Turkish Rugs: Buying Rugs in Turkey

Mosques in Istanbul
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).

Istanbul Panorama
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.


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    Cem May 9, 2014

    In rome do as the romans do.
    Learn how to bargain and enjoy yourself doing so.
    Remember you are the guest in our country.

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    JJ May 28, 2014

    I am amused by all the comments about being “talked into” buying rugs. No one talks you into anything…you talk yourself into it. All you have to do is walk away. The merchants are used to it.

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    Jim Lee June 1, 2014

    Let me make several observation about the rug that we bought near Kurdasi.
    1) The rug we bought was part of the “show” and not a “bait and switch”.
    2) After expressing interest in the rug, they were unable to produce another rug of similar design and colors. My wife wanted predominately green. Which makes me believe it probably was not made outside Turkey.
    3) It’s size was NOT a uniform size (i.e. 200X300), which tends to make me believe that it was handmade rather than machine made.
    4)The rug was represented as predominately wool with some cotton and some silk highlights in the design.It was not puffed.
    5)I was able to negotiate a price of less than 60% of the original offer price.
    6) My wife signed the back of the rug with an odd and complicated signature. We also took pictures of the rug.

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    Chuck November 16, 2014

    Jim Lee, almost sounds like you were at the same place we visited in Istanbul in October while on a cruise. Part of the excursion was a visit to a large “guaranteed vendor” rug dealer where we saw a demonstration. We showed a little interest and were whisked into a room to be shown many rugs. Two rug handlers turned into 6 handlers and the pressure was overwhelming. We were told we were getting a great deal on a one of a kind, wool over cotton, USAK origin rug. We were told the rug would be delivered in 5-6 weeks. Before we got back to the ship, we felt very uneasy about the purchase & tried contacting the store. They wouldn’t return calls or emails. Within 4 days after returning home, the rug was delivered via “Expedited UPS” to our doorstep, no signature required. I immediately got the rug appraised. Not only wasn’t it made in Turkey (made in Pakistan), it was appraised at less than 25% of what we paid. We are disputing the charges with our credit card company. There’s no excuse for such a large rip off. For those defending this scam saying we should have done our research, you’re right; had I done my research, I would have never taken that excursion or would have refused to go into that store.

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    Floriana November 23, 2014

    J’ai acheté 4 tapis lors d’un voyage organisé, et comme tous les autre je croix je me suis fait arnaquer car je n’arrive pas à avoir de nouvelles pour la livraison, ni du rapprésentant en France ou Italie . Acheté fin Mars devaient etre livré debout décembre et malgré des nombreuses mail aucune réponse , reste à savoir que l’achat etait de 20000 euros, seul de photos en ma possession après avoir laissé un acompte de 3500 euros. Quoi faire dans ce cas? Aller en chercher l’équivalent de l’acompte un sur place merci pour votre reponse

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    Dave R. Mason November 30, 2014

    In the late 70’s there was a Rug Dealer in Adana Turkey. His shop was Ali Baba’s. He was very knowledgeable and took a lot of time with every customer. I learned a lot from him on three tours in Turkey.
    Enough to find out that most rugs came from out of country. But there were two families who wove rugs that I met on one of my many excursions through Turkey. They soaked the rugs in the river to tighten the knots. I liked their rugs and bought several from them. Ali looked at them and told me I made an excellent choice and my deal was better than excellent.
    I took a lot of pictures of the five daughters who wove the rugs and the three sons who soaked them and groomed them.
    When I got back to the states I sold three of the rugs for twice what I paid (I figured that was a fair price as any). One of the individuals had their rug appraised and it appraised way more than they paid me for it.
    I would like to find out if Ali Babba’s Rugs is still in business. I know the old man is probably no longer with us (god bless him). But his son was also very knowledgeable ad probably took up his father’s legacy.
    I agree with a lot of the negative comments here – but the main point is “Buyer beware” period. Selling baubbels to tourists is an age old scam and the fact that one goes on an “organized tour” is surefire reason for alarm and caution.
    When I was in Turkey the cafe/restaurant owners would tell me to convince the Americans with me to buy the most expensive items on the menu and they would let me eat for free. Many times they wanted me to inflate the price for my “American” friends – in which case I usually “halved” everything. They would get upset and often called the Jandermes’ (Police). When they got there they often knew my best friend (General Orhoun – not exact spelling). Then the price for the meal became “Free”. The merchants who used this ploy soon learned that “I was an American” and my best friend was the Turkish general who took offense to people scamming Americans, or any tourists. It was better to let us eat cheap and leave than to involve the police.
    Ali Baba’s Rug store in Adana was an oasis in the rug market – even in the 1970’s and 80’s.
    When I went back to take the site at Batman down (we took it down because the Russians pulled their Missile and Nuclear Test Range out of Karzistan and we no longer needed to monitor the region.
    I never got back to Adana and Ali Babbas – but next spring I am visiting Turkey again and would love to see the old rug shop again (even if his son Memmet is now in charge).

    Can anyone steer me to the shop – I tried Google earth, but the region around the old Market in Adana seems to have dwindled. Or I am looking in the wrong place.
    I will be spending 6 days out At Karats and only 3-days in Adana before traveling up country to the Malatya region.
    My email is: daver01a@yahoo.com
    Thank you so much.
    Dr Mason

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    ahmad afraz February 10, 2015

    Hello,my name is ahmad afraz, we are two brothers,living in iran and weaving iranian authentic high quality handknitter (Tabriz) silk carpet with twenty years background. Our art is uniqe entire the world and in our carpets there are 1000 nodes per 1 meter and with more than 80 different colours with kind of size like 3*4and 3/5*5and4*6. with the best iranian design and knitting. we can teach our art to persons who intrest in our professional and we are looking for employer or sponsor who interested in our uniqe art and migrate us to unitted states and others forgain countries and we present our abilities..thanks and best regards from iran.

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    ahmad afraz February 12, 2015

    Hello,my name is ahmad afraz, we are two brothers,living in iran and weaving iranian authentic high quality handwoven (Tabriz) silk carpet with twenty years background. Our art is uniqe entire the world and in our carpets there are 1000 nodes per 1 meter and with more than 80 different colours with kind of size like 3*4and 3/5*5and4*6. with the best iranian design and woaving(garabaghy and khatiby and salar)these are the best Persian carpet design in whole the univers. we can teach our art to persons who intrest in our professional and we are looking for employer or sponsor who interested in our uniqe art and migrate us to unitted states and we present our abilities..thanks and best regards from iran.

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    Louisa May 4, 2015

    When I was in Turkey last year we bought rugs from a Turkish factory whilst on a private tour. I know we were scammed and paid too much, but too late..
    Then, i got this phone call from A guy named Mustafa to say he was in Perth and had my details from the sale. He relayed some unlikely story about a client not paying for his order and needed to sell the carpets before leaving Perth. He pursuaded us to buy them for $5000 (6) and told us the value of the rugs was about A80.000. Now they left on the next plane and unable to contact them. They removed the labels. From Kusadasi in Istanbul. After reading many reviews realise we were scammed. Comments please.

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    Richard August 13, 2015

    When you travel to Turkey these days You should be aware that your personal information is likely being sold. Be it from the carpet dealer you visited or the Hotel you stayed at, perhaps even the guide who took you to the Grand Bazaar. The new scam in Oriental carpets is people traveling around in vans and cold calling people who’s names they have purchased from Overseas travel. The person calls you and tells you that they are a friend of so and so and they have carpets that they need to sell for pennies on the dollar. It all sounds like the best deal in the world and you’d be foolish not to buy. The carpets however usually turn out to be of poor quality and nothing what you have been told they are. There was an elderly couple here in Berkeley that was cold called about six months ago by these characters. The person said that they had silk carpets that they needed to sell so they could get back to Turkey for a funeral. The couple couldn’t pass up the chance at a deal and actually went to the bank and withdrew $30,000 in cash. I appraised the carpets as Machine made Polypropylene and worth $3000. This has become a quite common story and the hardest part is there is really no recourse. Even if you could find these people after the purchase, it becomes a he said/she said which is almost impossible to prove either way. My advice to anybody that is approached or contacted by a rug dealer at their private residence, should under no circumstances initiate a transaction. Do not let these people in your house and do not support their fraudulent actions.

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    Scott September 19, 2015

    On a cruise ship excursion in Kusadasi, I bought a beautiful 9×12 Bilcik natural dyed dark red wool on wool that matched exactly what I wanted for the room in my house it would go in. As I look back on it, I am quite sure I overpaid for it, but the experience was fun, I got what I wanted, the cost was within my budget, and I won’t look back. If I go back to Turkey, I’ll know more as a result of reading this blog and the experiences of others, and will proceed more cautiously (and with more information), so thanks.

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    razwan sheikh November 10, 2015

    turkey is such a nice place to visit.. and great place to see variety of rugs…wool on wool , wool on silk, viscose, n rugs from other countries as well.
    charging or offering a high price is not a big deal, that is part of a retail business. but the bad n the worse thing is providing wrong information… they should sell what exactly its made off. they should not sell a viscose or artificial silk rug as a real silk rug..that is cheating. everyone is not the same.. there r so many reputed companies in turkey who i know n worke with.
    i can provide u list of those companies as well.
    we manufacture rugs in Pakistan and sell it to America Europe and turkey as well. there r so many good companies..
    its all about research and experience.

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    Paul Gifford December 11, 2015

    We bought a rug from a dealer in Ordu, on the Black Sea. This is not a place where many tourists go, and the dealer’s customers were locals. He sold both commercial carpeting and oriental rugs. We paid about $700 (in 2001) for a rug (about 4′ x 7′) that he said was Hereke, and he showed us a catalog of the Hereke manufacturer with a picture of the identical rug. Would a dealer in Ordu, who apparently buys his rugs from the Hereke manufacturer, sell a Chinese-made copy?

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    ghulam rasool December 19, 2015

    I am pakistani ,l made defferent handmade®carpet , if you want buy it, if you want contact us ,our contact nomber 92-3007998701,343-6630430

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    Tang February 12, 2016

    Buying a rug on cruise trip, be sure that you take a picture of the rug. We were cheated by receiving a different carpet.

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    farag March 15, 2016

    hi we are from iran and active in carpethandmade high quality . thanks

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    Jan3591 May 16, 2016

    Shame on me for making an emotional purchase during a trip to Turkey. I purchased what I was lead to believe was an 8 x 10 wool on cotton rug made in Turkey. When I got home and had the rug later cleaned I was told by a local reputable dealer that my rug was made in China. Stay away from Matis even though they are recommended by the cruise lines. Matis will tell you what you want to hear and happily overcharge you. Buyer beware. Do your homework and do not get caught in the moment.

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    MA - Turkish Rugs: Buying in Turkey June 13, 2016

    I enjoyed reading through this. I just returned from Turkey and viewed some rugs in Kusadasi at the coop mentioned above. Crazy beautiful.

    Having read this article and posts it appears that there really are no more pure silk rugs, or the holy grail to find.

    Even if they are said to be silk, and just silk on cotton and beautifully woven, how long does this product wear versus pure silk or wool? Are these rugs more decorative pieces and not intended for everyday wear?

    Thank you 🙂

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    Judy June 24, 2016

    Have you heard of the International Carpet Weavers Association in Turkey awarding a grand prize of an 8×10 rug for the cost of shipping and customs? Is this a valid award?

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    Richard February 19, 2017

    NEVER, and I really mean NEVER, buy rugs from visiting carpet sellers.

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