Oriental Rugs: Valuation Affected By Conservation, Repair and Restoration

By James M. Keshishian, A.S.A., Senior - Oriental Rugs

We in the American Society of Appraisers deal in value and our judgment of values is based on our experience. We will now relate to items in other than perfect condition and how improving them may or may not increase their value.

I have been involved in improving the condition of Oriental Rugs since I was 12 years old, cleaning rugs in a family owned business over 50 years ago. Certainly keeping an item of value in good condition is a first step and proper cleaning is a part of it. Beyond cleaning, the physical condition must be preserved or improved when it is needed, wanted and affordable.

Previous to this article, I have done research in conservation, studied fibers, detergents, textiles, observed and taught employees and collectors based on this knowledge.

I categorize improvements into three general activities:

  • Conservation
  • Repair
  • Restoration

I quote Webster’s dictionary and paraphrase from a recent paper I presented on conservation of brittle and dried woolen rugs.

Conserve: To keep from being damaged, lost or wasted.

Paraphrased: Conservation to the professional rug repairer, collector or novice would be to maintain the rug in its present condition.

Repair: To put back in good condition after damage, decay, etc., to mend or to fix.

Again paraphrasing: repair is a step above conservation. Its principle aim is to make the rug utilitarian, close to the original appearance in addition, not necessarily in the best interest of the rug.

Repair may employ patching (from other rugs), some weaving (restoration), use of textile dyes topically, removal of partial borders to make it rectangular mounting it on a second fabric backing, cannibalizing the rug (reducing its size) to provide "repairs parts", and other innovative and optically corrective procedures.

Restore: To bring back to a former normal and unimpaired condition.

I paraphrase this last procedure as follows: restoration is to reweave properly from the ground up using materials, dyes, techniques and necessary research to recreate, as closely as possible, the original rug. Old wool from other rugs, small batch dyeing of new wool, same knotting of the original rug is among the procedures to be employed here.

The actions to take have been described. Will these actions enhance the values? The answer is usually yes, but it does depend on each specific rug. In improving its looks, we may find we have reduced its value if it is a rare example, one of a kind or a collector’s rug.

If we create a $ 5000 usable rug from a $ 200 rug and only spend $ 500 to $ 1000 on it, the answer is obvious. A reliable dealer with a good honest repair department is the solution.

We find sentimentality ruling when $ 1000 is spent on a rug that is worth $ 200 and then improve it to a $ 300 value. This rug may return for repairs regularly as well.

A famous mansion with its publicized and documented furnishings makes those furnishings worth more than they may be normally. These should be conserved and restored to keep their historical appearance. This increases the values of like rugs in the market. A worn out patched, fringes, topically dyed (almost painted, if you will) rug from Heriz, Iran, with an age OF 65 to 80 years of a 10 x 14-Foot size will bring from $ 8,000 TO $ 20,000. It may look like the one in the famous mansion.

One can scan the catalogues of good auction houses and note their stated conditions like "some small repairs", "not original fringes", "low all over condition" and so forth. Later when the prices paid are posted, the novice begins to notice inconsistencies. Soon he’ll give up figuring values, ask questions and should be to an expert, trusted dealer or an appraiser, (A.S.A. is recommended).

All I have stated here is logical, easily observed and even easy to agree with. We need en expert to determine which rug is valuable enough to repair, usable enough to repair, pretty enough to design with, historical enough to maintain, or rare enough regardless of the above.

My often-repeated criteria are easily remembered and apply to more than just rugs. These are:

  • Color
  • Quality
  • Condition
  • Legitimacy
  • Rarity
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