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Treasures: Whimsical 19th century rug is a fine piece

This 150-year-old rug is gorgeous, but care needs to be taken if it is hung on a wall.
This 150-year-old rug is gorgeous, but care needs to be taken if it is hung on a wall. TNS

Q: Family lore says this hooked rug was created by either Emily or Ellen Chandler who lived in Milan, New Hamphire, in 1865. The pieces traveled to the Hodgdon family, who lived in Berlin, New Hampshire, and resided there for about 130 years. The rug has a jute backing with a repair on the back and some of the edges are frayed. The size is 54 by 81 inches and I would like to hang this piece in my home in Atlanta. Any thoughts? And what would be the insurance value?

M. C.

A: Today we seem to live in a disposable society. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, many commodities we might take for granted today were precious. Our ancestors took the maxim “waste not, want not” to heart, and our prudent ancestral homemakers lived by it.

Prior to 1800, most floors in America were bare. Imported fabrics were very expensive, and most domestic materials had to be painstakingly made from wool, flax or occasionally cotton. Most of the cloth that was made was used for either clothing or bedding, and only the wealthiest of families could afford to import floor coverings, which more often than not were actually used on tables or chests.

Prior to 1800, most floors in America were bare.

When the textiles a family did possess became worn out, they were put in “rag bags.” Some were turned into strips of cloth that could be used to make small floor coverings. Jute fibers from India began coming into the U.S. in the early 19th century as coffee sacks and industrious individuals would hook strips of fabric from their rag bags into these strong jute backings to create warm, useful, colorful and sometimes whimsical floor coverings.

Genealogical research reveals an Emily Hodgdon Chandler (1840-1920) of Milan, New Hampshire. Having this piece of historical information gives some confirmation to the 1865 date and adds a bit of interest and context to this piece, which are factors that can be very important to collectors.

The floral cornucopia design seen on this rug is a common feature on 19th century hooked rugs, and it symbolically reflects the bounty of the land. Surrounding the cornucopia is a border of diamonds and triangles with figural corners that appear to have an abstract floral design. This is also typical of the period, as is the brown coloration.

This is a large and heavy piece to hang, which means the entire carpet needs to be attached to an acid-free backing so the entire piece is supported and will not tear because of the weight of the object. Also, make sure to keep the room in which it is kept at a constant temperature with no extreme swings, and keep it out of direct sunlight to avoid fading of the fabric.

This is a fine piece and has an insurance value between $3,000 and $4,000.

Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email treasures@knology.net. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.

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