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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Turkish Rugs

By Charles W. Jacobsen

( Orginally published 1951 )

Rug weaving in Turkey has already become a lost art. This country, which has produced millions of hand woven rugs in many of the towns which we know from our Bible, has done little weaving since 1935. Mustaphi Kemal, the ruler of Turkey until his death, modernized his country or at least improved the standard of living above the few cents a day that still exists in Iran (Persia). Weaving wages there rose to $.50 to $1.50 a day, and thus rugs made in Turkey became several times costlier than those from Iran. The result was the end of rug weaving in Turkey.

I remember my first trip to Constantinople in 1929 to buy rugs. No choice rugs were being woven then and had not been since prior to World War I. But in the old City of Stamboul across the bridge from the Modern City of Pera (the two being known today as Istamboul or Constantinople) was a tremendous warehouse known as the Free Port. Here thousands of Persian Rugs were shipped in bond for sale to importers and dealers who came there to buy for large stores in America and Europe. Because it required some ten days to go from Turkey to Persia in those days, Constantinople was the largest market in the world at that time. With the advent of the airplane and better roads in Iran, Constantinople ceased to be a market and practically no Persian Rugs are shipped there except for local sales in the Bazaars to tourists. Rugs are bought almost as fast as tliey aFpear in markets in Hamadan, Sultanabad, Tabriz, Kirman and Meshed (all in Iran) and shipped to New York where they are held in bonded warehouses until withdrawn by the importers or owners. Today, New York is by far the largest market in the world.

But a discussion of Turkish Rugs is in order for a number of reasons: First, when one thinks of the old rare Prayer Rugs, he knows most of them are Turkish. There are very few Persian Rugs in Prayer designs. Rare old Turkish Rugs appear in every museum of the world, and even though as a rule they are not finely woven rugs (excepting the Ghiordes), the experts and the collectors of rare rugs seem to favor the old Turkish Rugs. Perhaps the rarest of all small rugs are the Prayer Ghiordes, Prayer Ladik, and the Prayer Kulah. A good Melez, Bergamo, Mudjar or Konia is almost as rare. There must be thousands of these in private hands in America, but of course most of them are being worn out. We find a dozen good old Turkish rugs in good condition in the hands of small so called importers from time to time. These are limited dealers in New York City who import a few rugs, or who get a few rugs from other importers, or who acquire rugs also from estates in New York City. Most of these rugs will be worn out fragments which might interest a museum, but which have no value to the average collector or seeker of rugs for floor use. A dozen or so in excellent condition, however, can be found each year by careful screening.

Actually, only the collector of rugs, or one who has studied rugs, is interested in the choice old Turkish Rugs: The beginner, who knows nothing about Oriental Rugs, has in mind only the floral designed rug, or the conven tionalized floral design rugs from Persia, or the two or three types from India that copy the Persian designs. He would not be interested in the small bold Turkish Rugs.

Turkish Rugs should be divided into three separate and entirely different groups. The first and second groups listed below are somewhat alike in design, but are as much different as day and night in quality and choiceness. The third group is distinct and has no similarity at all to Turkish Rugs in design, size, weave or colors. This third group simply copied the Persian Rugs in design.


Antique and semi antique rugs made prior to World War I. These are the only types discussed in the old Oriental Rug books. All of the types in these books, with the exception of the Pergamo, belong in this group. They are mostly good to very choice rugs. Very few of them were as finely woven as the Persian, but today are more valuable than the finest woven Persian Rugs in the same general size. This is due to the rarity and being classified as objects of art. I recently supplied a museum in a South American city with a number of these rugs. They, of course, had come from estates. On my first visit to Constantinople in 1929, I did not find a single good antique Turkish Rug in any one of these rare weaves. The good examples that appear in New York, and which I buy if in good condition, would, I believe, sell for a higher price in Constantinople today than they sell for here in America. They do not exist in Turkey.


The distinguishing characteristics of these old Turkish Rugs are the bright color effect - in general brighter than the Persian Rugs - and the employment of much canary, lavender, mauve with the reds and the light blues. These rugs use rectangular lines and a great massing of colors. Animal or human motifs were never used because it was against their religion. Perhaps half of these old rugs were in Prayer designs: Each type has a Prayer niche, which, with a few exceptions, is always similar in the same weave but different in each type of Prayer Rug. There are more variations in the Kohieh (Konia) than in any other Prayer Rug.


This group comprises the hundred of thousands of cheap copies of the old types that were made after World War I and up to about 1932. They had some resemblance to the old designs, but most of 1hem were atrocious. They were crude little Prayer Rugs, about 5 x 3 feet, that retailed from $19.00 to $49.00. The dyes were very poor and loose and they would readily bleed when washed. Even a beginner should have known they were junk. Very few of these appear today, even in second hand dealers showrooms. I surmise that they have worn out quite readily and that very few of them are in salable condition, even to the second hand dealer, Occasionally, I have to use the utmost tact in telling some customer that his cheap example is not one of the famous old Ghiordes, Mudjars or other types. A good many people did pay fanciful prices for one of the better types of these rugs in the belief that they were acquiring a rare old Turkish Prayer Rug. The fact that it was a Prayer design did not make it valuable. It might well have been a $39.00 value instead of the $2000.00 Prayer Ghiordes. But these ceased being made about 1932, and if one of these $39.00 Prayer Rugs were made in Turkey today at a Dollar a day wages, it would cost some $300.00. A much choicer rug from Iran can still be had for about $50.00 in the 5 x 3.6 foot size. Again my observations that not all Oriental Rugs are beautiful and that rugs by the same name vary tremendously in quality.


Rugs made in Turkey after World War I in carpet sizes that copied or attempted to copy the Persian designs. With the tremendous demand for Oriental Rugs that existed at that time, a number of importers set up rug weaving factories in Turkey and in Greece and produced hand made rugs that copied the Persian designs mostly in large sizes - from 6 x 9 feet to giant sizes. Although these rugs employed the Persian floral design for the most part, they lacked the art of the true Persian Rugs. My principal objection to them was that they had a domestic look., and as a rule were not long lived. The prospective buyer often asked if they were Orientals. Thousands of these were made and sold in the period from 1921 to 1930. They sold readily because they were not expensive. At that time they could produce these for less than any Persian rug except the Gorevans, Muskabads, Aracs and the cheap quality of the Chinese Rugs. Rugs in this group (III) were from fairly coarse to medium weaves, but the better ones were compactly woven and all had a long high nap and soft colors (due to bleaching)which made them more salable. The wholesale price of these ranged from $1.25 to $2.50 per square foot; They were sold simply as Anatolians or Spartas, or under the importers tradename. One importer called his first quality Eiskershehr, his second quality another name and his poorest quality still another name. Dealers used their own trade names. Most of these names would confuse anyone who read the rug books because they were new names. But the poorest quality of all were sold in London as Ghiordes. Here the poorest handmade rug I have ever seen used the name of the most valuable old Turkish Rug. Of course, I didn't bring these cheap Ghiordes to America because, even though they cost only $30.00 in London at that time, the tariff on these was not less than $.50 a square foot or the $54.00 for a 9 x 12 foot size. To land these at about $90.00 would not have made them salable even at $125. 00. They sold in London and South Africa by the thousands where the tariff was very low.

I will forget the rugs in Group III because they are gone forever. There are many thousands in American homes but my guess is most of them are pretty well worn out. They wore out much more quickly than the average Persian Rug. I have seen a very few of these still in good condition, after Twenty Nine years.

The fact that the rugs in Group II and Group III are no longer made, and never will again be made does not make them valuable. This because more beautiful rugs from Iran (Persia) are still being woven at a few cents a day.

A great many small rugs were made and marketed as Pergamos. They were very inexpensive and not readily salable. They, too, lacked the fineness of the Persian Rugs. Again these "Pergamos" sold at very low prices. The name or type is not to be confused with the rare, old choice Bergamos made from the 18th Century up to World War I.

Except for Group III types, Turkish Rugs were not chemically treated. The dyes in those made prior to War I were almost invariably the fine old vegetable dyes.


When one uses the name Turkish Rug, Anatolian Rug or Asia Minor Rug, it can mean anything from junk to the rarest of all the small Antique Prayer Rugs. But rug weaving is forever finished in Turkey on any commercial scale.