This old rug measures 4’10” by 3’7″. It’s in poor condition with all four edges frayed and some fairly threadbare areas. There are no obvious holes but if you hold the rug up to a window you can see some small areas where light shines through. Some diagonal lines in the weave with differential wear at each side might indicate repairs to cuts or tears, or might suggest that the rug has been folded for long periods: I’m not expert enough to judge. Frankly, the whole thing’s a worn-out mess.
I don’t know much about Eastern rugs but I do love to look at them, and occasionally, if I see one in an auction that I really like, and bidding is a bit slack, I’ll put in a low bid and sometimes get lucky. As a result I’ve picked up quite a few over the years, and just about every room in the house (bathroom included) now has one or two or more rugs adorning its floor. And some in the summer house. And a few rolled up under the bed in the spare room. But I don’t pay much for them: hardly ever more than a few tens of pounds.
Why then did I bid up to £130 – so much more than the amount I’d usually pay – for this dirty, threadbare and really not very attractive specimen?
Simple answer – because I had never seen anything remotely like it before, and that meant that I had to have it in order to find out about it.
You expect an Eastern rug, whether Persian or Afghan or Turkmen, to show some basic symmetry and logic, with a repetitive pattern featuring the use of standard local or regional motifs. Some are geometric and abstract, others contain representational elements depicting stylised or sometimes naturalistic flowers or animals.
But not this one. No sign of symmetry or logic. Against a rich red background it has an apparently random jumble of flowers, flourishes, arabesques and guls. It’s obviously a single rug woven all in one piece, and not a lot of bits and pieces of rug sewn together as a patchwork. But it looks as if a standard rug has been given such a good shake that all of its decorative elements have rolled around and been left totally higgledy-piggledy.
An irresistible challenge, but it didn’t take a huge amount of online research to arrive at a tentative identification which was subsequently corroborated by the very helpful Facebook group What is My Rug? (https://www.facebook.com/groups/rughub/) .
My rug is a Wagireh. It’s a sampler or blueprint, woven to demonstrate a range of standardised motifs and design elements for local weavers to use as patterns when making larger rugs and carpets. The weavers would count the stitches for each motif and then reproduce the design. Wagirehs were later replaced by paper patterns, but using a real rug as a sampler had the advantage of enabling the makers to inspect thickness and texture, dye colours, types of knot and all kinds of other rug-weaving technicalities that I’m not competent to describe.
Wagirehs were produced in a number of areas to show various weaving styles, but my one comes from Sultanabad in North-West Persia. It was probably made in the late 19th century by Ziegler & Company. Ziegler were a Manchester-based company who revived and revolutionised rug-making in Persia from the 1880s by introducing new standardised patterns and colours especially geared to the furnishing and interior design tastes of the late Victorian middle and upper classes in Europe and America. “It seems that the company was innovative, too, in producing small sample rugs (wagirehs) as models from which their weavers could work.”
You can read very interesting articles about the Ziegler company here: http://www.internetrugs.com/blog/the-elusive-ziegler-mahal/ and here: http://www.orientalcarpets.co.uk/zeigler-carpet/.
Old Ziegler carpets are very highly prized today. A superb example from the 1880s was sold here in Edinburgh in 2004 for £120,000. Wagirehs are rare and there are some specialist collectors willing to pay very large amounts for good examples. So, having researched the subject to my satisfaction, and having decided that the rug should be moved on (my floors being full and my distinct preference being for Turkmen rugs), I listed it on eBay at a modest opening price of £100, in the confident expectation that bidders from all over the world would rush to submit huge competitive bids.
Result? No bids. Not a sausage. Explanation? Well, it might have been a quiet time. Perhaps all the wagireh collectors and Ziegler collectors were away on holiday? Perhaps I should try listing it again? Or perhaps, and I suspect that this is the real explanation, the number of collectors out there is almost as small as the number of Ziegler wagirehs in existence, and those few have all already got an example which is in much better condition than mine. So they are not interested in buying my old threadbare one however cheap it might be offered. Another instance where something that had great promise to be random treasure turns out not to be after all.