Buying Handmade Rugs Abroad
Many people go on holiday looking for the experience and adventure and buying a rug is often a part of that. Travellers go to places like Turkey, India and Dubai thinking they will pick up a bargain on a hand-knotted rug as they are going to the rugs' place of origin. Turkey is probably the most likely place tourists go looking for rugs which is why it takes up most of this article although most of the warnings hold true for any middle-eastern country. Turkey has a long history of rug weaving and the merchants are often engaging and charming people as well as sharp salesmen who make the process of buying a rug a genuine experience.
Because of the theatre of the occassion, tourists often buy rugs abroad that they wouldn’t have bought had they had an opportunity to try a rug at home on an approval basis. People get caught up in the moment and can, for instance, go for a rug that captures their mood at that particular moment in time and not necesarily one they will enjoy back home. Of course that is not the fault of Turkish merchants.
However the dangers do not end there and the merchants are often far from innocent. Nearly all the people who ask us to value rugs they have bought abroad have been lied to by the merchants in some respect. If a rug is not brand new then most of the time the age has been exaggerated. Very often they have been told that a rug was woven with natural dyes when, in fact, it was not. Lately we have seen a number of cases in which Turkish rug dealers have sold tourists cheap rugs from other countries and passed them off as Turkish.
People buy abroad for the experience but also because of the belief that they will get the rug much cheaper than they ever could at home. While this is possible (if you know the market, possibly the language and where to look) most peolpe do not gain any significant saving and often pay far more than they are worth. Because you are not able to return a rug purchased abroad the merchant is unlikely to be concerened about ripping you off.
Tourists are tourists no matter where you go or how savvy you think you are, experienced merchants see you coming and their eyes light up with pound signs. We haven't come across many people who have bought from Iran or Afghanistan - probably because people don't tend to holiday there - but most of the rugs people have bought in Turkey haven't been great deals. Dubai is another popular place but should really be treated as an upmarket high-street, buying a rug in Dubai probably costs more than buying one back home.
One major issue that is most common in Turkey is people coming back with silk rugs, or what they think are silk rugs. Avoid "Silk Kayseri" rugs like the plague! There aren't many genuine silk Kayseris about so it's best avoiding them unless you really know what you're doing. Turkey is not a cheap place to buy rugs, even for dealers such as ourselves. Because of the level of tourism in the country these days rug weaving has faded out to a large extent and as a result the prices have increased dramatically, because of this a lot of the Hereke and other rugs sold in Turkey are actually Afghan, Pakistani, Indian or (mainly) Chinese replicas. These rugs aren't 'fake' in that they are still hand-knotted but they aren't genuine Turkish rugs, which effects their value, and are often 'program rugs' - rugs woven in the same design in large quantities. A final note on silk, if a rug is labelled "Turkish silk" or "100% pure art silk" then for art read artificial and do not buy unless you get it very cheap!
There are bargains to be had if you know what you are doing, but our advice? Treat buying rugs in abroad just as you would gamble. That is, have fun — but don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.