Antique Turkish Kilim Rugs: Tips for Beginner Collectors

Thinking of becoming a collector of antique Turkish kilims? Want to learn more about rug collecting? Here are some tips before starting a kilim collection.

Oriental rugs have long been known as “collectible” items. Kilims (flatwoven tribal rugs) are less well-known, but in fact, they are also a type of Oriental rug, sought after by knowledgeable collectors. From humble beginnings as a folk-weaving in Anatolian Turkey, the antique kilim now regularly graces the most prestigious of collections. Starting an antique kilim collection, whether as an investment or just for pleasure, may seem intimidating, but here are some tips for the beginning collector.

Gathering Information and Immersing Oneself in Kilim Culture

The first step for a new collector is gathering information on kilims, which is not hard to find. Rug exhibitions and sales, auction houses, dealer showrooms, rug society websites, such as the New England Rug Society, and textile museums, such as the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. or the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, Ontario, all now include the kilim within their range of interest. Also, many excellent books on kilims provide abundant resources for the beginner. Immersion in kilim culture could soon become a way of life.

Should Kilim Collecting be for Investment or for Pleasure?

Steve Price, collector of tribal arts and editor of Turkotek, a site devoted to collectible weavings, states in “Are Oriental Rugs Good Investments?”: “Good collectible rugs do tend to increase in value over fairly long periods, but you also have to be aware that collector fashions change over time. The current fashion among collectors is heavily toward tribal and rustic weavings, but this hasn’t always been so and could change without much warning. Unanticipated events can dramatically alter the supply of certain kinds of rugs. For example, the collapse of the USSR brought down the prices of Caucasian rugs this way.”

Similarly, the United States’ new embargo on goods from Iran, including rugs, slated to go into effect in September 2010, will reduce the number of Iranian rugs and so increase the value of rugs from other countries, such as Turkey.

Many collectors, rather than risk the vagaries of the marketplace, pursue their kilim collecting for the pleasure it gives them. As Elizabeth Hilliard states in Kilims: Decorating with Tribal Rugs, “Good quality tribal rugs continue to be a pleasure to look at for so many years because they are completely handmade by craftswomen who are technically skilled, have an innate sense of pattern and colour, and are practicing a rich tradition that goes back probably thousands of years.”

Collectors should purchase antique kilims that they love, for their own pleasure; any profit made later would then be a bonus.

Caution Needed when Buying Handmade Kilim Rugs

Kilims, although growing in popularity, are still mainly available only in larger centres. Online buying provides a solution for this and, although not for the unwary, gives lots of opportunities to browse. A few hours scanning through listings, whether on the major online sellers or on one of the many sites listing carpets and kilims, will familiarize one with the common terms. Comparison shopping, although usually a good practice, is fraught with problems when it comes to the world of kilim buying, both in the cyber and real worlds.

Beware these possible misrepresentations:

  • Ridiculously low kilim prices, but inflated shipping charges.
  • Claims of vegetable dyes when the seller has no concrete knowledge of this.
  • Claims of specific age although dating is usually difficult to establish.
  • Assertions of specific origins when such information is unlikely to be known.
  • Claims whereby every woven piece becomes a nomadic artefact.
  • Attribution of symbolic meanings to motifs when true meanings have been lost in the mists of time.
  • Online sale listings under the wrong category (listing under ‘Antique’ when the piece is new or just a few years old).
  • The old adage, ‘Buyer Beware’ is very apt in the kilim marketplace.

Inexpensive Ways to Start Collecting Antique Kilims

Besides just antique kilim rugs look for other, usually less expensive, pieces. Kilims are the rug-size weavings intended for use on the floor, or as room-dividers. But there are also lighter types of weaving, also called kilims, which were intended for floor-dining (sofra kilims), bed covers, or curtains (perde kilims). Also, more sturdy weavings such as saddlebags (heybe), storage sacks (cuval), and seating pillow covers (yastik) are widely available.

These other types of kilim weavings are often offered at reasonable prices, suitable for a first-time collector who wants to learn more before purchasing expensive kilims. Being utilitarian items not generally used in the West, these articles are less likely to have modern counterparts. And so, these are more likely to be genuine folk creations, made with great care and artistry.

Advice for the Beginning Kilim Collector:

  • Invest in a good kilim book and study it well.
  • Read lots online. Visit sites such as Turkotek where there are ongoing discussions.
  • Become an online ‘window shopper’ browsing catalogues and listings.
  • Start modestly.
  • Learn about the different weaving types and tribal design traditions.
  • Become familiar with kilim terminology.
  • Buy an old kilim catalogue from a major auction house and study it.
  • Join a rug society.
  • Become a member of a textile museum and visit if possible.
  • Remember that personal enjoyment is the major goal; investing is secondary.

Collecting Oriental rugs, such as Turkish kilims, may seem a grand and rarefied hobby. But starting in a small way is possible, even advisable. Antique kilim collecting may begin as a passing interest, but with increasing knowledge the field becomes more fascinating, and chances are it will grow into a life-long passion.

Written by Mckayla