IN Persia the art of rug-making has attained a very high degree of excellence, having been practised there during many centuries ; indeed, the exact period when this industry was introduced into that country is not known. Tradition has it that long before the days of Alexander the Great, rugs were woven at Shuster, then the capital ; and being a luxury, they were woven solely for kings' palaces, and on the finest gold warp.
The Persians having been an industrious and civilized people for many centuries, and a large proportion of them having been accustomed to the nomadic and pastoral life, it is a natural inference that love of gain and the demand from the growing towns for articles of beauty and luxury gave the wandering tribes the opportunity to utilize their wool by supplying the demand for rugs. Encouraged under the reign of Shah Abbas (1557-1628) the industry prospered. Various kings of Persia cultivated certain branches of art and industry, but Shah Abbas especially gave a decided impetus to rug-weaving. He had a particular fondness for the beautiful creations of this industrial art, and the rugs made during his reign bring fabulous prices. After his death a reaction followed. Rugs fell into comparative disuse, and the manufacture deteriorated until about 1850, when, thanks to the demand in Europe, the industry revived. Today it is in a flourishing condition and the most important source of Persia's income.
Persians, from the Shah to the peasant, sit upon rugs when eating, with cushions placed behind them. It is only the lowest beggar who has no rug. The rugs used by the Persians themselves are rather small, the larger ones being exported to foreign countries. Usually the rooms of Persian homes are small, and narrow in proportion to their length ; consequently only small rugs are required. But even when the rooms are large, the Persians prefer several small rugs to one large rug, as a floor covering. They often first cove! the hard-beaten ground with a matting of split reeds, and then lay over this so many small rugs that the matting cannot be seen. This custom is becoming more and more common in Persia. With their taste in design and color, they produce beautiful effects.
The finest rugs are closely woven, with a pile like velvet, and with stitches on the back that resemble needlework. A rug has scarcely reached its prime until it has been down ten years ; and it should last for centuries, if carefully used. As a partial explanation of this wonderful durability, it should be remembered that in their own homes the Persians use their finest rugs for hangings, and also that they take off their shoes before entering the house.
In ancient days rug-weaving in Persia was generally restricted to Ispahan, Khorassan, and Shuster, but in modern times the most noted districts are those of Sultanabad, Fars, Hamadan, Feraghan, Bijar, Kurdistan, Khorassan, and Kirman. But the industry is so widely spread over Persia that there is not a class of women who do not live by it, and very often really fine pieces of work are produced in districts where the art receives no encouragement. The districts mentioned above are more noted for the quality of the rugs they produce than for anything else. The rug of each district has a peculiar character of its own, both as to the quality of the wool and the design. The peculiarities characterizing each district are so noticeable that an expert can generally tell at a glance where a rug was made.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to discover the exact value of the export and import trade of Persia. The source of this information is naturally the Customs Administration, which in Persia exists but in name. The duties of the ports and principal towns are farmed out to various persons, whose interest it is to send the inquirer away as ignorant upon the subject as he was before the interview began. But it is possible, after a great deal of labor in collecting statistics from the dealers of a particular article, to form an estimate probably not very far from the truth. By this method we judge that the average yearly export value of rugs in Aaragh (the Sultanabad district) is three hundred thousand dollars ; Hamadan one hundred thousand ; Bijar one hundred and ten thousand; Malair one hundred thousand dollars ; Kurdistan fifty thousand ; Fars seventy-five thousand ; Kirman and Khorassan one hundred thousand; and in the less known districts collectively, fifty thousand dollars. The total of these figures classes the rug export in the very first order of exports. It is plain that this amount does not represent the full value of the manufacture, inasmuch as a great. quantity of the goods does not leave the country. This quantity is perhaps small in comparison with that exported, but it is large enough to make the value nearly a million dollars.
It may be of interest to mention here that the export duty on rugs on the average is two and a half cents per square foot, and carriage to the seaports ten cents per square foot, while the import duty to the United States is fifty-five per cent of the wholesale market value abroad.
In Persia several firms have done a great deal in the way of encouraging the industry of rug-weaving in that country. To supply the demand for Persian rugs in Europe and America, these firms have erected buildings in Sultanabad, where they keep the weavers under control and steadily employed. These firms, having been long established, are conversant with the Persians and their character ; and to prevent any deception they pay the weavers by the piece instead of by the day.
The rugs produced by these firms are of the medium quality. The wool is bought in the rough and manipulated for use. Every day a quantity of it is given out to the laborers, who must reproduce the design placed before them, and each laborer is paid from two to four dollars per square yard, according to the quality of her work. In the service of these firms, the weaver is obliged to put aside her individual taste and follow closely the designs, which are prepared in accordance with the prevailing fashions abroad. The independent native weaver does not pay any attention to the taste of the buyer. She places her work in the local market, and the native merchant purchases it for exportation.
( Originally Published Late 1900's )