Carpet names provide an identity of place, people or style, or all of these, based upon such elements as geography, colour, design and history. These names may refer to ancient cities, regional centres of weaving, villages and towns or the names of the people who weave them and are handed down from generation to generation.
This loose definition however seems not to apply to the carpet that became known as the ‘Ziegler’, a name that has developed great popularity in the past 25 years, but one which in fact had been in existence in the late 19th C into the 20th C. Learning just what is a ‘Ziegler’ requires some investigation.
History itself doesn’t offer much help but it is to history we must turn. There was indeed a company by the name of PH Ziegler & Company of England, which was engaged in the manufacture of hand loomed carpets from the 1880s until the 1930s in Persia (Iran) and possibly Turkey.In his book, ‘The Persian Carpet’ (Duckworth, Great Britain, 1953), the late A Cecil Edwards wrote about the Zeigler Company. Edwards himself was involved for nearly 50 years until 1947 in carpet production and exporting. He was intimately familiar with the early years of commercial carpet exports and he knew too about the works of PH Ziegler & Co.
Edward’s accounts offer an insight into the style, markets and the period when Ziegler was most active, and when the carpet industry was developing into a formidable force and influence in western countries hungry for the ‘mystique’ and legends of the Orient as represented in its carpets.
According to Edwards, at the time he arrived in Iran in 1880, there was actually very little carpet industry, a situation which developed following the invasion of Persia by Afghanistan in 1722. “An insignificant village industry” is what he observed. He further adds that carpets exported to the West before then were actually old pieces that had been woven for domestic sale. These well-to-do owners sold them on when they began to show wear, quite happy to sell these used carpets to the Europeans who were eager to buy them.
Here lies a clue about the evolution of a carpet style that a century later became popularised as a “Ziegler”. It is also an observation about Western taste which led directly to its creation, and its subsequent popularity that would bring the Oriental carpet into European and American homes on a very large scale. Though there was little knowledge in the West about Eastern carpets at this time, there was great fascination about all things Oriental in general stemming from the popular and widely received accounts by Western travellers to the ‘exotic’ East which still resonate today.
Westerners at that time had a taste for softened colours, which came with these old, used rugs. Similarly as the 20th century drew to a close the buying public was also developing a taste for soft colours much as they did a century before, shifting away from rich, deep, complex colours and visually demanding designs which resulted in the resurrection of a carpet style that began more in the previous century, but which had now at the end of the 20th century become a new genre of carpet.
It was about 1880 when supplies of old rugs had mostly disappeared in Persia with exports to Western markets drying up, that major developments in carpet weaving began in earnest on a commercial scale not seen before. Until this time, carpets were woven mostly for domestic use rather than for export. According to Edwards, it was the merchants of Tabriz who took the first steps to produce carpets specifically for export to Europe and America.
Within a few short years by 1875, local carpet producers of Tabriz had established themselves in the small town of Sultanabad in north western Iran, an area with a tradition of weaving. Soon PH Ziegler & Co set up shop here as well, eventually by 1900 having 2500 looms in more than 100 villages around the town, sending their production to London and New York.
There were three key elements that came into play at this time: First, Ziegler & Co and its competitors designed carpets specifically for the tastes of this new Western market; secondly, they were also taking orders from Western carpet sellers who knew their customers’ tastes; and thirdly, Ziegler & Co had their own dyeing plant enabling them to control the quality of the dyes for their innovative colour ways and designs which differed from the those carpets produced locally for domestic consumption.
Theirs was an influence that was to play a major role far beyond the immediate period for the next 55 years and beyond. What set Ziegler & Co apart from local, domestic carpet producers of the time was that they began designing carpets with European/Western tastes. This may well be the force majeure that created the modern Oriental carpet industry as we know it, beginning a new concept of carpet weaving to meet the specific tastes of a new, expanding Western market, one that carries its name today: the Ziegler carpet.
Annette Ittig (1995 HALI Magazine, London, No 80) drew upon archival references by an early Ziegler agency manager in Sultanabad at the time. Included here were several drawings and colour illustrations of designs. Here she notes that because there were no labels or inscriptions to specifically link the illustrations to the Ziegler Company, they could easily be products of other manufacturers who were also producing for this newly discovered Western market. There were competitors, notably P Holz & Co, and the Oriental Carpet Manufacturers of London (later to become OCM), who expanded into Turkey and India in the early 20th century, as well as others.
Ms Ittig points out that in addition to productions by Ziegler & Co there were many Western-designed carpets being woven by both Iranian and Turkish manufacturers in the same style during this period. Today it is impossible to know what is an authentic Ziegler, for we only know that they did exist. The simple reason is that as with popular art and fashions everywhere copies abound, and if popular enough, an entirely new art style is created. The Ziegler was just that: the beginning of a new style.
Oriental carpet weaving has evolved during the past century into a flexible industry responsive to market demands and known for its innovative abilities. The Ziegler is one such example.
In the late 20th century from the 1980s there appeared a style of carpet unknown to modern buyers and the carpet industry itself. The name ‘Ziegler’ became connected to this undefined style. But who first marketed these carpets with that name is not clear. What seems clear is that there was a growing taste for simple, spacious designs and light colours in home décor in Western homes for in a shift away from the rich, dark and complex patterning of ‘traditional’ Oriental carpets that had dominated the Oriental rug market for most of its life in the West where carpet buyers came face-to-face with an entirely new genre of carpet that seemed to meet an immediate and insatiable market demand.
In only a few years the resurrected Ziegler-named carpet became a major presence in the world market, with innumerable variations to colours, designs and interpretations. From humble beginnings it has now developed into a myriad of styles – this also raises the question of what characterises defines a Zeigler in the 21st century? There is no easy answer, but a few observations may assist here.
One most often cited colours today is a soft, biscuit-cream coloured main field, with soft complimentary colours throughout often in gentle swirling patterns in the way of some traditional ‘Persians’, or even Art Deco styles of palm fronds – soft blues, reds, greens and even blacks – all carrying the name “Zeigler” by their producers. Designs tend not to be overcrowded. Central medallions have given way to the all-over design of repeating latticed floral figures, large in relation to the borders. They appear to have been influenced by Safavid, Mughal and even Arts and Crafts designs, as well as the classic “Shah Abbas” and “Vase” designs of Persian and Indian carpets.
Knotting is almost entirely the Persian (single) knot. They range from An average density of 30×35 (95 knots/sq in) to fine 55×55 (275 knots sq inch). Warps and wefts are cotton, the wool pile will be either hand or machine spun. Afghanistan’s best quality wool is from Ghazni Province which is in high demand and sought after for the best Afghan rug weaving including that of the Ziegler styles, though other wools can be found in the lower priced carpets. In other weaving centres of India and Pakistan wools tend to be locally-sourced and imported such as durable Arab wool mixed with New Zealand Marino wool to create a lustrous appearance similar to the superior Ghazni wool of Afghanistan, though its qualities lack the depth associated with Ghazni wool.
Today the Ziegler is being woven primarily in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, with those from Afghanistan regarded by aficionados being amongst the best. However because of restricted export routes from the land-locked country, most Afghan rugs pass through Pakistan where they are relabelled, thus their reputation being usurped to the advantage of Pakistan. The 21st century Ziegler carpet has come a long way from its humble beginnings more than one hundred years ago.
These masterful creations from Afghanistan are more than a skill or craft, they are a living art. Perhaps it is because of the weavers’ closeness to the earth, the timelessness of the rural and uncluttered lives from which springs this heritage and conditions of a nation and people who have been at the crossroads of civilisations and their influences for a very long time.
1. Emmet Eiland ‘The elusive Ziegler-Mahal Rug http://www.internetrugs.com/blog/the-elusive-ziegler-mahal/
2. Antiques & Fine Art: http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=195