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What is the history of Turkish rugs?

Turkish or Anatolian rug is a term commonly used to describe rugs and carpets woven in Asia minor and its adjacent regions. The area of production of Turkish rugs generally falls into the territories that were historically part of the Ottoman Empire.

Rug weaving dates back to prehistoric times.The earliest known examples of Anatolian rugs that we have today date from the 1200s. Turkish rugs have been made ever since in court and provincial workshops, villages, and nomadic settlements. Rugs were simultaneously produced by and for all levels of society. Weavers traditionally used sheep wool, cotton and natural dyes. In the 19th century, the Ottoman court also produced silk rugs, with gold or silver. Today, rugs are made with synthetic dyes and fibers as well. 

Design elements from various cultures can be seen in Turkish rugs. These include 

Byzantine, Turkic, Armenian, Caucasian and Kurdic tribes. These groups migrated to Anatolia (modern Turkey) at different times in history, contributing their traditional motifs and visual elements. The introduction of Islam to the region has also strongly influenced Turkish rug design.

In Renaissance Europe, Turkish rugs were often shown in paintings to express prestige and wealth. In the early fourteenth century, Marco Polo wrote, “here they make the most beautiful silks and carpets in the world, and with the most beautiful colours,” referring to cities of Anatolia. 

Trade intensified between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, increasing the importation of Turkish rugs into the continent. 

Today, you can still find authentic Turkish rugs on the market, but there are also many more that are mass-produced. Below we’ll talk about some ways to check whether your rug may be valuable and some key differences between types of Turkish rugs. 

How are Turkish rugs classified?

Turkish rugs can be grouped into categories based on their design elements. The following are a few of the most well-known categories:

Holbein: These rugs feature octagons, frequently including a star, which are distributed over the carpet in a regular pattern, surrounded by arabesques (scroll or tendril shaped lines) or tiny floral ornaments.

Lotto: These rugs have red backgrounds with yellow grids of arabesques, interchanging cross-shaped, octagonal, or diamond shaped elements.

Star Ushak: These rugs are characterized by repeating navy star-shaped medallions on a red ground.

Medallion Ushak: These carpets have a red or blue background and are decorated with floral and leaf tendrils, as well as medallions in the shapes of stars or ovals. Their borders often feature palmettes or kufic-like characters.  

Single-niche Ushak: These are referred to as prayer rugs. They feature a red niche surrounded by floral and curvilinear patterns. 

Double-niche Ushak: In this carpet, the corner medallions are placed closely together, so that there is a niche on both ends of the rug.  

Selendi: These rugs have a white background and are covered in motifs such as coloured orbs arranged in triangles.

What was the most expensive Turkish rug ever sold?

The most expensive Turkish rug ever sold is a 17th century piece which sold for $33 million at Sotheby’s. It is deep red with intricate designs: vines, flowers, and sickle shaped leaves. The second most expensive rug sold was a leaf patterned bright blue piece from the 17th century, which was sold at Christie’s in 2010 for $9.6 million.

How are Turkish rugs valued?

There are several factors to consider when determining the value of your Turksih rug. Here are a few:

Size: Larger rugs require more materials and time to produce, and usually are more valuable because of those factors.

Materials: Wool, cotton and silk are the three main materials used for Turkish rugs. The highest value rugs are usually silk, or silk and wool blends.

Design: Visual intricacy and a range of hues command a higher price. Some desirable elements of Turkish rugs include complex medallion layouts, detailed patterns and interesting and dynamic color combinations.

Condition and age: Older rugs are generally considered to be more valuable. However, it is important that the rug is in good condition. You can care for your rug by protecting it from humidity, direct sunlight or heat exposure. When cleaning, use a brush or vacuum. Try to avoid putting heavy furniture on the rug and wear slippers when walking on it. If your rug has a stain, it is best to use delicate cleaning materials, like water or white vinegar. You can look into appropriate rug cleaning shampoos for occasional all over cleaning, but this shouldn’t be done more than once every few years. 

Knot Density and structure: Knot density refers to the complexity and tightness of how the rug has been woven. You can look at a 1 inch x 1 inch area on the reverse side of your rug. Count the horizontal weave and the vertical run. Multiply them together to find the knot density. In general, the more dense a rug is, the higher its price.

There is also a difference between hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs. The first kind is considered more valuable. They will last much longer and they require much more time and skill to produce. Hand-tufted rugs are made using a tufting gun to punch a design into a canvas structure that’s stretched over a stencil. 

To determine whether a rug is hand-knotted or hand-tufted, look at the reverse side. In a real knotted rug, you will be able to see every knot clearly. You can also examine the fringe parts of the rug. On valuable hand woven pieces, fringes are a continuation of the rug itself, and were not sewn on later.

Would You Like to Sell Your Turkish rugs?

Mearto offers two opportunities to sell your Turkish rugs based on its current fair market value:

Customers with Turkish rugs expected to sell for $5,000 or more can take advantage of our complimentary Consignment Concierge service. We will contact leading auction houses on your behalf, collect offers and help you negotiate the terms of a consignment agreement. There is no additional fee or commission for this service.

For customers with Turkish rugs valued between $50 and $5,000, Mearto offers an exclusive Marketplace, which is accessed by a number of art, antiques and collectibles dealers around the world. If there is interest in your item, you will be contacted directly with offers through our platform. In the event of a successful sale, Mearto takes a 7% transaction fee.

To learn more about options for selling your Turkish rugs through Mearto, please click here.


Lindsey Bourret is the Managing Director at Mearto. In addition to overseeing the daily operations of the business, she also enjoys sharing her extensive knowledge of the fine art and antiques market with our customers through our website, blog, e-newsletter and social media accounts.

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