Tips for Buying your Vintage Berber Tribal Rug

Obsessed with all things Moroccan

Moroccan rugs – particularly one-of-a-kind treasures - are highly sought after and continue their run of popularity across most interior and home decor styles. Provided you pick the right rug. Because, along with their lively reputation has sadly come a slew of fakes, new rugs marketed as old tribal pieces, poor quality pieces, poor advice, and rugs that simply aren’t handmade or aren’t authentic. We care about this because old, authentic Berber rugs - those eccentric, artistically demanding carpets - deserve recognition and credit and their buyers deserve to know that what they are buying is credible and true

Moroccan Berber Rugs from Maroc Tribal

So what should you look for, to know that your rug is an original Berber tribal carpet?

Age matters

The term vintage is these days widely used to describe a whole host of rugs. To us, it means trustworthy rugs dating from, say, before the 1990s. And, if a rug is truly vintage or mid-century there is one important thing for you to to look for and to value  - wear

antique moroccan rugs

An original rug that has been used in a Berber home or tent is likely to have some marks, damage, henna stains, drops of candle wax, unravelling at the ends (the hardest parts to repair on a vintage rug are the ends and edges), and so on. Very old rugs are likely be well-worn, probably featuring plenty of restoration. Some of which might be quite basic. If a rug is called vintage yet has no sign of a past life, it's likely to be new, so look for the original patina of a life well lived. Then you will be on your way to finding an authentic old rug


However, watch out for those antique washes

In Morocco, there’s plenty of know-how on how to produce and sell forgeries, adjusted to the needs  of  the market. Woven in what is often termed 'cooperatives', some regional  producers create new rugs that are washed, faded or worked on to then be marketed to unsuspecting international buyers or traders as old.  They can be convincing and often only someone who really knows Berber rugs will be able to tell the truth from the copy. When you are buying a rug, don't be shy to ask a lot of questions about authenticity and background

Trust your - knowledgeble - rug dealer

Equipped with the best intentions, many lay people without deep knowledge of Berber tribal rugs have entered the international trading markets. Many rely on the shops in the tourist centres in Morocco, such as Marrakech, Essouira or Fez, to supply them with stock. At times common misundstandings arise

One example is the Beni Ouarain rugs that have been in such great demand to the extent that ‘Beni Ouarain’ is now used as a byword for all Moroccan black and white rugs. Although, they are not the same. In fact, Beni Ouarain carpets were woven only by the Berbers of Morocco’s north-eastern Middle Atlas Mountains, and nearby neighboring tribes. The Beni Ouarain are in fact a confederation of seventeen specific Berber tribes, who are believed to have been living in the region since as far back as the 9th century


And, while 'Beni' means ‘sons of’ and has been used for centuries for certain Berber and Arab tribes, even that word is commonly mis-attributed to create a provenance for rugs. For example, there’s a town in the Middle Atlas mountains called Mrit. It’s wool trading area, and lots of general commercial rug weaving takes place there. Now, those new rugs from the area are being attributed to the 'Beni Mrit' – a tribe that has never existed

As so many rugs are now sourced in the souks of Marrakesh (as very few people can really get out into the isolated villages. Its' a tough, specialist activity!) it's becoming standard to attribute tribal rugs to the nearby High Atlas mountains. However, the thickest, most plush original rugs (Beni Ouarain, Beni Mguild) have always been woven far, far away from Marrakesh, in the cold mountains in the north east. Most of what is woven near to Marrakesh is woven quickly to sell to western buyers

Some tourist rug souks also have a tendency to date rugs as much older than they are. Genuine mid century Berber rugs are really very rare, although it's common to see newer rugs sold as such. There's really nothing wrong with a good reproduction as long as you know that's what it is

All this points to the need to seek out those with an intimate knowledge of Moroccan Berber history, and who know how and where the many different tribes wove

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There's colour, and then there's colour ...

Synthetic dyes have been available in remote souks, supplementing the natural dyes used by Berbers, for decades. In fact, even in the early 20th Century women probably preferred manufactured dyes as they were much easier to work with! This means that natural dyes are less common than you would think, yet this doesn't detract at all from the artistic tradition of the loveliest rugs

Expertly woven rugs with a beautiful texture, plush wool, and personal symbols aren't devalued because of the absence of natural dyes -in fact shimmering colour is a hallmark of Berber rugs and many of these wonderful hues could only have been achieved with high quality produced dyes

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Genuinely old rugs have a lasting value

Availability of old rugs is naturally limited, and  the demand of the past few years has visibly reduced the supply. Vintage ones are becoming scarce and more expensive. Good pieces might enjoy strong price increases in the future

An old piece is likely to have a spontaneous and archaic, or a very detailed and skillfully produced, design often featuring irregularities and special touches added by the weaver just for her, for her very personal carpet. A carpet woven by a woman for her own use would have been crafted with care and pride, using the best wool she could afford. A good rug is made from good resources

Beni Ourain

Your Moroccan textile specialist will know the local marketplace and will venture into Berber territory to where best rugs can be found. In my long experience, that is out in the mountains and on the plains


At Maroc Tribal we are happy to offer genuine and gorgeous pieces to clients worldwide. As a Moroccan of both Arab and Berber decent myself, it's my privilege to share my culture and history, exploring Berber culture and immersing myself in the often mysterious world of Berber textiles

Always feel free to ask us as many questions you like!


PS. People often ask us who else we think has a great take on the world of Berber rugs. For my part, I've always admired  Berber Arts


Mo RachidiComment