was long a commercially robust place. Thevenot (1656) mentioned
voluminous trade. (1) Galland (1672) noted a large traffic with
France. (2) Le Brun (1678) marked Smyrna as the first city for commerce
in the Levant. (3) A judgment at the very end of the 17th century
held that "Smyrna and Aleppo are now the chief Places in the
SMYRNA RUG TRADE
Volume VIII Number 3
"Smyrna is one of the biggest and richest cities of the
Levant", said Tournefort in 1700, noting the continual arrival
of caravans of silk from Persia, and of goat yarn from Angora. Its
exports were cottons and wools, and various natural products, together
with "...Rugs large and ordinary". (5)
The 18th century seems to be the story of the rise of the trading
importance of Smyrna, and of the decline of Aleppo, in considerable
part because of the Persian wars. Disruption of the Persia trade
was noted at Aleppo in 1738 by Pococke, who mentioned the large
amount of Persian silk which was shipped through Aleppo, with some
diversion, however, of trade to Smyrna. Pococke also identified
Smyrna's exports, among them raw silk, "Angoura", unwrought
cotton, and "Turkey carpets". (6)
Pococke not only was in Smyrna but also travelled through the Anatolian
interior from Smyrna to Angora, and furnished a fairly detailed description
of the sources of the weaving which funneled through Smyrna: "In
the country between this (Kara Hissarj and Smyrna, they make most
of the Turkey carpets, particularly the largest at Oushak, three days
journey from Carahissar, and at Goula two days further, and about
a place called Goirdus twenty miles to the south west of Goula, and
towards Akissar, the old Thyatina; but further east they make mostly
that sort, which are called Turcoman carpets, without nap, and in
broad stripes and figures." (7)
De Tott (1755) accorded Smyrna flat-out trade primacy. (8) The Hollander,
Flachat (c. 1760) characterized the city as the port which brought
Asian goods to Holland, was the manufacturing site of plain cotton
cloth, and was a locale for considerable madder cultivation. (9)
Flachat also provided a statistic which helps keep the rug trade
in perspective. The ten Netherlands ships which sailed from Smyrna
on October 17, 1755 contained "44 bales of rugs and 1 bale of
striped rugs" out of a total cargo of 6991 bales, or less than
One of the best of the summaries of the Levant trade was submitted
by the returning British ambassador, Grenville, in a manuscript report
rendered in proper French and dealing in concrete particulars with
English trade for the period 1762--1766. He commented on the "complete
devastation" of Persia and the drying up of the Aleppo trade;
he mentioned the importation of cochineal and indigo through Smyrna,
and listed its principal exports of stuffs, yarns, satins, silks,
including the shipment of carpets, and something of their origins:
"In the neighborhood of Smyrna, at Magnesia are made many Rugs,
which they sell a very large Quantity in Turkey, and many go to Christianity..."
(11) Pococke gave Magnesia's contemporary name as "Guzelhissar
"; this city was earlier, c. 1680, identified as "great,
populous, and rich, from the Trade it driveth in Cotton." (12)
St. Priest's summary review of the manuscript reports of French
ambassadors over the period 1525--1770 included Smyrna imports and
exports, and described the then current situation of about 1780. Cochineal
was among the imports; cottons and wools were a Smyrna product and
principal export, among them "wools in herringbone pattern",
more extensively than at Aleppo, which because of "the troubles
of Persia" was not exporting many of them. Also on the Smyrna
export list were "covers and rugs". (13) Sonnini at the
same time listed as exports: spun cotton, silky Angora fleeces, Persian
silk and carpets, drugs, and dry raisins. (14)
Smyrna trade primacy continued in the 1780's. Lusignan, writing
from there on December 6, 1785, remarked that "Commerce is carried
on with great alacrity and spirit..." (15) Sauveboeuf, in the
East from 1782 to 1789, termed Smyrna "the most brilliant entry
port of the Levant". (16) D'Ohsson, Armenian Ottoman and long-time
secretary in the Swedish embassy, wrote his great work on Turkey when
he left in 1784, and on two occasions cited rug manufacture at Smyrna.
Hunter's 1792 list of Smyrna exports consisted of cotton, sheep
and goat wool, yarn, mohair, silk, madder roots, yellow berries, and
carpets. (18) Cotton and local madder not unsurprisingly came together:
"Cotton at Smyrna is dyed with madder in the following manner:--The
cotton is boiled in mild alkali, and then in common olive oil; being
cleaned, it will then take the madder dye: and this is the fine colour
we see in Smyrna cotton-yarn." (19)
A year later Oliver drew up a typical list of Smyrna exports --
wool in herringbone weave, camel wool, dyed and undyed spun cotton,
rabbit pelts -- and noted that prior to "the troubles" of
Persia there was a considerable inflow of Gilian, Shirvan, and Azerbaijan
silk to Smyrna and Constantinople, but that for some time this material
had been going up the Caspian to Russia. (20) He also talked about
rug origins, mentioning Konya as the source of "rugs like those
of Persia", along with the city of "Asheer", which
he thought was ancient Antioch: "The things which they export
from this city, and which pass to Smyrna, consist of wool, wax, "adragaut"
and walnut galls; several quite handsome rugs also pass through."
When at the village of "Cara Hissar" he observed, that "Here
they make rugs, several fabrics..." (21)
Another glimpse of the carpet production in the hinterland behind
Smyrna is that of Dallaway (1794), who remarked that "cotton
is the chief article" of such places as Magnesia and Pergamus,
and that "Ushak is situate near Apamea, and the source of the
Meander. In that district the asion [sic], or liquid opium, is made
in great quantities. It is likewise the seat of the manufacture of
carpets, which are so considerable a branch of merchandize at Smyrna;
and the excellence of Phrygian tapestry is continued to the present
Both Smyrna trade and Smyrna as a rug source were still in evidence
at the end of the 18th century. Eton, c. 1795, characterized Smyrna
as the sole Ottoman city which had not lost population and as the
"only place of considerable trade in Turkey". Eton also
recorded a low opinion of Turkish weaving: "Is it not matter
of astonishment, that since the first establishment of their manufactory
of carpets, they have not improved the designs, and particularly as
they are not forbidden to imitate flowers? The same may be said of
their embroidery, and of the stuffs made at Prusa [Bursa], Aleppo,
and Damascus. Their carpets owe their excellency only to the materials
they are made of." (23)
Writing of his experiences at Constantinople in 1800, Clarke grumbled
about the poor quality of its bazaar and remarked, "Ask for a
Turkish carpet, you are told you must send for it to Smyrna."
(24) Trade and rugs continued through the first quarter of the 19th
century, but the Napoleonic Wars caused some shifting of trading partners.
Hobhouse wrote, for the years 1809 and 1810, that English direct trade
had "nearly ceased", (25) and that American ships had begun
to trade at Smyrna, still the "most considerable" city of
Turkey. (26) By 1811 Americans ships were supplying the Smyrna market.
The Englishman, Allom, writing of the 1820's, commented on Smyrna's
strong export and import trade with the French, the importation of
indigo and cochineal, and the arrival of caravans from Persia with
raw silk and various drugs. (28) At about the same time an anonymous
American author had a good bit to say of US trade with Turkey via
Smyrna, citing the chief U.S. imports as opium and drugs, madder,
raw and manufactured silks, and, recently, wool. He commented on the
"Turkey carpets which he had seen in Smyrna, "principally
manufactured at Oushah, or Hisshah, about 140 miles west from Smyrna."
Indigo and cochineal were still among Smyrna imports. His report indicated
that during the year 1831 U.S. trade with Smyrna had involved 27 ships
with an import value of $3.5 million and an export value of $8.0 million.
That Smyrna was entrepot for the West is not of great consequence.
What is helpful, however, is the fact the trade is described at intervals
over a long period of time with the rug component regularly mentioned.
An overall context -- a rug export worthy of notice over a 130-year
period -- is established. Along with this, the trade commentary quite
adequately identifies the weaving area producing the rugs. Amid the
descriptions there are numerous details, several from multiple sources.
The array of information permits weeding out of likely errors, such
as Smyrna itself being a weaving site (d'Ohsson), or the port's being
involved with Persian carpets (Sonnoni). Interesting, as well, is
the lengthy importation of insect red dye.
There results a rather consistent picture. Two carpet types -- large
and common -- are in the export trade in 1700, and rugs from Ushak
and Kara Hissar are still a factor in 1831. Magnesia and Ushak make
regular appearances, with the rugs of the latter bearing Pococke's
1738 notation, "the largest", giving Ushak, perhaps, a bit
more interest than the other place names. Pococke's description is
a seemingly thorough listing of origin points, and the "Turcoman"
-- a then current generic term for nomad -- carpet description is
an apt characterization of Anatolian kilims.
The various accounts show the effects of events -- both the Persian
and the Napoleonic wars -- and suggest that events preceding the War
of 1812 may have influenced what comprised American rug imports, for
it is hard not to speculate, given all the Ushaks at Winterthur and
those underfoot in some of the paintings portraying the founding fathers,
how a portion of these carpets might have arrived in America.
Eton's complaint at the end of the 18th century may be a significant
clue. The assertion is that designs did not change. The regular export
of carpets over the period seemingly rules out production stoppages
and revivals, one of the ways designs change. Thus it may be possible
to speculate that early 19th century carpets may have had much the
same appearance as those of the early 18th century.
While Smyrna trade descriptions do not reveal rug appearances, this
record does provide a quite clear view of the origins of Turkish rugs
exported during the 18th and early 19th centuries, and offers food
for thought concerning their nature.
Jean de, The Travels of M. de Thevenot into the Levant,
trans. A. Lovell, London, 1687, p. 92.
d'Antoine Galland, ed. and annotated, Chas. Schefer, Paris,
1881, Vol. II, p. 152.
- Le Brun,
Corneille, Voyage au Levant, Paris, 1725, p. 84.
George, A Journey Into Greece, London, 1682, p. 245.
Relation d'un Voyage du Levant, Lyons, 1727, 2nd ed. revised
and corrected, Vol III, p. 370 ff. Research Report translation.
Richard, A Description of the East, London, 1743, Part
I, p. 151; Part II, p. 38.
- de Tott,
Francois, Memoires, Amsterdam, 1784, p. 170.
Jean-Claude, Observations sur le Commerce et sur les Arts,
Lyon, 1766, p. 326, p. 338.
Henry, Observations sur l'etat actuel de l'Empire Ottoman,
ed. A. S. Ehrenkreutz, Ann Arbor, 1945, p. 48--68. Research
op.cit., p. 238.
L'Ambassade de France en Turguie, ed. and pub. Chas. Schefer,
Paris, 1877, p. 336, p. 341.
C. S., Travels in Greece and Turkey, London, 1801, p. 328.
S., A Genuine Voyage to Smyrna & Constantinople, 2nd ed.,
London, 1801, p. 30.
Memoires de Voyages, Paris, 1790, Vol. II, p. 232. Research
d'Ohsson, Ignatius, Tableau General de L'Empire Othoman,
Paris, 1788, Vol. III, p. 172, p. 227.
William, Travels, London, 1798, p. 194.
- Eton, William,
A Survey of the Turkish Empire, London, 1798, p. 227.
G. A., Voyage dans L'Empire Othoman, L'Egypte et la Perse,
Paris, 9 (1800), Vol. 2, p. 345.
Vol. VII p. 393, p. 396/7, p. 402. Research Report translation.
James, Constantinople, London, 1797.
- Eton, W.,
A Survey of the Turkish Empire, London, 1799, p. 214/15,
Edward, Travels: Russia, Tartary, & Turkey, Philadelphia,
1811, p. 553.
John C., Journey Through Albania, London, 1833, Vol. II,
- Galt, John,
Voyages & Travels, London, 1812, p. 373.
- Allom, Thos.,
Constantinople, London and Paris, n.d., Second Series,
- DeKay, James,
Sketches of Turkey in 1831 and 1832, New York, 1833, variously,
but especially pp. 191, 491, 494, 497.
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