the equal representation of varied styles in quality silk and wool over time, another appeal that has become synonymous with Khotan rugs to the modern designer is their particular size preference — with many of the rare variations we’ve adopted in our collection being long area rugs, runners and well-suited choices for hallway and entryway projects. The range from bold to neutral seen in antique and vintage Khotan rugs over time opens the conversation behind their admiration more to each piece’s subtle variations on style, durability and of course quality condition as the lineage endures among collectors today.
Antique European Rugs and Kilims
Among the wide-spanning pride Josh has taken in the cultivation of Rug & Kilim’s European Collection, the European Kilims represented have always held a special place among his sensibilities as a connoisseur of the market in the last 40 years. Among Europe’s many celebrated flat weaves, the Aubusson — especially the 18th-Century Aubusson — reigns among Josh’s favorites in the antique and contemporary Kilim market for their notorious large size, graceful sensibilities, and consistent quality sought after by both apprentices and aficionados alike in French rugs and decoration.
Equally noteworthy in the history of European Kilim favored in our collection are the Romanian and Russian Kilim rugs — the latter of which has been known for particularly celebrated tribal variations over time while the former two borrow a distinctive French sensibility that permeates their contemporary Kilims as it has their antiques we’ve seen.
Antique Aubusson Rugs
Often synonymous with neoclassical terminology, to say the Aubusson Kilim is the most famed flat weave in Europe is to meet little resistance from the luxury rug industry and the new home decorator. Named for the eponymous territory where rugs and tapestries have been celebrated since the 15th Century, Aubusson Kilim connote a feeling of luxury and idyllic European grace, with our favored 18th-Century counterparts favoring intricate all-over medallion patterns, cartouches, and precision of symmetry from the center outward.
Having been designed for aristocracy and royalty in their earliest days, there is a misconception that the Aubusson rug style is synonymous with a bold grandeur when the opposite is more often true. Aubusson Kilim rugs favor cream and neutral, forgiving tones with equal frequency to the more lavish reds, blues, and other bombastic colors available, and more often than not an Aubusson can represent the ideal quiet complement to an interior as it could complete the opulence of a castle hall. The style is so beloved that many reputed workshops, including our own, have adopted the style in their contemporary rugs made for the market today.
Cleaning and Caring for Antique and Vintage Rugs
Even as Rug & Kilim is proud to maintain our own facilities for cleaning and restoration available to our colleagues and clientele, the conscious level of care needed in maintaining antique rugs and vintage rugs is one Josh has always strived to impart when a piece leaves our archive to become part of a new home/project. This is an essential factor in why we continue to offer custom-cut padding even for pieces in pristine condition, given that ideal padding like ours exists to offer lift to the bodies of rugs and Kilims, protect against dust and promote the general longevity of antique and vintage rugs.
Understanding how different materials and ages of rugs — and especially Kilims — react to high-traffic, stains, dust, oxidization and other factors is the first step in protecting the value and beauty of luxury rugs over time, though the process can be perceived as intimidating for non experts and new collectors.
Owners of luxury antique rugs and vintage rugs are welcome to reach out for restoration, appraisal, cleaning, spot removal and other consultation services related to any classification, however rare.