Chinese Nichols Rugs

Chinese Nichols Rug, floral orb and corner work on blue ground

p4A ItemID F7977676
Chinese Nichols Rug, floral sprays on navy central panel

p4A ItemID F7977675
Chinese Nichols Rug, floral orb and sprandrels, urns and planters on blue ground

p4A ItemID F7977674
Chinese rug, early 20th century. Possibly a Nichols

p4A ItemID F7953419

Chinese Nichols Rugs

The Western demand for Chinese rugs began with an 1880 exhibition of Chinese rugs in Germany. In 1903 the new style Chinese rugs won first prize at the St. Louis International Exhibition. These new rugs featured wool which was shinier and finer and had a much shorter clip than traditional Chinese rugs.

Rugs in the Art Deco style were made from about 1910 to the late 1940′s. This “New Chinese Style” was dictated by foreign interests, especially American importers, in response to specific demands in the Western home fashion market. The new style rugs came in three types: the Peking type with its traditional blue, ivory and camel palette, the Tientsin type with more modern designs and lighter colors, and the Shanghai type using good quality local wool. The principal foreign firms dominating the production of these rugs were Nichblas, Fete, Shoemaker, and Nichols.

The most famous maker of these rugs was Walter Nichols. He is so well known, that many people generically refer to all Chinese Art Deco rugs as Nichols Rugs.

Born in New York City around 1885, Walter Nichols began his career in China circa 1920 as a wool grader. In 1924, he started his production of Nichols “Super Rugs” in the port city of Tientsin (Tianjin) in Northern China.

The “Super” quality designation of Tientsin rugs refers to the use of machine-spun pile yarn, mostly foreign-sourced wool, which gives the surface a characteristic regularity and luster. This grade was popular in the West, but does have its drawbacks as the surface must be brushed in one direction to look best and more easily shows footprints and blemishes than hand-spun pile yarn.

Rugs from the Tientsin area also differ in construction from those made in Beijing. While weaving the Tientsin rug, the knots are turned completely sideways. This way twice as many knots can be tightly packed into the same space. This creates a densely made carpet with a smooth finished back with a very stiff handle. Nichols combined this weaving technique with his knowledge of high grade wools to produce thick plush wool rugs like nothing before. Because of their fashionable designs, skillful construction techniques and quality materials these Nichols rugs were a great commercial success.

The success enjoyed by Nichols firm prompted others to copy his methods and designs in many, many hand-made carpet businesses throughout Northern China. The only way to know for certain that a rug was made by a specific company is if it still has it’s tag or stamp. Nichols marked his rugs, usually with a small three inch square piece of fabric sewn into one of the corners on the back. Today the tags are almost always gone because of abrasion and washing, but also because inside the tag, that worked like a pouch, the company placed colored wool tufts of all the colors used in the rug. People would rip off the tags to get to the color samples, so they could use them to shop for fabrics. Nichols also stamped his rugs along the white cotton fringe Made in China by Nichols. The cotton fringe wears faster than the wool pile and is often missing. acknowledges Allan Arthur Oriental Rugs of Atlanta, Georgia,, for much of the material in this reference note.

For further information see In Search of Walter Nichols, by Elizabeth Bogen, 1996, Museum Books, Inc. Allan Arthur Oriental Rugs, 25 Bennett St. N.W., STE A1, Atlanta.

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