We have two new additions to our home: two Oriental rugs that were originally owned by my grandparents. When my dad died in 2013, it took my siblings about a year to clear out and divide all the contents of two houses. One was the house in which we grew up, in Southern California. The other was a townhouse in Las Vegas. It was bought by my grandparents in 1980, when they decided to leave New York City and retire to Vegas. Las Vegas was closer to the rest of the family in California, yet had its own attractions (Grandma loved the one-armed bandits).
When my grandmother died in late 2000, my dad inherited the Vegas townhouse, with all of its contents. And there were a lot of contents. My grandmother, while they were still in New York, used to buy and sell all kinds of goods to make extra money. For example, when we went through the townhouse, we found a tremendous variety of stuff, and good quality stuff, too. Mink coats. Designer dresses. Steiff teddy bears. Unopened bottles of Chanel perfume, bought in 1950. Plus a ridiculous amount of housewares, like sheet sets, dishtowels, and the like. Not to mention lots of furniture, and the two Oriental rugs.
My dad inherited it all, and he kept the Vegas townhouse, using it as a place to stay when he took trips to Vegas (his main recreational activity, plus he had a girlfriend there). But in terms of the stuff in the house, rather than deal with it, he chose to leave it all intact for us to handle. He did exactly the same thing with the California house after our mom died in 1989; some of the closets in the house literally had not been opened since then. And the garage was a black hole of More Stuff. In the exact mischievous words of one of his notes to us: “Good luck going through all this stuff in both houses!”
As an aside: when my sister, brother-in-law, and brother dug into the California garage, way at the back they found a vintage refrigerator, still plugged in and running, containing cans of dog food meant for a pet that died when I was in college. Like I said, a black hole of stuff.
We picked up one of the rugs when we visited my sister and brother-in-law in Las Vegas right after Thanksgiving, and drove it back home. We found a local guy who specializes in cleaning and repair of fine rugs, and he did a great (not cheap, but it needs an expert) job cleaning that rug, which ended up in our dining room. Given that the rug had almost certainly never been cleaned, it needed decades of dirt and the Grandma’s House smell removed. Here’s what it looks like in our dining room. It’s 9 by 12 feet, and nice and thick.
Looking under the (rug’s) skirt
The rug still had a stock tag pinned to it, and I wanted to know more about its provenance. I Googled the seller, Pande-Cameron, wondering if they were still in business. Turns out that they are; I called them and spoke to the owner in Seattle. He’s the third-generation owner of the business. He told me that the branch of their company in New York that sold the rugs to Grandma closed in the 1990’s, but after I sent him some pictures of the dining room rug, he was able to tell me that it was made in China in the 1920’s or 1930’s, by a man named Walter Nichols. Further searching found this history of Nichols. Our rugs have the stencilled HAND MADE IN CHINA BY NICHOLS legend on the back of their skirts, which is the key imprimatur.
Based on that article, which talks about how designs on the Nichols deco rugs became simplified over time (losing borders and such), I’m guessing that the rugs we have were made prior to that simplification reaching its apex. Our rugs have fringes and intricate borders. So they were made in maybe the late 20’s or early 30’s. I’m guessing my grandparents probably bought them shortly after the rugs were imported to New York from China.
The second rug has recently arrived, and it’s still being cleaned. It’ll go in our living room in the next week or so.
It’s nice to be able to give a home to some of these things that have been in my family for more than 80 years. We’ll be their steward for a while, then they’ll go on, I hope, to people who will love and enjoy them as much as we do.