Whittall’s Bird of Paradise

Matthew J. Whittall had been a production supervisor in a large carpet mill in Worcester, Massachusetts—the bustling center of Nineteenth Century American rug manufacturing.  In 1874, he founded his own mill, M. J. Whittall and Associates, in a small building in Worcester.  Business took off!  Before long, he was buying the land next to his old employer and he built a new mill there.  When his former employer went out of business, Whittall expanded—eventually cobbling together a series of 23 buildings over the years.

Whittall’s handsome and durable wool carpets, which he sold under the name “Whittall’s Anglo-Persian Wilton,” were very popular in homes, theatres and hotels. Their exotic Orientalist designs and rich colors, made them perfect in all manor of architectural settings—from formal 19th Century period rooms to dramatic lobbies in the new Art Deco style.  President William McKinley ordered Wilton carpets for the White House.

Whittall was one of the first carpet manufacturers to use “programmed” looms (of a sort) to quickly produce his complex and colorful patterns.  Wooden “cards” were punched with holes which instructed the loom when and where to insert a particular color of wool yarn. These cards would be linked together (in a chain) and, as the cards were fed into the loom, the loom would insert the programmed color of yarn.

I’ve been collecting Wilton rugs for my own use for 25 years.  I found this little guy (53″ x 26.5″) in Western Pennsylvania.  Impressed with its good condition, I toyed with the idea of keeping it for myself.  Alas, I don’t have quite the right space for it and, rather than roll it up in a closet, I thought I should bring it to the shop so that it might find a good home.  Please come into the shop to see it.


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