Antique tapestries are woven textiles that feature a pictorial image. Hand-woven examples date from the Middle Ages. From 1500 to 1800, Flemish and French masters produced exquisite illustrations of Classical, historical and biblical scenes. In 1805, the invention of the Jacquard loom opened the door for the mass production of brilliantly colored pieces. Pre-20th century tapestries, both hand-woven and Jacquard-woven, can command high prices from antique dealers and tapestry specialists—anywhere from several hundred dollars to as much as $16,000 or more for pieces by famous makers such as Aubusson or Gobelins.
Examine the textile to determine whether it is a genuine antique tapestry. Antique pieces are made exclusively from natural yarns of natural plant or animal fibers, such as cotton, silk, or wool. Many antique tapestries also contain threads of metallic gold or silver.
Check the colors. Dyes on antique tapestries come from natural plant substances, such as indigo for blue and madder for red. Yarn dyed with natural vegetable colors will not fade in sunlight or undergo chemical changes. The colors in an antique tapestry should therefore be as vivid as when the tapestry was new.
Look closely at the pattern of the threads. Tapestries woven on a loom use a pattern of warp and weft threads. “Warp” is the name designating the threads stretched across the loom before the weaving begins, and “weft” refers to the threads woven into the warp. Tapestries are unusual in that all of the warp threads are completely invisible in the finished piece. Thus, an antique tapestry will appear to consist exclusively of weft threads that run across the textile.
Make sure the design is woven into the textile. Antique tapestries never have printed designs, and they won’t have any embroidered designs sewn onto an existing piece of cloth. Some embroidered pieces may look like authentic tapestries at first glance, so give any textile you encounter a thorough inspection. The maker of an antique tapestry would have dyed the yarn and woven threads into the tapestry itself to form the design.
Sell your antique tapestry to a reputable antique dealer or a tapestry or textile specialist. Experienced dealers can determine the age and make of an antique piece, as there are many distinguishing characteristics that mark a tapestry as belonging to a certain period. For example, tapestries tend to reflect the artistic tastes of a particular era, from floral ornamentations in medieval scenes to elegant Baroque presentations that resemble the paintings of the old masters.
Tapestries that seem to come from well-known makers or that feature popular images may be copies. Take your tapestry to a reputable dealer to determine its authenticity.
Sell an antique tapestry through a dealer unless you are certain of its value, since professional dealers will know the value of your antique tapestry. Selling online may result in lower prices unless you have had the piece properly appraised.