What's in a name?

The one thing that is uniform in all Persian carpet stores the world over, is the naming of carpets. It might be less important to a buyer who is just looking to buy a beautiful carpet, but it is of utmost importance to collectors, investors, etc. The naming of Persian carpets was not always as academic as it is today. In previous centuries they were all simply called Turkish, Anatolian, Oriental, Caucasian or Persian identifying it as the highly valued handicrafts from the exotic East.

It is only when the trading powers tipped in favour of the West during the 1800’s and merchants gained more access to the Eastern empires and its rich old histories that it became fashionable to attribute a proper name to carpets. It was probably the stories connected to carpets of its provenance or the tribes who wove it that romanticised this valuable commodity even more. Just owning such a carpet and then being able to tell guests its whole story became a popular reason for throwing a dinner party, especially in America. These western carpet owners played an immensely important role in the academic information available on carpets today. Many of these owners were wealthy travellers and business owners who became collectors and in so doing it became important to document their collections, but to document it properly you need all the information on it: the maker, the place, the era, the materials used, the methods used. Many of these western collectors wrote books on Persian carpets with all the information in it that they could find and it led to more books and more studies. Today we are fortunate to have tons of information available and this often determines the value of carpets more than anything.

In the commercial world there are basically seven different types of names given to carpets: a city, a tribe, an ethnic group, a main selling centre, a designer/weaver/investor, a technique or the purpose.

Carpets are named after cities (such as Ishfahan, Tabriz, Kashan, etc.) because the weaving centres there are permanent. These workshops have specific designs and colours that they use to produce their carpets that are unique to them. These are generally finer quality carpets with higher values.

Carpets are named after tribes (such as Turkeman, Qashqai, Kurdish, etc.) when these tribes are/were mainly nomadic and they are not based on a certain town or village to weave their carpets. They too have specific designs and colours that are unique to them. These are generally less expensive carpets since they are less refined but there are some very notable exceptions such as the Bijar and Bakhtiari carpets that are generally fine and dense products.

Carpets are named after an ethnic group (such as Armenian, Jahudi Baf, Romanian, etc.) when there are no distinguishable tribes but it is made by the group as whole in a specific style and colouring unique to them. These carpets have different categories of fineness and the value will depend on this as well as the particular design used.

In many countries there are many villages surrounding a city with a main bazaar where all the carpets are collected to be sold. These carpets are then named after this city/town as opposed to the villages (such as Hamadan, Mussel, etc.). Since most of these centres sell village carpets the values would depend on the fineness of the carpets.

When a certain design was invented by a designer/master weaver/investor their names are given to the carpets as an identifier (such as Mohtasham, Haj Jalili, Ziegler, etc.). The value of these carpets depend on the fineness and age of the carpets as well as whether they were originally woven by the master weaver himself.

Some carpets are named after the technique of weaving (such as Gabbeh, Jajim, etc.) and are mostly tribal pieces woven by many different tribes. The values would mostly depend on the fineness and age of the carpets.

Carpets woven for specific purposes are named after the purpose (such as Prayer rugs, Mafresh – box covers, Sofreh – eating carpet, etc.). The name of the weaving centre or tribe might be added in front of the name to identify the place of weaving. The value of these depend mostly on the fineness and age.

For collectors there are currently five additional types of names that are added to the already long list: the era in which it was woven, the place of discovery, the Renaissance painters, historical events and the provenance.

This generally indicates the age of the carpet (such as Safavid Era, Mamluk Era, Seljuk Era, etc.). These carpets are rare and near priceless.

Believe it or not, even with all the classification, there are still some pieces that are found but its origin cannot be determined. In these cases they are named after the place in which they were discovered (such as Topkapi, Pazyryk, etc.). These carpets are historical artefacts and priceless.

It was high fashion during Renaissance times to have your portrait painted with all your valuables and many Renaissance painters included Persian carpets in their works of art as well (such as Lotto, Memling, Holbein, etc). Their paintings survived into modern times and it was at first thought that they created the Persian carpets themselves since all their paintings generally included a particular carpet design. Only later when surviving carpets with similar designs were discovered was it realised that they were real, but the name of the painters stuck to it. These carpets are very rare and near priceless.

Our forefathers were constantly building and destroying empires and war booty was the prize for all their effort together with diplomatic gifts or royalties paid by subordinate kingdoms. These all often took the form of Persian carpets that was one of the main commodities for centuries. Many of these surviving carpets are named after historical events (such as Polonaise carpets) to commemorate it. These carpets are very rare and near priceless.

Provenance plays a big role in naming some antique pieces (such as the Sanguszko carpets, John Clarke collection, Salting carpets, etc.) even when the weaving style or place is known. These pieces generally become museum assets and are near priceless.

Our RUGDEALER, Shervin Ghorbany, is of the opinion that since the naming of carpets started in earnest the industry has lost some of its value. He compares it to some old secretive religions of Iran that lost its mysticism once scholars started writing about it and in so doing either endangered its very existence or caused its demise. More than the names it is the enjoyment of owning a Persian carpet that you love that matters above all.