Persian Rugs: Sarouk Rugs and Carpets

What is a Sarouk Rug?

A Sarouk rug is a type of Persian rug originally woven in the Arak weaving district of Iran in the late 19th and early 20th century. Some are expensive: $45,000 to $60,000 for a great 9′ by 12′, for example. But what is the difference between a Ferahan and a Ferahan Sarouk Or between a Malayer and a Josan Sarouk? And why does America get to have its own kind of Sarouk? For collectors and home-decorators alike, big money may ride on being well-informed about Sarouks. Let’s see if we can sort them out.

Setting the stage with some Persian rug history

Persia enjoyed a golden age of rug making during the 16th and 17th centuries, but it was ended by the Afghan invasion in 1722 and an ensuing period of nearly continuous warfare. Carpet-making as an industry seems to have nearly died in Persia during the 18th and much of the 19th centuries. But toward the end of the 19th century, carpet merchants in Tabriz in Northern Persia began to enjoy strong demand for carpets from the West. To meet demand, by 1875 they had organized rug weaving in and around the town of Arak (formerly known as Sultanabad) in north-western Iran. By 1883, Western companies had established their own presence in Arak (Ziegler and Company was the first and most important) and were producing rugs with Western tastes in mind.

Persian Ferahan rug
Persian Ferahan rug

Ferahan type Persian rugs

One of the earliest of the new breed of Arak District Persian rugs were known as Ferahans—not Ferahan Sarouks, but simply Ferahans. We mention them here only to distinguish them from the rugs that became known as Ferahan Sarouks.

Ferahans seem to have been made from about 1875 until perhaps 1913. Nearly all were in Herati designs unbroken by medallions, on madder red fields. Ordinarily they were in long and narrow sizes, like 7 ft by 15 ft—though I have seen a few roughly 4 by 6 ft pieces too. They were asymmetrically knotted and single wefted. Many were prized for the color of their borders, invariably described in books as pistachio green. I’m sorry to say they are all worn out. Perhaps three good-conditioned Ferahans have passed through my hands in the past 30 years and none in the past ten. Younger members of my staff have never seen even a worn Ferahan.

Persian Ferahan Sarouk rug
Persian Ferahan Sarouk rug

Persian Ferahan Sarouk rugs

Another weave was developed in the Arak District at nearly the same time, commissioned by Tabriz merchants and woven from about 1890 to World War One. Simply called Sarouks at the time, these are the rugs that have become known as Ferahan Sarouks. In appearance they are quite different from Ferahans. They’re finer (an average of 270 knots per square inch in a recent sampling) and heavier (they are double-wefted with depressed warps) and unlike Ferahans are most often made in medallion designs on blue or ivory fields. Fairly often they were made in pictorial designs featuring trees and birds.

In the first years of their manufacture, local weaving skills simply were not up to the detailed designs supplied by the Tabriz merchants. Weavers managed to produce finely knotted carpets, but everything in them is just a little out of whack. There is something charmingly clumsy about these Ferahan Sarouks. Indeed, their lack of perfection is a characteristic by which they may be identified. Weavers in Kashan who were making rugs at the same time with similar designs and of similar fineness usually produced more skillfully woven rugs, though perhaps not as charming.

As they have become scarce, Ferahan Sarouks have become extremely desirable and hideously expensive. I personally share the market’s enthusiasm for Ferahan Sarouks. Though they were merely commercial products of their day, created to fill a market demand, the best of these naturally-dyed carpets are wonderful, and they all have a true Persian character. By World War One, the same market forces that had created them judged them to be old fashioned, and their production gave way to the American Sarouk.

Persian Malayer Sarouk rug
Persian Malayer Sarouk rug

Malayer Sarouks and Josan Sarouks

An old dirt road connects Arak and Hamadan, which lie about 125 miles apart. On this road, roughly half way between, lie two villages, Malayer and Josan, whose rugs are often mistaken for Ferahan Sarouks. Rugs from both villages share many characteristics with Ferahan Sarouks: a fine weave and designs featuring medallions, for instance. But they are symmetrically knotted and usually not quite as nice as old Ferahan Sarouks.

Why? For one, they are more likely to have been made with synthetic dyes and often they have pronounced, even jarring abrash. Still, the best old Malayers and Josans are marvelous rugs.

American Sarouk rug
American Sarouk rug (Persian)

The American Sarouk

Writing in the late 1940s, English oriental carpet professional A. Cecil Edwards identified the gentleman who dreamed up the first rugs destined to become known as American Sarouks or painted Sarouks. Mr. S. Tyriakian, of the New York firm of K.S Taushandjian, thought Americans might buy rose-field carpets with blue borders and detached floral motives. He submitted his own design to Arak weavers, a design that was not very Persian in character but was nonetheless attractive. Writes Edwards, "The design was successful beyond its creator’s fondest imaginings. The orders poured in to Sultanabad…Before long, Sultanabad was weaving little else…Unhappily, the story does not end there. The new style radiated outwards from Sultanabad and spread its baleful influence over the designers of Kashan, Meshed, Kerman and Hamadan. Tabriz alone escaped." Why does Edwards call the new style baleful? Largely because of its monotony and pervasiveness over many years, but also because of an additional twist. You see, the beautiful, naturally-dyed rose color used in Sarouks of the 20s and 30s could not stand up to the alkaline bath to which new rugs in Arak were subjected in the finishing process. The rose-color faded radically.

But instead of changing the finishing process or changing the composition of the dyes to stand up to alkali, New York merchants "solved" the problem by arming their staffs with synthetic dyes and little paint brushes with which they painted back in the rose-color in the entire fields of thousands and thousands of rugs and carpets over a period of 20 years.

Seventy five years later, many of these Sarouks are still in use on American floors. Some look terrible. Their painted-on red has become mottled and uneven. Others, defying reasonable expectations, look wonderful! After being lightly regarded for perhaps forty years, they are now back in favor. The grace of age has given them added value in our eyes. A pretty 9 by 12 ft carpet, in by no means perfect condition, can easily fetch $8,500. During the past 15 years techniques have been developed for stripping the paint from old Sarouks. Sometimes the process results in the restoration of a rug’s original, glorious color. But not always. The results are inconsistent, and it is possible to ruin a Sarouk by stripping it. In any case, because the process is hard on rugs, only Sarouks in very good condition can be successfully stripped.

How do you identify an American Sarouk? They are woven with the asymmetrical knot, usually about 120 of them per square inch. They are double wefted and have a fairly stiff handle. At least 95% are in rose fields; a few are blue. They have designs of scattered floral sprays. If, in addition to these features, you find that the field-color of a carpet is light rose on the back and dark rose- or even burgundy- on the top, it’s an American Sarouk.

Mojarajan Sarouk rug
Moharajan Sarouk rug

Mohajaran Sarouks

Every rug dealer knows exactly what a Mohajaran Sarouk is. The trouble is that they don’t agree. A survey of a few of my colleagues reveals that some believe Mohajarans began to be woven in about 1900 while others think they were not produced until about 1920. One dealer says there was a village named Mohajaran near Arak and that Mohajarans were made there—though I’ve not been able to find Mohajaran on any map. Others believe that Mohajaran is nothing but the name of a grade of Sarouk. Most believe that Mohajarans are finer than American painted Sarouks, though my survey suggests they are just the same—about 120 knots per square inch. Unfortunately, no one has written authoritatively about Mohajaran Sarouks. A. Cecil Edwards, who was in the rug business from about 1900 to 1947 and who for many years was stationed in Persia, says not a word about them though he writes at length about other kinds of Sarouks. It seems likely that, whatever Mohajaran Sarouks are, they were not thought of as separate from other American Sarouks until after Edward’s time.

Here’s what most dealers do seem to agree on. Mohajarans were contemporaries of the American painted Sarouk, made from about 1924 or earlier (I personally doubt they were made earlier) until the late 1930s. Though their designs of scattered floral sprays are essentially the same as those in American Sarouks, they are sparer and less highly ornamented than American Sarouks. They are more likely to have blue fields than American Sarouks, though rose fields probably constitute the majority. Some dealers have noted in them a softer, more blankety handle than in other American Sarouks. They may be a little less likely to have been painted. Small Mohajarans are rare; most are room-sized. Dealers also agree that they are more valuable than American Sarouks as, indeed, they are rarer and often prettier.

Did Mohajarans have a common maker: a particular workshop or a village behind them? Possibly so. But it is also possible that Mohajaran is nothing but the name we give to extra nice American Sarouks. Some are very nice indeed and are worth the extra cost.


Indo-Sarouks are Indian copies of Sarouks. For decades Indian rug makers tried to capture the look of old Sarouks without succeeding. Just lately, though, we have begun to see impressively attractive and well-made Indo-Sarouks. (I have counted 169 knots per inch in a Mohajaran look-alike and nearly 300 knots in a Ferahan knock-off.) As with many other new rugs in the market now, rug-designers have gone back to the best old pieces for their models. When rug-makers reproduce American Sarouks, for instance, they often copy exceptional old Mohajaran-types with spare designs. The best producers have captured the exquisite rose-color of old Sarouks. A few manufacturers have undertaken to reproduce old Ferahan Sarouks and one or two have succeeded admirably. Most, though, are still short of the mark when it comes to capturing the beauty of an old Ferahan Sarouk.


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    Mark Carlson February 7, 2011

    Your article on Sarouk rugs on this site was very helpful in identifying my 9 X 12 rug. It appears to be a painted American Sarouk that has been in the family since at least the 1920s. It appears to me to be in very good condition. I will submit a picture when I get one and if you are interested in seeing it. Mostly I want to know how to get it appraised in the Philadelpia area. I do want to sell it as it is too “burgundy” for any family member at this point in time.

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    Sunny March 5, 2011

    This is a really wonderful article. Thank you for sharing this information.

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    Carol Horton August 14, 2011

    Would you know of a place in NH where I could buy a persian carpet?! Thanks.

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    Billy Leitch November 15, 2011

    Well!!such a great site for information on these beautiful rugs,thank you all.
    All the very best Billy
    Photos to come

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    Sita Wissenbach December 12, 2011

    Thank you… really needed this information as i have a few old Persian rugs/carpets including an American Sarouk, a Mohajaran Sarouk, a Sarouk Mir and one that resembles the Indo-Sarouk but far more intricate among others.

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    Kim December 13, 2011

    Hello, I have an American Sarouk, quite similar to the rug posted here. Mine is painted. Last night my husband spilled coffee on the rug and I quickly cleaned it up. Using a little dishwashing liquid, on a cold wet face cloth, I wiped up the coffee. The place where the coffee was, is now beautifully luminous. It must need a good cleaning. Did the coffee remove some of the paint?

    The rug has a 5″ x 2″ hole, it does not appear to be rot or moth damage The main border appears to have been removed, leaving only two inner guards. It must have once been 9′ X 12′, now roughly 7′ X 10′. The pile is mostly even, without foundation exposure. Is there any resale value left in this rug?

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    Patsy Hollingsworth February 23, 2012

    Thank you so much for sharing information about these rugs. It is very helpful to know that there are others that share our interest!

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    Patti February 26, 2012

    Very informative. I have just discovered that I may have A Sarouk from the early 1900s & am just begining to hunt for info. This site is a great start for me. I have sent email to you with questions & looking forward to hearing from you. Great to have a site where you actually may find out about your rug. Thank you

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    Judith Henley June 28, 2012

    I sent a picture of a Sarouk Rug purchased in 1980…the size is 2.1 X 4.2 – red. Would you know the approximate worth?

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    S. Halburian August 10, 2012

    I have a Sarouk rug that is 114 years old. The colors are very good. Can you help me I need to sell it, but need help with it. Some time ago a dealer saw it and said it is a “nice piece”.

    It is about 15×18 feet. Dark red and dark blue with other colors as well. I will e-mail you pictures under the name of

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    Barbara April 13, 2013

    I have a 21’3′ x 10’5″ Sarouk that has been in the family for 80 years. Rose background with blue/gold–all over flower motif. It is in very good condition having been kept away from the sun and no repairs. It was appraised in 1991 for $12,500. Is there a market today for large-scale persian rugs and what would be the current retail value?

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    Kathy July 26, 2013

    I have several old Sarouk rugs that I am interested in selling. I have no idea what they are worth and would appreciate your advice. The first one is 8.9 x 11.5 and in good shape. I will email a separate picture. Thanks!

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    Douglas Stock September 19, 2013

    Dear Mr. Eiland,

    Your article is very well written and of great service to the antique rug field. Thank you.

    I have had slightly different experiences or impressions on a few counts. First, in my experience, rugs of the “Fereghan” (Ferahan) type, as opposed to “Fereghan Sarouks”, tend to have navy fields, rather than the madder red you mention. Also, at least in my experience, there are probably more red (or rose or salmon) field Fereghan Sarouk rugs and carpets than navy or ivory; though a fair number of pieces with those background shades are indeed also seen.

    Regarding what “Mahajaran” Sarouks are, and I agree with you regarding the ambiguity in definition of these, the designs do tend to be, as you mention, more open and spacious than the typical “American Sarouks” with their floral cluster designs. Mahajaran Sarouk rugs and carpets also tend to feature more rectilinear articulation of the motifs; and that suggests a bridge period between the Fereghan Sarouk era, which also tended to be rectilinear, although fine and floral in basic composition, and the later commercial Sarouks of the 1920s – 1930s, that tended to be more curvilinear. This has generally suggested to me that the Mahajaran Sarouks, which are generally navy field examples, though lots of red ones are seen too, probably predate the predominantly red field and more “floral” (curvilinear) Sarouks of the 1920s and later. All conjecture, admittedly.

    Thank you, again, for your fine article and your contributions to the Oriental rug field.

    Respectfully and with best wishes,
    Douglas Stock

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    Trevor Sedgwick January 16, 2014

    I inherited a Persian Persian which I think is a Sarouk , light green back ground and pink flowers etc , my parents got it from my grandparents , just interested , can I send a picture to you ? Thanks so much !

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    Kate Kozlowski January 20, 2014

    This article rocks! Thank you for this site!

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    G. Herr March 31, 2014

    We have a Red, Oriental rug large size, we bought it from Marshall Fields , Chicago about 1964…a few years later Fields called us ( the head of the dept ) and asked if we would sell it back to the I remember we paid just under $2000.00. If you would give us an Idea of value, I will take some pictures and find the original sales receipt. The label says Royal Sarouk , just let me know…Jerry

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    Frank June 18, 2014

    Richard ,Very factual and interesting !

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    William June 20, 2014

    We are an estate liquidation service in New England geared toward period antiques, decorative arts and carpets. I want to thank you for this wonderful, generous pro bono service you are providing to enthusiasts of carpet collecting. I was researching a fascinating Sarouk we recently acquired that has nothing in common with any other Sarouk I’ve seen in over 30 years in this industry. It has birds of paradise, trees of life mosques (presumably the seven pillars of Islam. All that in a Sarouk too. I came across your site & think you are a remarkably decent person for doing this. I couldn’t help but to share your ire over someone complaining over your response time with a FREE service. How someone could be so incredibly obnoxious…. I believe you handed down the appropriate response & never ceased to be amazed over the conduct of people in this internet world. This is a wonderful thing your doing here I wanted to remind you of how much it is appreciated.
    Thank you
    Bay Colony Antiques

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    Richard June 20, 2014

    Thanks William!

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    Anonymous November 7, 2014

    Hi Richard,

    I have a 4’x6′ silk kashan persian rug I bought in Kuwait. When I bought it ten years ago I was told it was approximately 40 years old. On the fringe there are two metal tags one lead with a stamp inscripted on it and another of some other kind of metal which is also stamped in Arabic. What are these stamps and what do they mean?



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    ariel valencia navarro November 17, 2014

    I already have sent you a picby mail…an interesting rug I got in a garage sale…it would be nice your coment and will be welcome! best regards ariel

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    John January 3, 2015

    Hello Richard and all of you who help those of us with “very” limited knowledge of Sarouk Persian rugs. I own a small rug (approx 4’9″× 7′) which I believe to be a very old Sarouk silk rug. It is handmade rug and is well made. Judging by the wear and by the rare pattern the rug has I believe it to be from the late 1800′ early 1900’s. I hope I am correct in my assumption. Can you please give me your opinion? My goal is to sell the rug If possible but I find that I am really interested in the origin of this rug. While doing research on my rug I’ve become fascinated in the fabrication techniques and the people that did make these.. Amazing !!! I emailed some pictures to you of the rug. Thank you for your time and your help.

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    Chris Kenny May 14, 2015

    Hello Richard,I have a 9×12 rug which I think from your descriptions is an American Sarouk.I’ll send an e-mail w/pic.Great site Very informative.

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    Becky May 20, 2015

    I have a Sarouk that is maybe 14 x 16. My parents purchased when they were married in 1939. The pile is think and rug is in very good condition. Any idea of the rough value if I were to sell it? Including photo….

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    Tom okeefe April 21, 2016

    Hello I notice it’s been almost a year since last posting. Are you still helping people with their rugs?

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    Shonda June 4, 2016

    Hello Richard thankyou for your time in writing this article..I have noticed throughout the years of comments that you have become quiet..I hope all is well with you ?? I was just checking to see if you have created a new website or new articles you could suggest such as this one. Thankyou again for your kindness and time. May God Bless you and your family 🙂

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    Richard June 12, 2016

    I’m still here Shonda. Just sent you an email.

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    Shonda June 12, 2016

    Thankyou Richard for just being who you are !

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    Terry September 14, 2016

    I have been fortunate to experience what I consider the beauty of an American Sarouk for 40 years. I bought it at a yard sale for $100. (9′ x 12′) I have never known for sure what it is and am now so happy to discover your article. I have high regard for this rug type because of the ease of decorating. It is simply an underlying presence of beauty, whether culturally traditional or “inspired” by westerners for westerners. We have so much stuff now that rugs are not the primary focus when they cover the floor in a living room. While we want smaller rugs to wow us, we may not want a large rug to grab too much attention in an already busy room. These fit the bill. I guess I am the market for whom these rugs were made. I’m so happy to have stumbled onto one early in my life. I have also collected several other rugs stemming from finding this one and enjoying it so much. Thanks again for your explanation of the American sarouk and its look alikes.

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