Of all antique categories, Oriental Rugs, may be the most mysterious. If you are lucky enough to visit an antique auction offering a good selection old estate carpets you will also notice a large flock of gentlemen, many of them Persians, inspecting these lots during "preview." They are known in the trade as "the Rug Dealers." Please note that I intend no malice or indignation here. Painting dealers with their silly price books and furniture dealers who spend more time on their backs than auto mechanics, and all the other specialists have their own peculiarities as well. It's one of the things that makes this business fun.
Rug dealers will kick rugs. They will grab their hair in disgust and cry out about every tiny flaw that can be found, and a few that can't. Words will be tossed around that will be as common to your ear as ancient Greek-words like Shirvan, Baluchi, Kenareh, and Ghiordes knot. The Rug Dealers will turn the rugs over and bend down to inspect the tiny knots from underneath. Then, when the auction commences and the oriental carpets come up for sale, they will bid. Usually one at a time. Grudgingly. Some of the bidders will appear as if their heart is failing when outrageous levels are seemingly reached. Levels where only a rich and crazy third generation carpet virtuoso the would compete. Now, would you dare to bid against such a man. I think not.
A well chosen and placed oriental rug will enhance any home or apartment. They are available in a wide variety of color, size, texture, and price. Artistic pre-1930 hand-tied carpets in good condition are expensive and worth the price. A room sized rug may have taken months for weaver and her children to complete.
Employing knotting, materials, colors, and design as criteria, early hand-woven carpets are normally categorized as to their probable geographic origin. New rugs, which may be hand-tied or machine woven, are assigned to the land that inspired their design. For instance, a "Caucasian Carpet" (From what is now generally Southern Russian) produced by nomads from old region of "Kazak" (SW of the Caspian Sea) might have 40 Ghiordes knots per square inch (a loose weave), vibrant colors including green, red, blue, yellow, ivory, and brown, and highly "geometric" design elements. That's not important for you to know. What is important is that Caucasian rugs harmonize with both American Colonial and modernistic design. Rugs from China look good in Arts & Crafts settings. Persian carpets compliment Victorian and formal settings.
It is not easy to discern hand-woven rugs from machine made. As a general rule, look for obvious signs of age, vibrancy and earthiness in color, and artistic inconsistencies in weave and design. Fortunately, many machine woven carpets are also labeled as such underneath. If you can discern quality and age in paintings you are well on your way to understanding rugs.
When Milton contemplated the exotic world from where the "orient sun" rises, in "Paradise Lost" he might well have been standing on one of the luxurious carpets that found its way to Europe in the 17th century. For half the world, oriental rugs have been part of our culture for over 2,000 years. It is a highly developed art-form.