NEWCOMERS TO THE TORONTO CARPET TRADE
Armenian immigrants in the late 19th century established the first serious Oriental rug trade in North America to compete against the department stores. They were knowledgeable dealers, and generally could import better quality rugs through their connections in the Middle East than their competitors could.
Levon Babayan was the first Armenian dealer in Toronto. He opened Babayan's Limited in 1896 to sell, clean, and repair Oriental carpets. His company had representatives throughout the Middle East who secured rugs in bundles of 50 to 1000, ranging in quality from good to bad. A shipment typically took between four and six months to reach Toronto after travelling from the villages where they had been woven to Baghdad or to the Persian Gulf for shipment to Constantinople, where they were sent on to Europe and North America. Upon their arrival in Canada, the government imposed a 40 per cent duty on them. Generally rugs from India were not sold in Canada, but Babayan made them available to consumers who wanted to acquire them.
Babayan published The romance of the Oriental rug, a book that offers insights into the local rug trade of his day. He stressed the seriousness of the proper care of Oriental rugs, asserting that maintenance neither should be taken lightly nor entrusted to the care of household servants. In his opinion, the 'Persian process,' supervised by the 'native experts,' was the only reliable method of carpet cleaning.
In his book, published in 1925, Levon Babayan noted that 'Over the last 15 years the demand for Oriental Rugs has enormously increased throughout Canada, and the general public has been educated gradually to buy the better class of Rugs, such as Kirmanshahs, Sarouks, and Kirshans or rare Boukharas.'
Levon Babayan, c.1925.
(The romance of the Oriental rug.)
Title page from The romance of the Oriental rug, 1925.
Babayan's Limited Advertisement.
(Canadian Homes and Gardens, April 1929.)
DEPARTMENT STORES HANG ON
Despite competition from specialty shops, department stores continued to sell Oriental carpets. They sent their own buyers to the Middle East and dealt with carpet agents there to secure stock for their stores. Buyers from Toronto's Robert Simpson Company photographed these images in Turkey in the early 1930s.
Mr E.C. Budd and Mr Treloar, carpet buyers for Simpson's in the 1930s. Eric Budd was manager of the Oriental carpet department at the time.
Mr Budd riding a camel with a carpet; Mr Treloar is on the ground.
Young girls weaving carpets in Demirdji, Turkey.
(Estate of Eric Cecil Budd; City of Toronto Collection.)
IMITATION ORIENTAL RUGS
Spadina and other Toronto homes also possessed factory-made copies of Oriental rugs. An insurance inventory taken by Mary Austin in 1916 listed two imitation Persian carpets in the drawing room. These rugs were more affordable than authentic ones, but looked much like genuine floor coverings from the Middle East. While manufacturers may have replicated many of the physical qualities of true Orientals, they nevertheless could not capture the mystique and romance of the genuine article.
The April 1929 issue of Canadian Homes and Gardens declared, 'The Oriental Rug is Reproduced.' The Toronto Carpet Manufacturing Company had invented a machine-made rug that it claimed had the qualities of the real thing.
Toronto Carpet Manufacturing Company Building on King Street, east of Dufferin..
(Photograph by Neil Brochu)