Buying Directly from the Middle East, Shipping the Carpets and Conclusion

Buying Directly from the Middle East

Department stores purchased oriental rugs from wholesalers in Europe and North America or sent buyers to acquire them directly from the Middle East. In the early 1930s, Simpson's sent Eric Cecil Budd, manager of the oriental rug department at the Toronto store, on a buying trip to Turkey. Photographs taken during this journey were later displayed in the downtown showroom. They gave customers a glimpse of the exotic origin of the carpets and demonstrated the lengths to which Simpson's would go to stock quality items.

International buyers followed a specific protocol when acquiring carpets in the Middle East. Buyers were accompanied by rug brokers, who received a one per cent commission on sales. These brokers took the buyers to merchants at the "Khan," or warehouse, where rugs from surrounding villages were stockpiled. A low sofa, cushions, rugs, and a few low chairs were provided for the comfort of foreigners. Before business was conducted, the merchants inquired after the health of the buyers and served coffee, Russian tea, and cigarettes. The "narguleh," or water pipe, was also available for their enjoyment. The merchants were considered shrewd dealmakers.

By sending buyers to Turkey to deal directly with the warehouses, rather than with English or North American wholesalers, the department stores were able to purchase better quality rugs at lower prices.

The Turkish town Demirdji was a large manufacturing centre for good quality oriental rugs. Young girls sat at a large vertical loom, typical of smaller workshops. The paper pattern for the rug was hung at the side of the loom. The Sparta carpet was characterized by its heavy weave, durability, and design inspired by Turkish or Persian motifs.

At the warehouse, rugs were graded and washed on the floor using water and brooms. After chemical dyes were introduced to the rug making industry in the 19th century, rugs were often bleached in the sun to soften the harsh colours. Bleaching was thought to make the rugs more appealing to North Americans.

Shipping the Carpets

Once carpets were selected, they were packed in bundles of 50 to 1000, tied with hair rope, covered in canvas, and secured with iron bands. Each bundle contained a mixture of higher and lesser quality items. The cost of the bundle was calculated using an average price per square foot.

The packed bundles were then taken by camel to a railhead, loaded onto a boxcar, and transported to the nearest customs house and shipyard. From there, they were loaded by hand onto ships bound for Europe and North America. It took about six months for a shipment to arrive in Canada.


Photographs of the trip were displayed in Simpson's carpet department and certainly added to the mystique of the oriental rug. Special effort and consideration were required to sell the carpets both in the showroom and through mail-order catalogues. Given that no two rugs were alike, these items differed from other goods listed in the catalogues and were not obtained following usual mail-order procedures. The Simpson's catalogue gave customers living outside of major Canadian cities the opportunity to buy fine, quality oriental rugs not otherwise available locally.
by Neil Brochu

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans