Oriental Rugs

Those of you who have visited my house have seen the quantities of Oriental rugs that populate the wide-plank pine floors both up and down stairs. They are striking and we like them very much. I bought my first “Oriental” carpet many years ago in India. It was an Ahmedabad knock-off of a Persian design. It’s hand woven wool on cotton and forty years later it is still serving well in the hallway between the walk-in closets in our bedroom. It’s a bit tattered at one end having been chewed on by a puppy and most of the fringe has disappeared into the vacuums of untrained cleaners, but I still like it and like the scars on my legs, back, nose and elsewhere it reminds me of certain things in my past.

That’s the thing about rugs, they should come with stories. Anyone who buys a rug (or if you’re the upscale type, carpet) as an investment has fallen into the great abyss of “it ain’t so.” There was a time when an estate might make a profit selling-off rugs from exotic places but those exotic places are now overrun with tourists and the people who bought the rugs originally died and never saw a return on their investment. In those days there was the “rug crowd” that’s like the “art crowd.” They are a closed society and they get to decide what is valuable and what isn’t. So, rugs are like art, you shouldn’t buy something as investment; you should buy it because you’re going to put it on the floor or the wall and enjoy it.

All my rugs have stories, my first was an excellent quality hand woven knock-off that only an expert can tell isn’t from Persia. If it had been from Persia it would have cost about $8,000.00 but I bought it for $800.00. But that’s not the story; I bought it from someone who would eventually wind up providing us with valuable information about Russian covert activities. And the contact came through my hearing that he had some good deals on rugs. So, you never know when you’re going to run across a potentially valuable agent.

Then there are the two Afghan rugs I bought from Afghan pilgrims who brought them to Saudi Arabia to sell for funds during their Haj. It was in Mecca and I was one of the first non-muslims to be able to roam about Mecca looking for potential extremists aka Islamic terrorists trying to disrupt the Haj. Not quite so exciting in retrospect as the two Afghan rugs I acquired in Khartoum (remember an Afghani is not a person or something from Afghanistan but a coin of the Afghan nation.) These two Afghans I bought in a long bargaining session with Ibrahim XXX who was a senior member of the Egyptian based Al Jamat (pronounce it with a G) which would morph into Al Qaeda when Bin Ladin moved back to Afghanistan. But the story of the rugs is that while I was negotiating to purchase them on one side of Ibrahim’s home, just a few feet away he was providing secret sanctuary to two wounded members of the Al Jamat assassination team that had tried to take out President Mubarak in an attack in Ethiopia a few weeks before. Of course I didn’t know that until later.

Then there are the Yayali rugs I bought in Turkey. Really interesting story there but it’s still too soon to tell it. But the tail-end of that story is how the baggage handlers in Khartoum tried to steal them and we caught them trying to secrete the rugs off the flight line and into a truck in the parking lot.

I have some rugs from the Caucasus’s and some from Iran and Pakistan. I have some Tibetan rugs that didn’t come from Tibet but from the Dalai Lama’s exile group in Delhi. Each of these rugs reminds me of something, somewhere or someone; souvenirs of an unorthodox life and a curious profession. Tailwagger Jack seems to prefer the silk on wool rugs we have in our bedroom but he is also partial to the wool on wool prayer rug in Anne’s office, but I think that has to do more with the air conditioning and heating vent under her window seat that blows directly out onto the rug.

Now a hint or two. Like I said, buy a rug because you’re going to put it on the floor and walk on it. Now I do have a couple of really expensive rugs hanging on the wall but they are art pieces. So, silk on silk is wonderful for color but tres expensive. That’s what’s hanging on our wall. You can also get wool on wool (referring to the warp and weft with the warp being the foundation of the rug and weft the crosswise weaving), wool on cotton and cotton on cotton. Silk wears best and longest, wool on wool and so on down the line. You can tell what you’re getting by looking at the fringe-that is part of the warp. Then you get into dyes and colors and patterns and such but again most of that is only pertinent if you’re trying to become a rug snob and you’re going to force everyone who visits you to listen to a dissertation on your rug collection. Buy what you like but rugs are like cars; the salesmen are waiting for you. I prefer these days to buy on-line so I don’t have to listen to the pitch or drink a lot of too sweet tea (a tradition that when you negotiate you drink tea.)

Here’s a little trick, take a portable vacuum cleaner with you and vacuum the rug you like. The harder the vacuum pulls the tighter the weave (more knots) thus the longer the rug will last, (also the more it will cost). I’m in the process of having to replace a number of my Sumacs which are cotton on cotton and have been in high traffic areas. I won’t be buying any silk on silk or wool on wool just because I’m not going to be around that much longer so I don’t need longevity, just utility and decor impact . But, here, let me point out that there are some very nice machine made “Oriental” rugs and as long as you aren’t going to be a rug snob they’ll do nicely and your room will create the same impression for a goodly savings. I had a couple from the Karastan Williamsburg collection for which I paid a thousand apiece but they have become less expensive these days and you can get a nice 8X11 for a little less than a thousand depending upon the design you choose. I gave the ones I had as gifts to nephews and nieces.

Oh, of course we have an Afghan war rug with the AK-47’s and the MI-24’s. I made my wife hide it in her closet; it too has a story, but that story is her’s to tell.

So lesson for today is rugs are made for walking on. If you buy them for any other reason you’re eventually going to be disappointed. But if you buy them because you like them and are going to use them, then you won’t be as distressed when the dog throws up or a visiting child spills grape juice. After all, those will become stories of the rug.

3 thoughts

  1. I didn’t know that you served in Khartoum. I bought a bunch of nice carpets there too 84-86 but got most of the really good deals when I served as a contractor in Herat ca 2003. Also snagged a bunch in Islamabad around 2008, I also bought a bunch when I served in Kabul in the old days 70-74. Probably have about 75 now.

    1. 94-96, we closed the embassy due to increasing threat from local militia and Hezbollah. I lived four houses down from Bin Ladin. His construction chief was my next door neighbor.

  2. Of course, the King of Karpets is still Freddy L. who has a shop. He doesn’t know much about Afghans but managed to clean out Trashkent when he was there. Dealers were still talking about him 5 yrs later when I passed thru.

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