Lessons from Oriental rug history

In 1913, G. Griffin Lewis wrote that rug-making in the Middle East was just about finished. At an average of about $2.50 per square foot, oriental rugs had priced themselves out of the market. The end was in sight.

It is true that the rug industry in the Middle East had been staggered by the West’s reaction to aniline dyes and then by World War I, when demand for oriental rugs nearly disappeared. When the industry recovered, it was belted by the Great Depression. It struggled to its feet and was hit by World War II. Demand from the West fell out from beneath the market in each of these crises and then again when America discovered the wall-to-wall carpet.

But there is a strange vitality to the rug market. When all else fails, says A. Cecil Edwards, the Persians (and others) turn to rug making. Merchants look for opportunities; weavers look to making a living.

So rugs keep being made. I take joy in the thought that the history of oriental rugs just keeps rolling along, bigger than all of us. In the world there may be 10,000 rug dealers and scholars and serious collectors while there are perhaps 80,000 people engaged in making oriental rugs. With or without the dealers and scholars and collectors, rugs will keep getting made.

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