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Volume IX Number 1
January 1991

Sharp-eyed travellers and diligent bureaucrats are two prime sources concerning the carpets of the past. While Americans are occasionally in the former category, they are absent in the latter, with one apparent exception, presented here. A State Department circular of June 10, 1889, asked the U.S. Consular Service to report on the subject of carpet manufacture. The various consuls in Turkey responded with specific information:

"Report by Consul Emmet, of Smyrna. There are no factories, mills, or distinct establishments properly so-called in the districts of Asia Minor where carpets are woven.. .Nearly every house at Ushak, Ghiordes, and Conia has a loom; some have even two or three. These belong to the owners of the houses themselves. The weavers are all women and girls. The mistress of the house superintends the work of her daughters, or hired journeywomen and apprentices. The looms are of wood, roughly fashioned. A vertical or slightly inclined frame supports two horizontal rollers about five feet apart...There are now from 800 to 900 looms at Ushak, all worked by private owners in the courtyards or main rooms of their houses. At Ghiordes the number of looms is estimated to be about 300; at Coula, to be about 200.

"The proportion at Ushak is 70 per cent of carpets to 30 per cent of rugs and mats. The carpets vary in size from 12 feet by 9 feet to 50 feet by 25 feet, and in a few exceptional instances more. For a very large carpet, exceeding the last-mentioned dimension, a special loom would have to be constructed. The mats and rugs vary in size from 2 feet 9 inches by 1 foot 6 inches, to 11 feet by 8 feet.

"At Ghiordes it is estimated that the manufacture of carpets and rugs is about the same as at Ushak, while at Coula the proportion of mats and rugs is much larger, and it would not be an overestimate to say that 80 per cent. of carpets is the correct output of that section. The bulk of the looms at Coula are not wider than 5 to 7 feet.

"At Ushak, the number employed in the manufacture of carpets and rugs, including the dyers, is from 5,000 to 6,000. At Ghiordes and Coula the number varies from 1,500 to 6,000....The number of hands at work varies according to the season, as many work in the fields in summer and manufacture carpets in winter...

"At Ushak the dyeing, save in rare instances, is no longer performed by the weavers themselves, as in former times, but is carried on by a separate class (of men). Spinning is carried on by elderly women at odd moments, when not occupied with their household duties. The yarn is loosely spun, so as to allow the fibers to mix slightly together in the pattern and present a blended appearance. The washing of the wool is performed by men in the streams and combed and spun by women. The bulk of the wool is spun in the outlying villages of Ushak, etc. At Ghiordes the division of labor is similar to that of Ushak, while at Coula the spinning and dyeing is usually done by the weavers themselves.

"The carpet merchants in Smyrna have native agents at Ushak, Ghiordes, and Coula, who act as intermediaries between said merchants and the owners of the looms. These native agents are paid a commission carrying from 3 to 4 per cent., and their duties consist in superintending the carpets while in process of manufacture and accepting and delivering the same when completed. Advances are usually made to the owners of the looms, but total payment is not effected until the carpet is taken from the loom and measured. The price is fixed per Turkish arsheen or pike of 26 5/8 inches square.

"The bulk of the carpets and rugs made in the interior are for export and a very small portion of the whole remain in the country. Ushak turns out about 300,000 arsheens or pikes [1,500,000 sq. ft.] of carpets per annum. Ghiordes and Demardjik about 65,000 pikes [325,000 sq. ft.]; Coula 20,000 pikes [100,000 sq. ft.]. England imports about two-thirds of the whole product. America ranks next in importance, then France and Austria, and lastly, Germany and Italy.

"The Smyrna carpet dealers are either the special agents of the European consuming firms, and as such charge a commission varying from 3 to 5 per cent., or else they submit firm offers free on board at Smyrna, which would include such remuneration as they are able to secure for themselves....

"Sivas. Report by Consul Jewett. Owing to the want of any system of collecting statistics by the government or otherwise, it is impossible to give any very definite replies to the questions asked as to the number of establishments, looms, and persons employed in the manufacture of carpets.

"The carpets and rugs manufactured in this area... are entirely of wool. The industry is carried on by families in their own houses. There are no factories. It is impossible to say how many persons are employed. In almost every village there are a number of families who make carpets. Hand-looms only are used. Most of the work is done by women and young girls...Three to four piasters (14 to 19 cents) is considered a good day's wage...

"The dyeing, spinning, weaving, etc., are all conducted unitedly, the women of each family engaged in the business doing all the work from the spinning of the yarn by hand, dyeing it with vegetable dyes, to the weaving and completion of the carpet. The carpets seldom exceed 3 by 4 feet in size. The product is sold usually at home, being placed on the market, by the makers going from house to house, or by sending the carpets to Constantinople to be sold in the bazaars.

"There has recently been started in this city by two or three families the manufacture of a new style of carpet which is quite remarkable for the beauty and novelty of the patterns and the excellence of the finish. The prices asked for these are higher than has been usual, and average about 32 cents per square foot.

"It may be observed here that the common people invest their savings in carpets as the people of other countries do in savings-banks, handing them down from father to son, and selling one when hard pressed for money, so that one is often surprised to find in the poorest of homes a collection of very valuable rugs.

"Syria. Report by Consul Bissinger, of Beirut. There are no manufactories of establishments in the sense that those words are understood in industrial centers. Carpets are exclusively made by peasant women and girls, residing in villages located within the political subdivisions known as 'Hakkar', 'Hossu', 'Safita', and 'Hazzoor' in the Mutessarrifiate of Tripoli, Syria. The most important of these villages -- about a dozen in number -- is doubtless that of Haidamoor, about 30 miles east of Tripoli, which seems to excel all others in the quality, durability, and design of the carpets it produces. There is also a good quality of rugs made in a village called Fakeh or Fiki, which are marketed at from $8 to $20 per piece. Fakeh is distant about 25 miles from Baalbek, and politically belongs to the district of the same name in the Vilayet of Syria.

"Power looms do not exist in Syria, and although it has not been possible to ascertain the precise number of 'hand' looms, it may be approximately stated as 350 in all....To make the average-sized carpet, for instance, of 3 pics or 2 1/4 yards long by 2 pics, 1 1/2 yards wide, would consume at least six weeks of continuous or uninterrupted work, which is not possible, as the operator is a woman who has domestic duties to perform, besides devoting much time to field labor...

"Every loom has a female attendant or worker, who is sometimes assisted by a young girl, and the carpet industry in Syria is exclusively in the hands of women. Most of the rugs are made with a small square of some decided color, generally blue upon a black ground, placed in a very conspicuous place, intended to ward off the 'evil eye' .....The number of persons engaged in carpet-making in the Tripoli district is problematical, but probably does not exceed 500...Fairs are periodically held in 'Calaat-el-Hosson'...where merchants from Tripoli, Homs, and Hamath gather to make purchases...Unless picked up by tourists in their voyages along the coast, these rugs are exclusively marketed in Turkey by merchants from Tripoli, Homs, and Hamath.

"Early in this century [19th] a number of people from the vicinity of Broussa emigrated to the Tripoli and Hamath Mutessarrifiates, in Syria. These people were familiar with the art of making rugs and introduced the industry into the various villages in which they settled. The village of Haidamoor became especially celebrated for its rugs, and many specimens remain to testify to the beauty of design and color....the present inhabitants of this village...have entirely lost the original designs and coloring introduced by their Turkish ancestors.

"The rugs made to-day are of very inferior designs as compared with the ancient ones; the prevailing colors are usually red and black, varied occasionally crimson and black, with black or dark brown figures at both ends. In one village....the colors which predominate are red and green with white borders, having white circles about 2 inches in diameter with either red or green centers. A rude sort of carpet is the specialty of another village; it is from 20 to 30 feet long and 4 feet wide, made in stripes about 2 inches wide of brown color, alternating with a dingy yellow, black and a dirty white, the white and black being the natural colors of the wool.

"Until quite recently a beautiful rug of a brown or velvety black was manufactured, but is no longer to be seen....Blue, green, red, old gold, orange, and other colors were formerly extracted from roots, leaves, and barks of trees....but the introduction of cheap foreign dye-stuffs have now completely superceded them. Rugs vary in size from 2 feet square to 3 feet wide by 12 feet wide by 12 feet long." (1)

Just how the consuls gathered their information is unknown, and interpretation of the descriptions and details in these reports is the business of Turkish carpet experts. Highlights are: (1) that a described Syria product was marketed in Turkey; and, (2) that weaving in Sivas entailed all wool items with vegetable dyes. It is difficult to say what significance should be attached to the reports' omission of westernmost Asia Minor (e.g., Milas, Gordes), but the absence should be noted.


  1. U.S. Consular Reports, "Carpet Manufacture in Foreign Countries", GPO, 1890, pp. 307--312.
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