What are Museum Quality Rugs, Really?
The term, Museum quality rugs, gets thrown around a lot when it comes to hand-knotted rugs. For the most part, sellers who use this term “museum quality” should be viewed with the same suspicion as the proverbial real estate dealer who wants to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. That is not to say that museum quality carpets do not exist. For example, if you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Islamic Art Museum in Qatar Doha, the Topkapi Palace Museum and other museums, you are in for a treat.
However, real museum quality rugs are actually quite rare.
What Constitutes Rugs As Being Museum Quality?
When it comes to defining museum quality rugs, there is no single characteristic or quality that will give you a definitive answer. One of the most important factors is the age of the rug. However, this is not the only factor. Because the materials in antique rugs are organic, they will eventually decay, even under the best care.
With a few extremely rare exceptions (such as the Pazyryk carpet), the oldest carpets in existence are from the 13th and 14th centuries. These are the rarest of rare and are usually considered to be museum quality if the design is discernible at all. Many early carpets of this age exist only as fragments.
The next category of antique Oriental rugs that falls under museum quality are those from the 14th through 16th centuries made in the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Dynasties. There are also some places in China and throughout Asia that fall into this category too. In this category, the carpet must either show the common qualities associated with carpet designs of that time or represent something unusual.
When it comes to museum quality rugs, the level of preservation also comes into play. The better preserved for its age, the more likely it is to be museum quality. Carpets that have a definitive history that is documented are also museum quality. One example of this is the Rothschild Carpet in the of Islamic Art in Doha.
This 16th-century carpet was once in the tobacco estate of heiress Doris Duke. Another example of museum quality carpets is those carpets that are depicted in Renaissance paintings.
Other examples of rugs that can be considered museum quality are those created by known master weavers of the late 1800’s. This group of carpets demonstrates superb artistry and talent. They also represent an important era in carpet history and interior design. There were a limited number of them produced. Rarity plays a crucial role in determining if a carpet is real museum quality.
Where to Find Museum Quality Rugs?
The answer to the question of where to find real museum quality rugs is that you probably won’t unless you visit a museum or a very exclusive antique rug dealer. You certainly will not find them on eBay or Craigslist. It would be safe to say that most museum quality rugs that exist in the world today are either in the hands of museums, a hand full of good dealers, or private collectors.
Many such rugs that are in private collections are kept in the family and handed down from generation to generation. In the rare event that one of them does decide to sell a rug, it will probably be handles by an auction house such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s. Usually, these rare carpets change hands through private contacts and never find their way into the open market at all.
If one of these authentic museum quality rugs does come up at an auction, they will start in the hundreds of thousands and will go into the millions for most good example. For instance, a small antique Persian Isfahan rug from the Doris Duke collection brought $116,000 at Christie’s.
A 17th-century rug with a brilliant red background and a Persian vase design from Kerman sold at Sotheby’s for $33 million (becoming the most expensive rug in the world) most likely to a museum. It is not uncommon for an actual museum quality carpet to go into the millions of dollars.
Most Important Thing to Know About Your Museum Quality Rugs
So there you have it, the next time someone tries to tell you they are selling a museum quality rug on eBay for $1,500, you know to keep scrolling. It is possible to find highly collectible carpets on the marketplace through reputable dealers. You can find carpets that fall somewhere between museum quality and the high-end of the common market, but you can still expect to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions for them. For the most part, what you find on general auction sites, like eBay, are lower commercial quality carpets.
If you want to find a high-end collectible carpet, make sure that you go through a reputable dealer who has been in business for many years and knows what a carpet is genuinely worth.
The most important criterion you should use for purchasing a carpet unless you are a collector is whether you like it or not. A carpet that has been properly taken care of will last for many decades, and even centuries. The most important consideration is finding a carpet that you love and one that suits your style.
Our collection does include some very rare, high-end, antique rugs that are truly museum quality. Feel free to search our rugs online and if you see something that interests you, our rug experts will be happy to answer any carpet question or provide any additional information that you need.
Here are some museum-quality rugs and textiles from the Nazmiyal collection:
This rug blog about museum quality rugs was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.
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