Photo by Christiaan Briggs.
Oriental Rugs Today: Chapter 4 Part 4
Of all the rug-weaving countries in the world, Turkey may be the most fun for travelers looking to buy. Rugs and carpets have been made there for centuries, so travelers find rugs of all ages in the Turkish bazaars and a huge assortment of them from thousands of villages. Many Turkish rugs are great-looking, too. Often they have a genuine tribal character, rarely looking stamped-out or stiff. Futhermore, Turkish rug merchants are engaging people who can make the whole process of buying a rug fun, and they are perfectly capable of shipping rugs internationally.
Given these attractions, travelers often buy rugs abroad that they wouldn’t have bought had they had an opportunity to try a rug at home on an approval basis. Travelers get caught up in the local aesthetic and admire rugs in Turkey, for instance, that don’t look so good to them at home. Of course that is not the fault of Turkish merchants.
But there is a more sinister side to the story. Nearly all the folks who show us rugs they have brought back from Turkey have been lied to by Turkish merchants in some respect. Most have been given an exaggerated notion of a rug’s age. Very often they have been told that a rug was woven with natural dyes when, in fact, it was not. Lately we have seen a number of cases in which Turkish rug dealers have sold tourists cheap rugs from other countries and passed them off as Turkish. Also common is the fake silk scam (see below).
The Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul. Photo by Bertil Videt.
Worst of all, sometimes people are sold rugs in Turkey for far more than they are worth — sometimes thousands of dollars more — and usually a buyer in that case has little recourse.
Most often, though, travelers buy nice rugs in Turkey for a third less than they would pay in the United States. They have been lied to about age and so on, but because the experience was fun, they tend to forgive.
Our advice? Buy rugs in Turkey and elsewhere abroad just as you would gamble. That is, have fun — but don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.
American tourists often return from Turkey with Kaiseri rugs made in central Anatolia. Local rug merchants represent them as silk rugs. In fact, they are made with mercerized cotton, a poor imitation. I have examined pile fibers from many Kaiseris in microscopes without finding one that is really silk. Those who have purchased ‘silk’ Kaiseris in Turkey, still in denial after hearing the bad news, sometimes produce receipts from Turkey that read, ‘Made from 100% pure art silk.’ Art silk? ‘Art’ turns out to be an abbreviation for ‘artificial’ (without the period). That is a refinement on the older version: 20 years ago, Kaiseri dealers told people they were made from ‘Turkish silk’, a euphemism for cotton. Before that it was called ‘German silk’. Having noted that, I should add that I have seen Kaiseris I like, cotton pile notwithstanding. Kaiseri weavers also make rugs with wool pile on a cotton foundation, though these are rarely imported into the U.S.
Elsewhere I have cautioned that Chinese and even Egyptian silk rugs are sometimes imported into Turkey and sold as Herekes, but I am hard pressed to tell you how you can be certain that you are buying a real one. I have read that all Herekes are Persian-knotted, and I have read that all but a very few are Turkish-knotted. The confusion is understandable: one must be blessed with extraordinary vision to even see knots this small. In my experience, most new Herekes are Turkish-knotted, and you can rest assured that a very fine, new, silk rug that is Turkish-knotted is neither a Chinese nor an Egyptian copy, since both kinds are Persian-knotted. Inscriptions (in Arabic script) are often woven into Herekes to identify them, but there are exceptions. Some Herekes are both very fine and uninscribed, so an inscription or lack of one is not a reliable guide to authenticity.