Egyptian rugs are an anomaly, or so it seems to me. On one hand, just a few rugs and carpets from Egypt reach these shores each year, yet some of these are among the best rugs in the world.
Most people don’t think of Egypt as a source of Oriental rugs. New Egyptian rugs are almost never included in books on the subject because, first of all, new Oriental rugs of any nationality are rarely written about in books, and, secondly, Egyptian rugs today do not have a recognizable Egyptian ‘look’. Nearly all are based on Persian designs.
Egypt has a rug-weaving tradition that dates back to at least the sixteenth century. After a brief period of glory, though, it seems to have gone into abeyance until after World War Two. The birth of the handmade carpet industry in modern Egypt dates to the Egyptian Revolution in 1952, when the importation of carpets from Iran ceased.
As I was researching the current production of rugs in Egypt, I became aware that a very large Egyptian producer of rugs was just then planning to launch a new U.S. division. The Egyptian company is A. Moustafa, one of the earliest rug producers in modern Egypt starting operations right after 1952. Today, Moustafa employs thousands of weavers, young men and women who have reached 15 years of age and have completed nine years of schooling. For some, weaving is a family enterprise, but most are trained by the Moustafa staff.
Moustafa produces rugs and carpets in Persian designs with either Egyptian or Merino wool, or silk, in synthetic dyes and machine-spun pile. The Moustafa family denies that there are more than ‘six looms in Egypt’ weaving rugs with natural dyes. As this book goes to press, professional photographs are not available of the carpets the company will import to America, but we see glimpses of fascinating pieces on the loom or in the process of being finished. It will be interesting to see how a well-established Egyptian firm will fare in America as they jump into the decorative rug market.
The most respected American firm weaving rugs in Egypt is Megerian Brothers Oriental Rugs of New York. Indeed, Megerian is among the most respected of all rugmakers today. The Megerian family has been in various facets of the rug business since 1917, including the repair of antique rugs and carpets. Their orientation toward antiques and their perception that old carpets were becoming fatally scarce eventually led them to reproduce antique pieces.
Today, Megerian’s Egyptian production is almost exclusively in Sultanabad designs; that is, curvilinear, formal designs based on the weavings of the Sultanabad district of Iran around the year 1900. They are produced with a mixture of natural and chrome dyes and with handspun wool. People outside the family who are familiar with the production attest to the attention to detail lavished on every Megerian carpet. Each is inscribed in Armenian with the Megerian family name.