A rug is a delightful addition to any room from giving a foyer an inviting look to injecting a bit of color and warmth to the mudroom. Rugs are both functional and fashionable. Placing a simple rug on the bathroom floor immediately gives a person a place to dry their feet while dressing up an otherwise drab space. However, when it comes to price tags, rugs pretty much run the gamut from dirt cheap for a simple throw to ultra-expensive for a hand-knotted Persian rug.
On what floors do the most expensive rugs ever sold occupy? Are they sitting under a piece of furniture at Buckingham Palace in London, under the King’s bed in Graceland or in Oprah’s living room? The answer may surprise you. According to Jacob Berstein’s NY Times article in February of 2018, the rich and famous aren’t dropping large amounts on “something that they and their little dogs walk over,” but that hasn’t stopped some rugs from being sold for quite a lot of money. Let’s take our own stroll over the rugs that fetched the highest price tag over the years.
Intrigue and Mystery
A lot of mystery and speculation surrounded the death of Lebanese-Brazilian Jewish banker Edmond J. Safra. The billionaire died of asphyxiation in a fire in his Monte Carlo home in 1999 along with his nurse. His death garnered a great deal of media attention especially after the cause of the fire was determined to be arson. Safra’s widow Lily was listed by Forbes in 2013 as one of the richest people in the world. A 16th century Safavid rug is said to be a part of the family’s collection. This East Persia rug measuring 27’4″x11’3″ was purchased at Sotheby’s in the fall of 2005 for a little over $2 million.
Stolen in WWII
The history behind the 16th century Rothschild Tabriz Medallion Carpet is that it was stolen from the Rothschild family in Austria by the Nazis during World War II. The exquisite Persian rug is more than 20 feet long and was sold for $2.4 million. Its purchaser was the Sheikh al-Thani of Qatar. Fashioned in northwest Persia, the carpet was originally valued at $400,000 before the sale. Today, the Rothschild Tabriz Medallion Carpet hangs in the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.
A 17th Century Gem
In June of 2008, a stunning silk Isfahan rug was sold at Christie’s to a Long Island resident who preferred to remain anonymous. Perhaps because he or she paid $4.5 million for this Persian rug that once belonged to New York-born philanthropist Doris Duke. Duke acquired the rug in 1990. The 7’7″x5’7″ carpet was left to the Newport Restoration Foundation when the tobacco heiress passed away in 1993. The 17th-century silk Isfahan rug features 14 different hues.
The Tomb of Mohammad
The Pearl Carpet of Baroda upstaged the silk Isfahan rug as the most expensive rug when it took the spotlight at Sotheby’s in 2009. This spectacular rug actually boasts a million Basha seed pearls as well as rubies, emeralds, and diamonds that are set in gold. Fetching $5.5 million at auction, the Pearl Carpet of Baroda was originally meant to lie in the Tomb of Mohammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The rug never reached its original destination after the Maharaja of Baroda authorized its creation in 1865. Today, its owner remains anonymous as well.
Another 17th-century rug became the talk of the rug world in April of 2010 when a Kirman Vase Rug sold at Christie’s for an astounding $9.6 million. To make this sale even more intriguing was the fact that the rug fashioned in southeast Persia was originally valued at a little over $1,000 just six months before its 2010 sale. The 11’1″x5′ carpet was featured in “A Survey of Persian Art” by Arthur Upham Pope in 1938.
And the Most Expensive Rug Sold Is…
To date, the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet stands as the rug to garner the highest price tag at a sale. The Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet is more than 360 years old and was once owned by William A. Clark. Clark was an industrialist and former United States senator from Montana. Upon his death in 1925, the 17th-century Persian rug was donated along with more than 200 other pieces of art and rugs to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. The Corcoran put the rug up for auction at Sotheby’s in June of 2013 where the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet went for a record-setting $33.7 million.
The red-brown Persian carpet was last on display at the Corcoran in 2006. Before that, it was shown at the Sackler Gallery in D.C. in 2003. Prior to the historic sale, the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet was in storage. As to who paid the whopping price for the eight-foot-nine-inch by six-foot-five-inch rug, Sotheby’s isn’t talking. As with many of these work-of-art rugs, the buyer, who bid by telephone, remains anonymous.
Why are these rugs so Expensive?
Why did the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet pull down such a remarkably high price tag? Perhaps it was the fact that this rare Persian carpet featuring the “vase technique” was never expected to become available for public auction. Persian rugs from the 16th and 17th century are also thought to be works of art and the country of origin along with the history of the rug come into play when determining its value. The current owner of the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet wasn’t the only one who was willing to pay big to own this historic rug. Three other people engaged in a bidding war over it before Sotheby’s veteran auctioneer and senior consultant, Mary Jo Otsea said, “Sold.” By the way, the pre-auction estimate on the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet was around five to seven million dollars.