The carpet at left is known as a Serapi.   It’s a wool handknotted rug made in northwestern Persia up until about 1920.  These rugs command incredible prices and have for the 40 years I have been in the rug business.  Like hemlines in women’s fashion, rug design popularity ebbs and flows through time.  But, not for the Serapi.  They are indeed timeless; this photo was shown in House Beautiful in 1984.

The rug is an astoundingly simple design with a limited color pallette that an interior designer or client can meld into almost any design scheme.  But, the consistent demand and resulting high valuations have created confusion over what actually is a Serapi.

Designers and even rug dealers have difficulty telling the difference between Serapi rugs and another very similiar rug called a Heriz.  That uncertainty can put clients in an uncomfortable position, years later, when they realize they have a Heriz and not the prized Serapi that they thought they had.  In the last year, at Fine Rugs, we’ve had to advise two separate clients that their Serapi was a Heriz.

So, what is a Serapi and how can you tell the difference from the Heriz?  The seeds for this confusion were laid in the 1930’s when rug buyers in Persia invented the name Serapi to describe a type of Heriz that was no longer being made.  To this day that is the definition of a Serapi: a very fine rug from the Heriz district of Persia.  The name given these rugs was derived from a village named Serab, (as in, of Serab), even though the people of Serab only made long narrow rugs and not the roomsized carpets we see in the market.

The design, (shown  above), is said to have originally been a simplified village version of the complex medallion rugs made in Tabriz, the next nearest city.  The best specimen rugs were made for the 1880’s through 1920.  1900 was the highpoint of so-called Serapi production, after which weavers made some techincal changes that gave rise to the Heriz rugs that we know today.  The patterns may look nearly the same, but the weaves are different.  For a period of 20 years both weaves were made creating the rugs that cause all this confusion 100 years later. So, again, how do we tell them apart?  You simply turn over and look at the back.

And, you don’t need to be an expert to tell the difference.  When looking at the the back of the rug, on the Serapi you will notice that the warps and the rows of knots along them are firmly pressed down so that the warp threads don’t show up and down the back.  However in the Heriz weave, the knots are not pressed down and are offset so that the warp is noticeable along the back.  A simple observation can be made by running your hand side to side across the back of the rug.  If it’s bumpy to the feel, it’s a Heriz; a smooth feel and you are caressing a rare and valuable Serapi.  You don’t need an expert tell the difference, but for a 9×12 rug that can sell for upwards of $40,000, I recommend that you seek separate authentication before you buy one.

If that rug in the photo above was from the early 1980’s consider this one.  It is a press photo for the hit CBS Drama, ‘The Good Wife’ showing the main characters in the series.  Notice the rug on the floor of the office.  It is  the timeless Serapi showing it’s constant cache’ among our tastemakers from the entertainment industry.

And here is the likely design of this rug and a final look at the shape and coloration of the most valuable decorative rugs ever made.

This is my opinion, but this is my blog!  I do welcome your opinions so, please leave a  comment.

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15 comments on “Serapi: The timeless rug.

  1. Duval B. Acker, ASID, CMKBD

    Rob, your “educational” blog posts are so helpful and interesting! It’s like reading a short history of the people and culture of the rugmakers, and helps us remember the fine differences from one rug design to the other.

    Thank you for demystifying the difference between a Serapi and a Heriz….you are a gem, a true resource for the Interior Design professional.

  2. WafCheree

    Hello, I enjoyed reading your post. You have a nice site and a very nice way of expressing ideas.

  3. Rob Leahy

    Thank you both for your comments!

  4. Steve Williams

    Great read!

    Having been in the business more than 15 years, I’ve always thought of a Serapi as nothing more than an older Heriz, which is characterized by a finer weave, better wool, and a simpler design and color palette. Your observations seem sound—-I’ll be watching for this in the future and seeing if I reach your same conclusion. Perhaps this will put an end to the old rug business joke: It’s a Serapi if I’m selling it and a Heriz if I’m buying it.

  5. Rugs

    wow! Great history of this rug. Love reading your post. And I am going to read some of your posts. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Sally Winter

    What a nice Rug mate just I looking for! I totally impress to hear that it’s wool handknotted rug made in northwestern Persia. Thanks for the allocate!

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  10. MoJo

    The word Serapi is from the ancient word signifying a vase or fireplace used for burning something. There are many examples, like the original amphora (Saphoram) – was an ancient vase used to burn the dead into ashes which afterword were stored in the vase. The Serapi rug was named after a nearby Sassanid fireplace named Agmiyan which was used to heat the dyes used in making the original Hijias. These weren’t rugs so much as long narrow brightly dyed rectangles of cloth. They could be used as rugs for hallways, or they could be used as the Hindus used the Serapi – as body wraps.

    The word Sar means bright, star-like, but more like the scintillating skin of the serpent (Saraphim = Saraphin = Serpens = bright object which WRAPS around something) or the shell of the Scarab (Sarab). The Egyptian diadem was called a Uraeus or Uraei = an upright bright serpent, related to the Greek Urere (to burn) = the name for the vessel or fireplace used to burn the dead (our modern Urn).

    Basically the etymology of Serapi signifies something which is brightly colored (Sar) and WRAPS around something else. Which means the modern understanding of the etymology of the Serapi rugs is very inaccurate.

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  13. cindy

    Ok,interesting read!… so possibly you can help me understand the difference I am having…maybe there IS no difference….I have a Serab rug. What is the difference between serab and serapi?I have had people talk to me and use them as if the 2 words are the same with regard to my rug. Thanks for your help! Cindy

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