Excerpt from the Book

Rugs in the City – Seventy-five Years of the Hajji Baba Club of New York

Thomas J. Farnham

In the preface to her 1966 history of the Hajji Baba Club, a volume that has been of enormous help to me, Olive Olmstead Foster explained her reasons for writing it: “After the death, in October 1959, of Arthur Urbane Dilley, the founder and prime mover of the Hajji Baba Club, the officers expressed the wish that a factual history of the Club might be compiled. My offer to undertake this assignment was accepted.”

As I have examined this same topic, my perspective has been different from Mrs Foster’s. While I was obviously

obliged to operate within the factual framework of the Club’s past, my history is better described as an interpretive rather than a factual one, my ultimate aim being to assess the Club’s role in shaping attitudes about carpets and carpet collecting in New York City and beyond. Like most professional historians, I believe that a person or event or institution is important only to the extent to which that person or event or institution has brought about change.

farnham1.11.1 Detail of plate 107, ‘Kuba’ Carpet, shown to the Hajji Baba Club in 1940.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Gift of Joseph V. McMullan, 1956, no. 56.217.

To examine the history of a club whose most noteworthy achievement was to have provided some extraordinarily good times for its members, as commendable as that might be, would, from my point of view, be essentially a waste of time. The history of the Hajji Baba Club is, I am convinced, the history of a serious and significant organisation. Certainly its members have enjoyed and still do enjoy each other’s company – in many instances to the point of establishing life-long friendships. Furthermore the Hajjis have been and continue to be excited and edified by the programmes presented at the Club meetings. But these factors, while obviously vital parts of the Club’s appeal, are not what make it important. It is important because, as my research has led me to believe, it has initiated important changes in the ways collectors look at antique Oriental carpets.

I am not a zealous carpet collector, but I do have a keen interest in the changing tastes of those who are. Understanding these changing preferences requires acknowledging that taste hinges on much more than taste. By that I mean changing attitudes about the desirability of certain carpets are often the result of factors that are unrelated to the carpets themselves. Choices that are at first glance highly personal are often not that at all. Particular individuals play an important role in promoting changes in taste. Specifically, dealers have performed a much larger part than many collectors are willing to acknowledge.

Without endorsing a simple conspiracy theory, one cannot overlook the question of possession and gain. The great nineteenth-century Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini could acquire Classical carpets for little more than pocket change and, because of his reputation as ‘the prince of the antiquarians’, could sell them for prices that placed them beyond the reach of all but the very wealthy.

He decided which carpets were beautiful and which were not, and the market responded accordingly. Bardini, who happened to become involved with carpets at a very early date, the 1870s, was the first but not the only dealer who exerted such vast influence. When figures of the stature of New York dealers such as Dikran Kelekian (fig. 1.13) or Henry J. Duveen spoke, collectors paid close
attention. Great dealers can and have made judgments that change the aesthetic hierarchy. Scholars too have been influential. By 1932, when the Hajji Baba Club came into
being, certain carpets had already been canonised. These were, as those familiar with the subject will agree, Classical Persian, Indian, and ‘Persian-style’ Turkish carpets, by which I mean Turkish carpets that were not too ‘Turkish’ in character, most likely Ottoman court carpets. While this was completely in line with Bardini’s opinions, reached in the 1870s and with which other dealers in subsequent decades would agree, these carpets became only fully sanctified when the organisers of the Vienna Carpet Exhibition of 1891, and various art historians, in particular Wilhelm Bode and Alois Riegl, reaffirmed that verdict in their pioneering studies.Collectors, as a group, obviously play an essential role in confirming the opinions of dealers and scholars; clearly if collectors, the people with the cheque books, refused to listen to the opinions of dealers and scholars, those opinions would be meaningless. On certain occasions individual collectors have forged ahead of dealers, scholars, and other collectors to become trendsetters, the tastemakers. And this role, of enormous aesthetic and commercial importance, is one the Hajji Baba Club has, during its seventy-five years, played with profound impact. It has done so, as I hope the following pages will reveal, by simply remaining true to the goal established by its founders: “to promote the knowledge and appreciation of Oriental rugs as an art.”


Dilley1.2 Arthur Urbane Dilley

Arthur Dilley (fig. 1.2) had, during the years just prior to 1932, become so preoccupied with his writing and so intent on avoiding interruptions that even after his book, Oriental Rugs and Carpets, A Comprehensive Study, had finally arrived on bookstore shelves in 1931, he remained solicitous of his privacy, consistently reluctant to respond to any interruptions at his place of business, the Architect’s Building at 101 Park Avenue in New York (fig. 1.3). Dilley later described one particular scene that was played out there during the early months of 1932: “There was a knock at my office door. During the years I was engaged in writing… I spent office hours in conference with facts. To callers I was out of town. Now with the book on the market, in the depths of the Great Depression, trying to extract fifteen dollars from the empty pockets of rug collectors, I said to myself: ‘If he knocks three times I’ll let him in.’ There is a second knock; then an imperative third. I open the door to a wealth of friendship far beyond the luck of most men.” 1 Given his livelihood – Oriental rug dealer – one might have expected that Dilley, eager to find a customer with cash in his pocket, would have answered the door more promptly. But he was hardly a typical carpet dealer. Born in 1873 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he received his education at Harvard – an A.B. in 1897 and an M.A. in 1899. By chance, during his undergraduate years, he resided in 33 Hollis Hall, the same room that Henry David Thoreau, the nineteenth-century author, had once occupied. Dilley attached great significance to this coincidence, believing that he, like Thoreau, possessed the gifts that would one day make him a writer – not just a scribbler but an author of importance.
Proud of his Thoreau connection, as far-fetched as it might have been, he was prouder still of having attended Harvard. One might even say that of Harvard’s many thousands rarely missed an opportunity to explain to anyone who would listen what a Harvard education meant: “English from Chaucer to Copeland, philosophy from Plato toWilliam James, comparative religions from Confucius to Dean Everett, civilization from Herodotus to Hart, cosmology down to Shaler, political economy up to Taussig, together with liquid sustenance as linguists and chemists contrived to inject, constituted the neurosis I contracted to win a kindly comment from James, a salutary fracture from Gardiner, a train ride with Royce, and a chair next to Booker T. Washington while having our shoes shined.” In only one area, he confessed, was his education even slightly lacking: “Despite he permeating influence of Charles Eliot Norton… I knew on leaving Harvard, only as much art as was assimilated from Burckhardt, Von Reber, Hamlin, and Tolstoi.” 2 This was a gap he intended to fill.From Harvard, Dilley travelled to the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, where he had accepted a position teaching English. In his spare time, he tried to remedy the gap in his education: “Examples of the fine arts worthy of the name always had fascinated me, but not until the Taft School days did I come intimately into contact with intelligent fastidious collectors. Two masters concentrated on etchings, a third on Japanese prints, and a fourth on old books and first editions. Stamps and coins,” he continued, “each had an apologetic but tenacious votary. One art only, antique Oriental rugs, had unanimous approbation. When Mumford’s book [John Kimberly Mumford, Oriental Rugs], published in 1900, became a school text, what course could the young English master pursue? Put up a fight for British Wiltons and Axminsters?” 3

farnhamfig1.31.3 In 1932 Dilley’s rug gallery was located in The Architect’s Building, 101 Park Avenue, seen in this 1931 rendering by Morris & O’Connor, Architects.

In 1903, good fortune, in the shape of a $10,000 inheritance, allowed Dilley to abandon the Taft School and to devote his full attention to Oriental rugs. He moved to Boston and opened a carpet store, a seemingly strange choice for a man who had anticipated making his living with his pen. But he failed to see the contradiction, because he planned to sell rugs in his own unique way, one that bore little resemblance to the methods used by his competitors.

From the first, Dilley intended to find customers not by hawking rugs but by studying them and sharing what he learned with as many people as would listen to what he had to say, hoping all the while that some of those who listened would become his customers (fig. 1.4). He later described how he put his plan into operation: “Beginning in 1904, events moved fast. The august Boston Society of Architects needed a speaker at the annual dinner, and the art of Oriental rugs was the current topic of discussion.Would I oblige?… Whether the excellent wine, savory sauce, elegance of the art, or revelation of spoken word or a combination of these excesses was the motivating cause, the ovation that followed created a career. The result was fifty-seven lectures, quite unsolicited, within two years, before the Arts and Women’s Clubs of New England; and so great was public interest that twenty-two years later the Jordan-Marsh Company [a Boston department store] paid $2,500 for two weeks of lecture service,” all of which meant, as he, never one to underestimate his own accomplishments, described it, “a New England Renaissance of Oriental art.” 4

In 1908, Dilley’s shop was visited by a customer who would be as instrumental in shaping his career as were his well-attended lectures. The customer was James Franklin Ballard of St Louis, Missouri (fig. 1.5), a wealthy manufacturer and pitchman of patent medicines that could, according to his oft-repeated claims, cure any medical problem from psoriasis to cancer to the common cold.

On a visit to New York in 1905, Ballard happened to wander down Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) where a small Oriental rug in a dealer’s window captured his attention.

Although totally ignorant of rugs, he found this particular object intriguing. He entered the shop and asked about the rug and its price. When the dealer explained that he was asking $500 for it, Ballard declared such a figure to be absurd and walked out. But unable to stop thinking about it, he returned the next day and, after convincing the dealer to relent slightly in his price, bought the rug. That was the beginning. For the next twenty years, he acquired rugs at a furious pace, developing a collection that probably rivalled any private collection in the world, and, once satisfied with what he had gathered, began donating his rugs to his favourite museums: one hundred and twentysix went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (chosen because he believed more people would see his rugs there than at any other museum in the United States) in 1922 and, in 1930, another sixty-nine became the property of the City Art Museum of St Louis.

Ballard was Dilley’s best customer. But more important to his career, as well as to the history of the Hajji Baba Club, was his influence in convincing Dilley, in 1914, to move his business from Boston to New York, and in later persuading him to travel with his carpets and to lecture about them (fig. 1.4). Beginning at the Metropolitan Museum in 1919, they made stops at various museums across the country, a task for which Ballard compensated Dilley handsomely.

Once in New York, Dilley continued to do what he had done in Boston – buy and sell rugs, consult with collectors, and lecture. He maintained detailed records of his speaking engagements, listing them in various categories such as women’s clubs, museums, art clubs, and schools and colleges. The lectures were as much a source of pleasure and pride for him as they were a successful marketing tool.

During his Boston years, Dilley, who had maintained his literary ambitions despite his rug business, had written two books, really pamphlets, about rugs, How Oriental Rugs Are Sometimes Sold, which appeared in 1906, in which he sought to expose some of the deceitful techniques employed by unscrupulous dealers, techniques he asserted would disappear “only with the increase of the essential knowledge of rugs among buyers,”5 and in 1909, Oriental Rugs, a brief introduction to the subject which he hoped would provide some of that essential information.

fig1.4c1.4 (above & below) Three of the brochures Arthur Dilley
used to promote his lectures on Oriental rugs.

Having firmly established himself in New York and having written dozens of lectures on a whole range of carpet-related topics, Dilley began to consider a major work on the subject. During the 1920s, rugs were a hot topic and, given the commercial success that Charles Scribner’s Sons had enjoyed with Mumford’s Oriental Rugs – an immediate triumph in 1900 and by the 1920s in its fourth printing – Dilley had good reason to believe he could sell them the idea of offering another book on the same subject. He signed a contract with the publisher while both the United States economy and interest in rugs were dashing along at top speed, but unfortunately the Great Depression arrived before his book appeared, which meant that it, unlike Mumford’s work, tended to sit on bookstore shelves.
But poor sales – only a thousand copies during its first two years in print – failed to dampen Dilley’s enthusiasm for his work. He thought of it as a literary achievement, not as a commercial commodity, and when, a few years later, he discovered a Houghton Mifflin textbook that included an excerpt from his book as a model of well-executed prose alongside examples from the likes of Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and Charles Lamb, Dilley considered his efforts validated, his book a triumph, the finest feather in his cap, one he would never exchange for a place on a list of best-sellers.




fig.1.51.5 James Franklin Ballard of St Louis.

fig.1.61.6 Roy Winton

It was his need to complete his magnum opus that had temporarily transformed Dilley into a recluse, that had caused him, even in 1932, to be slow to answer his door. When he did finally open it, two men were standing before him. “I am Roy Winton of the Amateur Cinema League,” explained the taller of the two. “This is my associate, Arthur Gale. We wish to congratulate you on the fine quality of Oriental Rugs and Carpets.” 6Roy Winton (fig. 1.6), a retired colonel in the United States Army, was then the managing director of the Amateur Cinema League, which one might mistake for an association encouraging home movies but which, in reality, was a band of serious, avantgarde film-makers who produced films that are, even today, deemed sufficiently notable to be regularly shown in museums, universities, and art theatres. Arthur Gale edited Movie Makers, the magazine published by the Amateur Film League, and as serious a magazine as the League was an association.

Dilley,Winton, and Gale immediately fell into conversation about Oriental rugs. Gale explained that he had first encountered them in his parents’ home in Oregon. Rugs were a total mystery to Winton until he and Gale began furnishing their 40th Street apartment. Like so many carpet enthusiasts who eventually became Hajjis, Winton and Gale initially bought unspectacular rugs and, convinced by a fast-talking salesman that the ornaments on the rugs, if understood, would speak volumes about the strange and mysterious people who made them, they began researching their new purchases, reading all the books they could find, including, of course, Dilley’s. Unfortunately none of their friends shared their new enthusiasm, a situation that prompted their visit to Dilley’s office.

Farnhamfig1.71.7 Arthur Arwine’s apartment was on the fourth floor of One Sheridan Square,
the building depicted in the centre ofthis etching by Paul Berdanier.

Dilley suggested that Winton and Gale might enjoy meeting Anton Lau (fig. 1.8). Known as Tony to his friends, Lau was a consulting engineer from nearby Bloomfield, New Jersey, an individual with an avid interest in Near and Far Eastern art as well as an impressive collection of Oriental arms and armour. When Dilley spoke to Lau about arranging a meeting of the four men, Lau reminded him of another who might want to join them, a man Lau had met casually at meetings of the New York Architectural League, but who shared his and Dilley’s zeal for Eastern art, Arthur Arwine (fig. 1.9).

Arwine, like Lau, was an engineer. In 1910, with the help of Harry Pray Wooster of Tiffany Studios, which at the

time was heavily involved in the rug business, he had begun to assemble a serious collection of Turkmen rugs. Like Winton and Gale, his first rug was one of no particular importance except that it whetted his appetite to know more. In the course of his research, Turkmen weavings caught his fancy, and he set to work transforming his Sheridan Square apartment (fig. 1.7) into the interior of a Central Asian yurt, no easy task given that few New York apartments included round, dome-shaped rooms. Still, Arwine accomplished what he could, adorning the walls with bags, tent-bands, and rugs
in a variety of sizes (fig. 1.10).

fig.1.81.8 Anton (Tony) Lau

Arwine1.9 Arthur Arwine

His unique apartment attracted attention; in 1929 an interior design magazine asked to photograph it for an upcoming article. But when the stock market crash set the design business back on its heels, the magazine’s editors gave up their plan, although, at Wooster’s urging, they did agree to allow Tiffany’s to display the Arwine photographs in the windows of its Madison Avenue gallery. It was there that Lau happened upon the apartment pictures and realised that he knew, albeit casually, the person who had created such an intriguing residence. Lau informed Dilley of his discovery, invited him to examine the photographs and, at Dilley’s urging, called Arwine to ask whether the two of them could see the apartment. The first words out of Dilley’s mouth as he walked into Arwine’s home were, according to his host, “Well, we haven’t been sent on a wild goose chase.”7 The visitors stayed for several hours and, before leaving, asked if they might return.

On their next visit, Dilley and Lau brought Winton and Gale with them and spent a Saturday afternoon examining and discussing Arwine’s collection in particular and rugs in general. The five men continued their Saturday meetings, but as often as they met, they never seemed to exhaust their favourite subject. Soon they decided to meet for lunch before going to either Arwine’s or, from time to time, to Winton and Gale’s where they would talk rugs until dinner, break to eat together, and return for more of the same during the evening.

Dilley wrote about these gatherings in ‘Group Portrait of Club Founders and the Times in Which They Lived’: “Pleasant memories are portraits one would wish never to forget: Arwine’s splendid collection of Turkoman rugs which to him filled the void of wife and child… Lau collecting rug data, both fact and fancy, scrapbook fashion, as if to compile an encyclopedia. The eagerness of Winton and Gale to solve the thousand riddles of nomenclature, as if knowing a name determined the difference between knowledge and ignorance, appreciation and indifference. They knew it to be only the first step. Finally long before my acquaintance with these splendid men, my own unconquerable will to write my own version of rugs from the notes of many lectures, my office door unlocked against business intrusion. No mutual admiration society ever existed that eclipsed the fervor of this one.” 8

By Arwine’s account, Gale was the first to suggest the five men establish a more formal organisation. On July 9, 1932, they gathered at the home of Tony Lau in New Jersey, created the Club, and elected officers. Not surprisingly Dilley was chosen as the group’s first president, Roy Winton its vice-president, and Tony Lau its secretary and treasurer. Although a club of only five members, the founders anticipated others would be quick to join, because the Club’s constitution, drafted by Lau and Gale, called for a nine-member board of directors. The same document also stipulated that only males were eligible for membership, a provision added after Arthur Gale argued passionately that women did not “have the correct attitude towards Oriental rugs.”9

Selecting a name proved to be considerably more complicated. Originally it was to be The Oriental Club of New York, but Dilley thought that entirely too pedestrian. As he described the sequence of events: “The name to adopt presents a difficulty. Obviously to avoid being commonplace and unrealistic, it should be Asiatic. When the new president suggests Hajji Baba, the assembled savants, never having heard of him, inquire as to his ancestry and credentials…‘He is the hero of James Morier’s novel, Hajji Baba,’ says the President… Again, literally translated, the name means Pilgrim Father, which is our destiny as founder of this Club.”

One can be reasonably certain that Dilley, rarely a man of few words, provided a lengthier explanation of his choice of name. In all probability, he described the British diplomat and writer James Justinian Morier’s 1824 picaresque novel in detail, outlining the events that took Hajji Baba from Esfahan, where he had been born the son of a barber, through a variety of trials and careers until ultimately he became an indispensable assistant to the British ambassador to Persia. Dilley was especially fond of Hajji Baba because, “He too was a rogue, never paying for what he coveted more than ten cents on the dollar. In that respect he is our patron saint…”,10 not a bad example for anyone collecting rugs during a depression.

ArwinApt1.10 Arthur Arwine’s apartment at One Sheridan Square,
bedecked with Turkmen tribal carpets and other weavings.

Once the question of name had been settled, the time had arrived for the newly-elected president to deliver his acceptance speech. Dilley, thoroughly convinced that prolixity was a virtue, delivered an address to the assembled group, all four of them, that lasted, according to the Club’s archives, “for a period of sixty-two minutes” which, at its conclusion, again according to the archives, was received “with loud applause and great acclaim; it required the unremitting efforts of the full membership which constituted itself as a Sergeant-at Arms-at-Large to restore order.” 11

While one cannot say with any certainty that Dilley’s address was filled with references to the declining interest in, and prices of, Oriental carpets that followed the stock market crash in 1929, his propensity to dwell on that theme makes it hard to believe he totally ignored the subject during those sixty-two minutes. Perhaps his obsession with the topic made the discouraging sales of his book easier to accept, or perhaps he was prescient enough actually to anticipate that the wild enthusiasm for rugs that had existed during the 1920s was beginning to wane, and would continue to do so over the course of the Depression, eventually reaching such a low ebb during the Second World War that more than two decades would pass before the recovery would begin.

But if 1932 was the worst of times for rugs, as it certainly was for dealers, it was also the best of times, clearly so, for collectors. As Dilley admitted, “During the Club’s early

years (1932-1942), the rug market still contained a sufficient numberof antique rugs, conjoined with a blissful ignorance of them, to make hunting the rarest a thrilling experience.”12 Not only were significant rugs available, especially in New York, but they were available from dealers who normally sold only new rugs and were thus unaware of the importance of certain old ones. Furthermore such rugs were selling for absurdly low prices. What collector would complain of such a world? Rock-bottom prices were the result of the Depression: the extraordinary availability of important rugs in the Hajjis’ backyard, New York City, while less easily explained, was also no accident.

New York had, during the years before World War I, developed into the art centre not only of the United States but of the world, a situation that only became more and more obvious during the 1920s. The late nineteenth century had seen an unprecedented accumulation of wealth in private hands. American ‘squillionaires’, as Bernard Berenson labelled them, had made fortunes in iron and steel, in railroads and traction, and in mining. Many of the individuals who accumulated this wealth – the Astors, Vanderbilts, Whitneys, and Belmonts – were long-time residents of New York, but others had arrived more recently after making their money elsewhere.

fig1.111.11 The entrance hall of Mr & Mrs George Blumenthal’s New York residence,
with architectural details and furnishings taken from various palaces in Europe.


New York had an irresistible attraction for tycoons. Charles T. Yerkes, the builder of Chicago’s transit system, gave up South Lake Shore Drive in Chicago for Fifth Avenue (fig. 1.12). The steel magnate Judge Elbert Gary, like Yerkes, abandoned his luxurious Chicago home for an even grander Fifth Avenue mansion. Senator William A. Clark arrived from Montana, where he had made his millions in mining and built a home so enormous and so improbably conceived that it boggled even the minds of other tycoons. In 1906 Henry Clay Frick left Homewood Avenue in Pittsburgh to join the other wealthy folk already on Fifth Avenue. Even John Pierpont Morgan, who arrived earlier and consequently lived further downtown, had also come from out of town, though only from nearby Hartford, Connecticut. For the super wealthy, a New York residence was at least as necessary as two or three dozen servants.

On the heels of the tycoons came a variety of businesses that catered to their insatiable appetites for goods and services. Among them were art dealers, some of whom
arrived knowing exactly how to catch the eye of the moguls on Fifth Avenue. Stanford White, New York’s leading

interior decorator as well as its leading architect at the turn of the century, was probably among the first to understand that the extraordinarily wealthy saw themselves, by virtue of their gigantic fortunes, as a new element in American society, an aristocracy separate and distinct from the rest of the population, even from the professional and well-to-do classes.

To confirm their place, they sought to surround themselves with the accoutrements of aristocracy, with dwellings that mimicked the residences of European nobility, with European antiquities, furniture bearing the names of French kings, paintings and sculptures that had, since their creation, resided in the homes of royalty and nobility, as well as carpets that might, centuries earlier, have been presented to their original owners as gifts from a Safavid Shah or an Ottoman Sultan (fig. 1.11). The result, as Wesley Towner described it: “Art collecting, the ultimate luxury, proof than a man could afford the utterly inutile, came into vogue with the virulence of an epidemic.”13

fig1.121.12 The drawing room in the Fifth Avenue residence of Charles T. Yerkes, showing
his ‘Sanguszko’ Safavid medallion carpet – now in the Tehran Carpet Museum.

Dealers – or antiquarians as those of that generation preferred to be called – flocked to New York from all over Europe and the Middle East. Henry J. Duveen came from London to establish a foothold for Duveen Brothers, but he was certainly not the first. Durand-Ruel and Gimpel & Wildenstein arrived from Paris, but only after Knoedler & Company had already opened its doors. Jacques Seligmann also came from Paris. It was his son, Germain Seligman – he preferred to spell his last name with only one ‘n’ – who described his American customers as individuals who “had every kind of instinct but aesthetic.”14 From Istanbul by way of Paris came the Armenians Hagop Kevorkian and Dikran Khan Kelekian (figs. 1.13, 1.14), specialists in Islamic art. These recent arrivals knew, because of their connections overseas, that they could easily compete with the likes of Stanford White and other New York dealers who were themselves busy ransacking European collections to satisfy the desires of customers.

Auctioneers were equally aware of the opportunities in New York. Thomas E. Kirby, who would head the American Art Association, the premier auction house in the United States for more than four decades, began his career in Philadelphia before making the move to New York in 1876, prompted by his realisation that selling art in New York provided the surest route to financial success. Hiram Haney Parke, one day to be a partner in Parke-Bernet, the house that dominated

the auction business after the decline of the A.A.A, also made the move from Philadelphia, where he had previously occupied the podium at the Samuel T. Freeman Company.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, one had to go no further than New York, a city with an apparently unending hunger for antiquities and with a multitude of ‘antiquarians’ trying to satisfy those cravings, to locate any manner of treasure that anyone might desire. From paintings and sculpture to furnishings and carpets, it was all readily available, albeit at prices that were, of course, beyond the imaginations of most New Yorkers.

When America’s millionaires went shopping for carpets, they wanted the kind of carpets that graced the homes of Europe’s aristocrats – Safavid Persian, Mughal Indian, and Persian-like Ottoman Turkish carpets. In addition to having been sanctioned by virtue of having come from Europe’s grandest homes, these carpets also enjoyed the endorsement of high-end dealers such as Duveen and Kelekian. Anyone who might doubt that these were, without question, the most thoroughly desirable of all Islamic carpets, an absolutely essential element in any home of distinction, would have had those doubts put to rest merely by reading the New York newspapers.

fig.1.131.13 The Armenian antiquarian Dikran Khan Kelekian

In 1903, the American Art Association, with great fanfare, sold the mammoth art collection of Henry G. Marquand, former president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 1.15). It required eleven days to disperse, and included 47 carpets, the first of real importance to be sold at auction in the United States, all of them pieces that Duveen would have been happy to handle. The press gave the Marquand sale the sort of attention they normally devoted to nothing less than an off-year election or one of Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting campaigns. In 1910, the Charles T. Yerkes Collection, perhaps the finest private holdings of carpets in the world at the time, went under the hammer (fig. 1.16). Thanks to the notoriety that surrounded Yerkes’ name, it attracted even more attention than the Marquand sale. The same year, the MetropolitanMuseum unveiled its first exhibition of carpets, a breathtaking show curated by Bode’s former student, William R. Valentiner. In each of these instances, the carpets featured were Persian or Persian-like.

The First World War temporarily displaced carpets from the pages of the newspapers, but during the 1920s carpets again became big news and remained so right up to the point when the Hajji Baba Club was formed. Reporters were there in 1922 when James F. Ballard donated 126 rugs to the Metropolitan Museum, the first significant donation of carpets

since J.P. Morgan, Benjamin Altman, and Isaac Fletcher had, prior to the war, contributed their masterworks. Major auctions of carpets still occurred regularly, and newspaper readers scrambled to learn how high prices might go at those sales.

Few such auctions attracted more press attention than the five that sold the carpets of Vitall Benguiat (fig. 1.18). To speak of “the carpets of Vitall Benguiat” is less than accurate, because, although discovered and purchased by him, they were rarely his property. The A.A.A. provided the funds he used to buy whatever he bought, retained whatever money the Benguiat sales generated until Vitall came looking for another loan to buy more rugs, and actually owned the carpets. Had one encountered Benguiat in his ‘office’, a table at Child’s, an unimpressive restaurant at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, one might have wondered why a dealer of such renown operated from such humble quarters, but his flamboyance would have quickly overwhelmed the reality that he was almost always broke. His office, like his legendary gluttony, would seem just another aspect of a persona that made him a favourite of reporters. Although the William A. Clark sale in 1925 and, specially, the Elbert Gary sale in 1928 (fig. 1.17), were reported in great detail, the combination of Benguiat sales produced vastly more column inches than either of them.

fig1.141.14 Dikran Kelekian’s New York gallery, 1898

While carpets continued to receive abundant attention in the press – even Fortune, a magazine that rarely contained articles on art or decoration, included a feature on Oriental rugs in its October 1930 issue – by the end of the 1920s a new trend was beginning to emerge at auctions of Classical carpets, a change to which the public paid little attention. Prices were beginning to decline, but this was obscured because determining which carpets the American Art Association had actually sold, and which had been ‘bought-in’, was nearly impossible. For example, when the Marquand ‘Salting’ group carpet, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (fig. 1.19), was reported in the press to have been sold to New York dealer Parish-Watson for $100,000 (well over a million dollars at today’s prices) it had, in fact, gone unsold. Even if the American Art Association refused to admit it, Classical carpets were not fetching the prices they once had. The reason for this flagging interest was fairly obvious: prices had reached levels that only a Frick or a Clark could afford, and the tycoons, with their inexhaustible resources, were either dead, or too feeble to raise an auction paddle. Even some of the younger crowd, among

them John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, owned more of almost anything they might want and were no longer in a buying mood. Benguiat was all too well aware of the trend, but the public remained blissfully ignorant.

Meanwhile, during the years before 1932, a series of carpet exhibitions kept masterpiece carpets in the spotlight. Although held in Philadelphia, the 1925 ‘Exhibition of Persian Art’, organised by Arthur Upham Pope (fig. 1.20) and his wife, Phyllis Ackerman (fig. 1.21), attracted considerable attention in New York. Among the many New Yorkers who travelled to Philadelphia to see what Pope and Ackerman had assembled were Mrs John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and her friend Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, both of whom owned spectacular carpets. Pope organised another exhibition the following year at the Art Club in Chicago. It too drew visitors from New York. Finally, in 1930, Manhattanites had a show of their own; Maurice Dimand, who would shortly become a Hajji, gathered several of the best ‘Polonaise’ rugs in the United States for a display at the Metropolitan.

fig1.151.15 Catalogue of the 1903 Henry G. Marquand sale

fig1.16catalogue1.16 Catalogue of the 1910 Charles T. Yerkes sale

fig1.171.17 Catalogue of the 1927Judge Elbert H. Gary sale

fig1.181.18 Catalogue of the 1932 V. & L. Benguiat sale

As impressive as Dimand’s exhibition undoubtedly was, the grandest show of that time opened the following year in London, the 1931 ‘International Exhibition of Persian Art’ Once again the brainchild of Pope and Ackerman, it welcomed 3,000 visitors the day it opened and 260,000 during the three months its treasures remained on view at Burlington House. Although a British event, it was big news in New York. The New York Times and other city papers could hardly ignore it after the attention it was attracting in Europe. As the Times of London stated, “Nothing like it has been seen before and nothing that has been said about it in anticipation can prepare one for the actual effect.”15 The ‘Persian mania’ that swept London in the wake of the exhibition, while not as intense in the United States, certainly made itself known in New York, where carpet merchants, even as the depression was deepening, witnessed increased sales.
Given the attention carpets were enjoying up to the point when Winton and Gale first knocked on Dilley’s door, the Hajji president’s gloomy tale about the situation of carpets is, except from a dealer’s point of view, difficult to swallow. Of course the pieces receiving the attention generated by Ballard’s gift, and those included in the various auctions and the several exhibitions, continued to be of the same kinds of hugely expensive carpets the tycoons had once accumulated and that only major dealers handled. But during the years preceding the founding of the Club, less expensive rugs, basking in the reflected glory of Safavid and Mughal pieces, also came to enjoy growing popularity, perhaps not with connoisseurs, who remained steadfast in their loyalty to classical carpets, but with younger people with smaller bank accounts and different tastes.


All the attention given to Classical carpets and their high prices had, as if by osmosis, awakened interest in rugs that dealers such as Duveen disparaged as examples of the degeneration of a once proud art form. Intensifying this enthusiasm were two extremely popular rugs books, Mumford’s Oriental Rugs, which has already been mentioned, and Walter A. Hawley’s Oriental Rugs, Antique and Modern, originally published in 1913, but reprinted twice during the 1920s. Both described rugs in such extravagant terms that Dilley felt compelled to comment: “Even Thoreau [who Dilley considered to be the ultimate ascetic], subjected to similar influence, would have succumbed at least to the literature of the art that made resplendent the courts of Babylon, Baghdad, Persepolis, and Ctesiphon; Cambaluc, Samarkand, Cairo, and Damascus; Shapoor, Tabriz, Kasvin, and Ispahan; Ghazni, Agra, Constantinople.”16 As wealth became more widely distributed during the 1920s, more and more people found themselves able to mimic the tastes of the super rich, able, for example, to purchase a nineteenth-century Caucasian rug which, to the untrained eye, looked more-or-less like one that might be found in the home of a Rockefeller or a Havemeyer.

Fortunately for those in the market for rugs, the political turmoil of the early twentieth century and World War I conspired to make affordable rugs available in the United States in greater numbers than ever before, and New York, not surprisingly, became the hub of this commercial activity.

In fact, even before the outbreak of war in 1914, New York saw more retail rug sales each year than any other city in the world, a situation partially explained by the arrival in the United States, between 1890 and 1914, of approximately 66,000 Armenian immigrants, forced to flee Turkey in the face of persecution there. For some of these new arrivals, the business that came most naturally was the rug business. By 1914, some seventy per cent of the American market in Oriental rugs was controlled by Armenians, and in New York City alone, where most of these newcomers first stepped onto American soil, 75 rug stores were Armenian-owned.

No New York dealer, Armenian or otherwise, had to contend with a shortage of merchandise. Many rugs, most of them from Turkey and the Caucasus, arrived with the immigrants, but as those initial inventories began to shrink, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire meant another influx of goods, soon followed by even more from the Caucasus and Central Asia, rugs displaced by the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War. In 1890, the total value of Oriental rugs imported into the United States was $135,000. By 1907 that figure had increased to $4,000,000 and by 1924 to nearly $8,000,000.

fig1.161.19 The Safavid Persian medallion carpet that had once belonged to Henry G. Marquand was incorrectly reported to have been sold at auction in the early 1930s, just before the foundation of the Hajji Baba Club, to the New York dealer Parish Watson for $100,000. Not long afterwards it was sold by Mitchell Samuel of the New York dealers French & Co. to Mrs John D. McIlhenny, who bequeathed it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in memory of John D. McIlhenny, Jr., no. 43.28.1.


Initially, selling rugs to an American public that had, with few exceptions, no experience of them, proved a problem. Convinced that Axminster and Wilton carpets were perfectly adequate floor coverings, Americans were slow to convert to the new and strange alternatives. So perplexing was the problem that in 1899 Mumford wrote an article for Harper’s Bazaar entitled, ‘The Problem of Oriental Rugs’, in which he described the difficulties dealers faced in attempting to interest an uninformed and reluctant clientele in these products.

Eventually the dealers themselves developed a strategy that helped to solve the problem. In addition to describing Oriental rugs as durable enough to withstand several generations of abuse, and promising that, unlike Axminsters and Wiltons, they would undoubtedly appreciate in value, they also began to surround rugs with mystery, to elaborate on their exotic nature and on the exotic nature of those who made them, to portray them as objects that represented cultural distance. Dealers selling affordable rugs taught themselves to function not only as rug merchants but also as purveyors of rug lore, much of it totally fashioned out of whole cloth. A dealer who could spin a first-class tale about his rugs in terms of “the veil of enchantment that hangs over the mystic symbolism of their design,”17 or by discussing “the nature of the exotic people who weave them,”18 might convince a customer at least to take a rug on approval.

Playing on the theme of the mysterious East fitted well with Americans’ general fascination with the Orient, a fascination that spurred the artist Frederick Edwin Church to fill his home, Olana, with enough Islamic art to stock a good-sized museum, or William Merritt Chase to create in his West 10th Street studio a look more appropriate to Istanbul or Damascus than to New York. This obsession was no temporary aberration. Already a force by the time Church, who was born 35 years before the American Civil War, came of age, it lasted well into the twentieth century, as can be seen in 1920s motion pictures such as Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik, or The Thief of Baghdad starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., or in the popular ditty of those years, ‘My Turkish Opal from Constantinople’. Carpet dealers were not the only ingenious merchandisers who took advantage of the Orientalist craze to sell their wares. James B. Duke, one of Fifth Avenue’s most opulent, made a fortune selling cigarettes with names and packaging that suggested the East: the Fatima package bore a picture of an exquisite harem girl; a man in a Middle Eastern headdress adorned Omars; and a stereotypical Middle Eastern means of conveyance was and is still found on Camels.

fig.1.201.20 Persian art exhibition organiser Arthur Upham Pope, who became a Hajji in 1935

fig.1.211.21 Phyllis Ackerman, Arthur Pope’s wife and collaborator

Wrapping carpets in shrouds of mystery persuaded buyers both to speculate about the people who made them and to ponder the ornaments the rugs contained. These were topics that had been of no real interest to Bode or Riegl, who concentrated on the artistry of carpets and certainly did not object to rugs produced in large numbers for export to the West, such as palmette and spiral-vine carpets from Esfahan, or to carpets that contained Western influences in their design such as the ‘Polonaise’ carpets. On the other
hand, many individuals – like three of the Club’s founders, Winton, Gale, and Arwine – in trying to understand rug designs and their creators, often, as their investigations
intensified, became less and less tolerant of those qualities Bode and Riegl were willing to abide – Western influences and rugs made for Western markets. These new enthusiasts began demanding authenticity in their rugs, a quality found only in rugs woven by people using their own traditional methods to fashion products totally untainted by outside influences and intended strictly for their own use, not some distant consumer’s.
So, even before the Hajji Baba Club was formed, there existed two distinct approaches to rug appreciation: the art historical approach of Bode or Duveen with its focus on Classical carpets and, on the other hand, what might, for the lack of a better term, be labelled the quest for authenticity. This quest, which focused on nineteenth-century rugs simply because they were infinitely more affordable than Classical carpets, came to be led by Hajjis, certainly not an assembly of tycoons, because they were, quite literally, just about the only individuals willing to bother to give these rugs a second careful look. In the process, they found certain nineteenth-century products to be not only authentic but beautiful, entirely worthy of study and collecting, and eventually, by proclaiming the artistry of these previously-ignored pieces, they found themselves pushing carpet studies and carpet collecting in brand new directions.

5. THE CLUB’S EARLY YEARS – 1932 TO 1941

fig.1.221.22 Joseph V. McMullan

fig.1.251.25 W. Parsons Todd.

Oriental rugs, flying high throughout the 1920s, especially in New York, ran headlong, together with every other type of merchandise, into the Great Crash of 1929. The result, felt not immediately but gradually – more precipitously in the case of Classical carpets – was a weak market and falling prices. Fortunately, however, even by 1932, when the Hajji Baba Club was formed, the zeal for carpets left over from the 1920s had yet to follow the same downward path prices had taken. The Depression would slowly batter
that enthusiasm, but it would take another World War to put it down for the count. For those who had become excited about carpets during the 1920s, who had the good fortune to live in or near New York City, where more dealers and a better selection of carpets were to be found than in any other Western city, and who managed to remain solvent during difficult times, the 1930s was not as Dilley described it, the worst of times for carpet collectors; in most respects it was the best of times, certainly
an ideal time to assemble a collection or perhaps even to organise a rug club and hope to attract members.
Two new members joined the Hajji Baba Club in 1933. Harold Olivet had stumbled onto one of the small books Dilley had written while in Boston and, as a consequence, had paid the author a visit at his Park Avenue gallery. Dilley suggested Olivet might think about becoming a Hajji. One visit convinced him to do so. The other new Hajji of 1933 was Joseph V. McMullan (fig. 1.22). His interest in rugs had developed when his sister asked him to go to Gimbel’s Department Store, where a sale of Oriental rugs was in progress, and to purchase a room-sized rug for their mother’s home on 181st Street in the Bronx. After hearing a salesman’s spiel about the durability of Orientals, he bought one and had it delivered to the Bronx. He explained what happened next: “Like many others, my interest in rugs was aroused because I bought a poor one, of Herati design, probably made in Turkey. Its wool was bad, its color painted. To quote an old expression about females of equally doubtful character, it ‘was perfumed, painted and polished,’ and I soon found out that all was not well. I resolved to investigate.”19

fig.1.231.23 The first page of Joseph McMullan’s 4th November 1933 presentation to the Hajji Baba Club

McMullan knew where to begin his investigation. Some writers, commenting on his life and his role as a collector, have emphasised his lack of university training, the fact that his formal education stopped when he graduated from high school, thus suggesting that his lack of a college degree was a handicap. What they have not considered is the education offered by his particular high school, Stuyvesant High, a New York City public school that did and still does emphasise mathematics and the sciences, a school that admits – and this was as true when he applied as it is today – only those students who had demonstrated genuinely superior intellectual qualities, and a school that has
consistently placed demands on its students that only the brightest and most industrious can meet. Hardly a handicap. McMullan knew how to gather and organise information as well as anyone. He began his research in the Art Room of the New York Public Library before movingon to the carpets on display at the Metropolitan Museum and then to the auction rooms of the American Art Association, where

he could handle the rugs and where, from his point of view, there existed “the best art show in town.” At the same time he was buying and studying any rug book he could find. He was also buying the occasional rug but, because he knew no one who shared his interest, was, in his words, “playing a lone hand.”20

On a visit to B. Altman’s, another New York department store, he saw a pair of fragments that intrigued him but which neither he nor the salesman recognised. “On a subsequent visit to Altman’s, to look at a room-sized rug, I mentioned these fragments to another salesman. He dug one up, the other had gone. I bought the other one blind.” Although this second salesman also knew nothing about McMullan’s fragment, he did provide McMullan with the name of the purchaser of the missing piece. He was Roy Winton. Using the City Directory, McMullan tracked him down and, never one to be denied, barged in on Winton and Gale in the middle of dinner. “About 2 a.m. the following morning, I left the Gale-Winton apartment, with a whole new world to look at

fig.1.261.26 Hajjis visiting Philadelphia in either 1937 or 1940:
Left to right: Arthur Gale, an unidentified member, Joe McMullan,
an unidentified member, Arthur Dilley, Tony Lau, Theron Damon,
Robert Peckham, Fred Kramer, and Parsons Todd

Winton invited McMullan to attend the May 6, 1933 meeting of the Hajji Baba Club. The proprietor of French & Company, Mitchell Samuels, one of New York’s premier dealers, had invited the Hajjis to examine his inventory. “The experience was a notable one,” McMullan later said. “I had viewed the finest at the Metropolitan Museum, but always alone. Here was something different… What a contrast to the solo visits.” He became a Hajji at the Club’s next meeting, on June 10, 1933, and at the one that followed presented a paper (fig. 1.23) which began with these words: “It is an honor to be permitted to join hands and participate in the work to which the Club is dedicated. I hope, and intend, to be worthy of the trust.”22 For his next forty years as a Hajji, he did indeed prove worthy.

The following year, 1934, saw several other illustrious figures join the ranks of the Hajji Baba Club. Among them were Maurice Dimand, who would become curator of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; W. Parsons Todd (fig. 1.25), who later, in 1950, donated his his art collection and his home, Macculloch Hall, to the city of Morristown, New Jersey; and Theron Damon, formerly a resident of Turkey for twentyfive years, who was probably

McMullan’s closest friend in the Club, his regular companion at auctions, and the person who joined the Club knowing more about rugs than any other member except Dilley.

Several Hajjis first learned about the Club while attending a Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) sponsored adult education class on rugs taught by Krikor Krikorian at LeRoy High School in Greenwich Village. McMullan and Olivet had both taken Krikorian’s class. So too did Alvin Pearson, Ovid Whelchel, George Clewell, and Newton Foster. These and the other early Hajjis collected a variety of rugs. Dilley, who vetted his colleagues’ rugs, reserved his highest praise for the collections of McMullan, Olivet, Damon, and Oliver Brantley who, because he operated an important rug cleaning business in Brooklyn, should have known a good rug from a bad one. Dilley stated that the Hajjis (fig. 1.26) collected village and nomadic rugs from Central Asia, Turkey, and the Caucasus and that they were largely uninterested in kilims, Chinese rugs, Baluch rugs – for which most of the group had no respect – and Persian tribal rugs, Persian ‘town’ rugs having earned a bad reputation because of the dismal quality of many modern examples.

fig.1.271.27 A Tekke Turkmen bride’s rug, once owned by Amos B. Thacher,
published as pl. 23 in his 1940 book, Turkoman Rugs. Private collection, Hamburg

He also claimed the Hajjis had little interest in the Ghiordes or Kula prayer rugs that had been immensely popular during the 1920s and which Dilley enjoyed disparaging. By and large, the rugs the Hajjis were buying were rugs many connoisseurs, such as exhibition organisers Pope and Ackerman and dealers Kelekian or Duveen, still, even in the 1930s, considered uncollectable. But most Hajjis, lacking the resources to buy from Kelekian or Duveen, were blazing their own trail, a new one.

This does not mean that a Hajji might not occasionally come across and purchase a rug that any top-flight dealer would have been delighted to own. Such purchases usually
resulted from the inability of a dealer who normally handled newer rugs to recognise the value of a particular ancient one. As Dilley explained, “Seldom was there a meeting of the group that failed to produce an atomic-rug explosion [a member’s presentation of a great antique rug]. Moreover, the detonators had sufficient understanding of the art to produce proof of assertions and consequently to speak with authority. When Olivet and McMullan, [Amos] Thacher and Brantley were discovered and inducted, and Pope [Arthur Upham Pope became a Hajji in 1935] with mighty stroke raised the

speed of the boat – headed into Duveen wharf – the crew was competent,”23 by which I think he meant the Hajjis, because they knew what they were doing, were finding rugs that Duveen would envy.

In the midst of mixing his metaphors, Dilley did make an important point. The Hajjis could, at an early date, speak with considerable authority about rugs. From the beginning, they understood that collecting meant more than just accumulating rugs for pleasure; it meant gathering them knowledgeably. Interviewing Hajjis in preparation for his article in the New Yorker on September 2, 1939, Richard O. Boyer heard Club members articulate this point: “The Hajji Babas declare they are the world’s premier rug collectors, not because they own the rarest pieces but because they know more about Oriental rugs than any other group in the world. Their knowledge, they say, enables them to enjoy Oriental masterpieces with a depth of appreciation totally beyond those who merely own them.” With the exception of Maurice Dimand and later John Shapley, the early Hajjis were not art historians, but they brought to their subject an enthusiasm that in large degree compensated for their lack of formal training.

fig1.281.28 Amos Bateman Thacher

fig1.291.29 Frederick Moore

During the 1930s the Hajjis were the only persons, certainly in the United States, seriously studying nineteenth-century rugs. Hajji Amos B. Thacher (fig. 1.28), an engineer with the telephone company, developed an elaborate scheme for determining the age of Ghiordes and Kula prayer rugs. Perhaps a trained art historian of the twenty-first century might find Thacher’s efforts laughable, but probably no more so than certain of Bode’s conclusions about Classical carpets. While Thacher was studying Ghiordes and Kula rugs, other Hajjis were busy with other topics. Arthur Arwine spent much of his spare time examining the dyes in Turkmen rugs. Oliver Brantley studied the survival of the Dragon carpet design in nineteenth-century Caucasian rugs. Arthur Dilley, in 1937, prepared a bibliography of carpet books to assist Hajjis in their research, and two years later Ovid Whelchel, after scouting through dozens of New York bookstores, managed to locate thirty-two books from Dilley’s list and informed his fellow Hajjis where these might be purchased (fig. 1.30).
The carpet collecting community obtained unimpeachable evidence of the Hajjis’ scholarship as news began to spread about Amos Thacher’s Turkoman Rugs, published in 1940 by E. Weyhe, the proprietor of the Hajji Babas favourite bookstore, with the financial backing of Club members. It was to remain the standard work on the subject for many years. Of the fifty-five rugs illustrated by Thacher (fig. 1.27), all but two were from Hajji collections. One can appreciate the extent of the Hajjis’ domination of rug scholarship by briefly looking ahead a quarter of a century and remembering that this was the only significant rug book published in the United States between 1931, when Dilley’s Oriental Rugs and Carpets made its appearance, and 1965, the year Joseph V. McMullan stunned the rug world with the publication of Islamic Carpets.

fig.1.301.30 Arthur Dilley’s ‘List of Current Publications Dealing with Oriental Rugs’, which in this version included information supplied by Ovid Whelchel about where the books could be purchased.

The Hajjis’ fascination with their studies of nineteenth-century rugs was not so all-consuming that they neglected researching Classical pieces. Despite the indifference of many other collectors to these ancient carpets, increasingly evident after the 1929 Crash, the Hajjis never gave up on them. As they did with nineteenth-century rugs, they busied themselves studying them. One of the most impressive of these studies was Ovid Whelchel’s research on rugs in paintings. Building on the early work of Bode and other German-speaking scholars, Whelchel tried to date carpets by using Renaissance paintings.
His imaginative work took place in the 1930s, more than forty years before the European scholars John Mills and Onno Ydema published their findings on the same topic.Owning too few Classical carpets themselves to allow for a comprehensive investigation, the Hajjis travelled throughout the eastern United States to examine as many as possible at auction houses and in private and public collections. As a New Yorker article on February 25, 1939 explained, “Their scholarship is well enough known to collectors to gain them access to any collection they may want to see.”

fig1.311.31 Joseph E. Widener

They travelled to Manhasset to visit Inisfada, the home of Mrs Genevieve Garvan Brady, where they saw her sensational collection of carpets as well as her even more sensational antique American furniture. That same year, 1937, they went twice to Philadelphia (fig. 1.26) where, on one occasion, they saw the John B. McIlhenny Collection in Germantown (most of which is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), and on another gained access to the storerooms of Jerrehian Brothers, one of the longest established carpet dealerships in the United
States. Other excursions involved trips to, among other locations, Winterthur in Delaware, where Hajji Henry F. Du Pont showed off his carpets, which, like Mrs Brady’s, were not the equal of his furniture, and to Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, to scrutinise those of Hajji Joseph E. Widener (fig. 1.31), who later donated his spectacular collection – much of it gathered by his father Peter A.B. Widener – to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

fig.1.321.32 The Textile Museum
in George Hewitt Myers’ house at 2320 S Street, Washington, D.C.

fig1.331.33 Textile Museum founder George Hewitt Myers

Washington was always a favourite destination. By 1939 Tony Lau was living in the nation’s capital. He and his wife hosted a reception for the Hajjis when they arrived in the city on a Friday. The next morning they were up early for a “tour of museums and a raid on the Bazaars.” They were the guests of Hajji Frederick Moore (fig. 1.29) for lunch at the Cosmos Club, which was then at H Street and Madison Place, and which at that time required women, including the wives whohad made the trek with their Hajji husbands, to “enter by the special entrance… on Madison Place,” after which they were allowed to sit with their husbands but were again obliged to use the Madison Place side door to exit. The afternoon was spent at The Textile Museum (fig. 1.32), founded by Hajji George Hewitt Myers (fig. 1.33) in his house on S Street. “The effect on entering the main gallery was breathtaking,” wrote Harold Weaver. “Seldom does one see such an ideal setting for rugs… This must be one of the
greatest collections of textiles in America. Certainly it is one of the greatest you can get so close to, kneel down on, look at through a glass, and feel.” After The Textile Museum, the group dined at Herzog’s Restaurant and spent the evening at the home of Hajji Fred Kramer and his wife. The visitors’ Sunday schedule called for a truly exceptional experience, dinner at the Japanese embassy, an event arranged by Fred Moore, a foreign-policy advisor to the Japanese government. “It is more than a coincidence that the first co-ed pilgrimage of the Club’s history was its most successful one,” Weaver pointed out. “Their grace, buoyancy and humorous attitude toward masculine traits added no end of interest to every activity.”24 As delightful as that trip must have been, it failed to inspire the Hajjis to invite women into the Club as members. That would have to wait another seventeen years.

fig1.341.34 Members of the Hajji Baba Club, Spring 1940.
Left to right: Joseph McMullan, Harold Olivet, Newton Foster, Julian Levy, Amos Thacher, Arthur Dilley, Oliver Brantley, Jerome Straka, RobertPeckham, and Arthur Gale.

New York City itself, of course, was home to vast numbers of Classical carpets. This meant the Hajjis (fig. 1.34) often had to do no more than jump into a taxi to see carpets the equal of any in the world. Visits to the Metropolitan Museum, invariably arranged by Maurice Dimand, were regular events. After an afternoon in the Islamic Department’s storerooms, the members, when Dimand could pull certain strings, went upstairs to the Directors’ Room where, even as late as 1947, $1.50 would cover the cost of dinner.
provide a carpet show that would put most museum exhibitions to shame. When the Club visited him in 1939, Kelekian showed them a large Ushak ‘Lotto’ in near-perfect condition, an Esfahan ‘Polonaise’ carpet of exceptional beauty, a Shrub carpet that Dilley claimed was superior to any he had previously seen, a large ‘Herat’ carpet that was illustrated in Arthur Upham Pope’s Survey of Persian Art, a Caucasian Dragon carpet, a double-niche Ushak rug, and a sixteenth-century Northwest Persian carpet. Another visit to Kelekian came four years later. On that occasion he spoke about the carpets that had passed through his hands since he had first arrived in the United States in 1893.

fig.1.351.35 The Library at the Harvard Club where the Hajjis’ ‘show and-tell’ sessions took place

Mitchell Samuels, an honorary Hajji, often welcomed the Club to French & Company, where the carpets might not perhaps have been quite as impressive as those at Kelekian’s but were not far behind. The format of those New York meetings, held at the Harvard Club (figs. 1.24, 1.35) was described in the February 1939 New Yorker piece: “After an afternoon of rug-gazing, the members always dine together, and as six of them are Harvard men, the Harvard Club is a natural gathering place.” Following dinner they could normally be found “sitting in the lounge with their chairs in a circle, sipping Martinis and occasionally flopping down to examine a small collection of rugs in the center of the circle. It’s the custom for members to bring recent acquisitions for the rest to admire.
Of course among those recent acquisitions, one might, from time to time, encounter a classical piece. In 1936 McMullan bought a Dragon carpet (fig. 1.40) to the September meeting. Four years later he had a ‘Kuba’ he was eager to share (fig. 1.1). The Club held regular ‘Fragment Nights’, when members were asked to bring fragments that had not been previously seen by the group. According to Dilley, a great variety of Classical fragments – with the exception of ‘Polonaise’ and Esfahan examples – would emerge on those occasions. Hajjis Brantley, Damon, Lau, and McMullan, in Dilley’s opinion, were the most likely to show up with a jewel.

fig.1.361.36 Arthur Upham Pope in his office at the American Institute for Persian Art and Archeology

After Arthur Upham Pope – the founder, in 1928, of New York’s American Institute for Persian Art and Archeology – became a Hajji, the Club had access to a whole array of Classical Persian items (fig. 1.36). The sessions with Popecontributed immensely to the group’s understanding of Classical carpets. To one of the first of those sessions, he
transported – with some assistance, one would hope – an extremely large ‘Portuguese’ carpet he believed to be a product of the sixteenth century. Easier to carry were the fragments he regularly displayed. One in particular caught the eyes of the Hajjis, an Ardabil fragment that the members all praised extravagantly but which no one, unfortunately, bothered to describe.

fig.1.371.37 The first page of Harold Weaver’s ‘Derkazarian Rugs’ lecture to the Club

These early Hajji meetings, even when they involved some form of ‘show-and-tell’ often included a lecture, usually delivered by a member himself. On rare occasions, the lectures were silly, as when Harold Weaver spoke on ‘Derkazarian’ rugs (fig. 1.37), rugs allegedly belonging to a dealer whose primary business was not selling rugs but repairing them, an activity that required him to maintain a sizeable inventory of battered and threadbare remnants. According to Weaver, a genuine ‘Derkazarian’ could be
easily identified because if “hung on a line in the stiffest breeze it will not even tremble.”25 Most lectures, however, were serious attempts to share information developed through a member’s own research. When, in 1939, the editors of The Art Bulletin read apaper Amos Thacher had recently presented to the Club that examined ‘A Fifteenth Century Design in a Nineteenth Century Rug’, they were sufficiently impressed to publish it (fig. 1.38).

fig1.381.38 Amos Thacher’s 1939 paper ‘A Fifteenth Century Design
in a Nineteenth Century Rug’ published in The Art Bulletin.

fig1.39a1.39 Arthur Upham Pope’s certificate of recognition from the Hajji Baba Club

At one of the earliest Hajji Baba Club meetings, Tony Lau delivered a ‘Prolegomena on the Evolution of Some Middle Anatolian Rugs’, an essay that scholars even today might find useful. Arthur Pope, a spellbinder who transfixed audiences with his presentations, often tested his theories on the Hajjis before publishing them. He even provided the Club with a detailed preview of A Survey of Persian Art, his monumental
six-volume work published by Oxford University Press in 1938 and 1939.The relationship between Pope and his fellow Hajji Babas was one of reciprocity; his knowledge, experiences, and connections were a boon to the Club, and the members proved to be enthusiastic supporters of his numerous activities (fig. 1.39).

fig.1.401.40 Caucasian Dragon Carpet,shown to the Club at the September 1936 meeting.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Joseph V. McMullan, no. 1974.149.5


With his wife, Phyllis Ackerman, he organised, through the American Institute for Persian Art and Archeology, a series of International Congresses for Iranian Art, as well as exhibitions of Persian art, the first three of which, in Philadelphia, Chicago and London, have been briefly mentioned. New York was the site of the 1940 exhibition, and in making it a success, Pope and Ackerman depended heavily on the Hajjis. John Shapley served
on the exhibition committee and Brantley and McMullan worked as assistants to the committee. Brantley, Damon, Lau, McMullan, and Myers all lent items from their collections to the exhibition. McMullan was also on the board of the Institute, as was Shapley, while Hajjis Dimand, Julian Levy, and Henry McIlhenny served on the Institute’s advisory committee.

fig1.411.41 H. McCoy Jones

fig1.421.42 Charles Grant Ellis


Within a year of the 1940 New York Exhibition of Persian Art, the United States was once more at war, a conflict that demanded the full attention of the Hajji Babas, as it did of nearly all Americans. While the Club continued to meet regularly, members found it difficult to concentrate on rugs when they were being battered by news from Europe, Africa, and the Far East, wherever American forces were engaged. The day’s casualty figures were simply too devastating to overlook for the sake of a lecture on a Yomut mafrash or a Tekke main carpet.
And, although most Hajjis were too old to be in uniform, the war kept them busy. Joe McMullan, for example, worked seven days a week trying to devise a piping system that would eliminate the need to construct closely-spaced supply depots to provide fuel and water to advancing troops. His solution, the so-called ‘invasion pipe’, was an ingenious device that allowed an army to move its soldiers forward as rapidly as construction crews could throw down easily-assembled pipelines.

fig1.431.43 The National Arts Club, venue for Hajji Baba Club meetings since 1959

With victory in 1945, the Hajjis again gave the Club the attention it deserved. McMullan, happy to be concentrating on something other than pipe, had lost none of his enthusiasm for rugs or for the Club. Ever alert for new members, he delivered several important recruits during the post-war years, among them H. McCoy Jones (fig. 1.41), who had encountered McMullan while digging for carpet books at Wehye’s Bookstore on Lexington Avenue, and Charles Grant Ellis (fig. 1.42), who McMullan invited to attend a Hajji meeting after corresponding with him about Turkish rugs. ‘Uncle Charlie’ Ellis would, of course, eventually become a major figure among rug scholars, translating into English several of the most important German works on rugs, publishing numerous articles, books and catalogues of his own, serving for many years as a Research Associate at The Textile Museum, and, with the British scholar May H. Beattie, pioneering the identification of carpets by analysing their structure. McCoy Jones, the founder of the International Hajji Baba Society in

Washington, D.C., not only authored exhibition catalogues on Turkish, Turkmen and Afghan rugs, but later donated his collection of some six hundred tribal and nomad rugs to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.

A meeting place for the Club became a problem during the post-war period. After the good years at the Harvard Club and then several years of sporadic meetings flitting between various clubs, restaurants or carpet galleries – most regularly Karekin Beshir’s – the members decided in 1958 that consistently meeting at one location was a necessity if the Club was to prosper. The following year, after considering various possibilities, they enthusiastically endorsed the National Arts Club (fig. 1.43), a Gramercy Park landmark, housed in a nineteenth-century building the architect Philip Johnson described as “one of the most magnificent in New York.” It had been the home of Samuel J. Tilden, former Governor of New York and Democratic Party candidate for President. Except for a brief interruption during the 1970s, it has been home to the Club ever since.

fig.1.441. 44 Arthur Dilley regales members at the 1954 Hajji Baba Summer Picnic

One would be hard pressed to imagine a more suitable base for the Hajjis than the National Arts Club, the ideal setting for the distinguished array of speakers who have addressed the Club. Professor Philip Hitti of Princeton was among the first to speak there, his topic ‘Rugs and the History of the Middle East’. His place at the lectern has, since 1959, been taken by an all-star cast, including Richard Ettinghausen of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts; Oleg Grabar, then from Harvard; Ernst Kühnel and Kurt Erdmann from the Islamic Department of the Berlin Museum; Maurice Dimand, Ernst Grube, Daniel Walker and Stefano Carboni of the Metropolitan Museum; Layla Diba and Aimeé Froom of the Brooklyn Museum; Louise Mackie, then with the Royal Ontario Museum; Walter Denny of the University of Massachusetts; Alberto Boralevi from Florence; and May Beattie, Jon Thompson, and Michael Franses from Britain.

Several of these speakers were and still are Hajjis or at least honorary Hajjis, but these eminent individuals, many of

them professionally-trained art historians, represented a different breed to those who had, during the Club’s early years, held forth at meetings (fig. 1.44). Before 1960, the person most likely to be speaking would have been a Hajji, someone who had, at the previous meeting, listened to another Hajji expound on this or that subject and who, at the next meeting, would hear what yet another Hajji had to say.In other words, the Club had, by about 1960, transformed itself from a club of autodidacts to one thatenjoyed the privilege of hearing from the most knowledgeable persons in the field. Much was, obviously, gained as a consequence, but at the same time much of the incentive to investigate and to explore, and many original theories, some of which quite possibly made little sense (all aspects of the early Hajji meetings), were lost for the sake of carefully-presented but too often passively-received expert information.

fig1.451. 45 At the 1954 Hajji Baba Summer Picnic.
Arthur Dilley is the only Hajji wearing a coat, vest and tie. Joe McMullan is the Hajji in a state of undress

The availability of so many learned speakers indicated that carpets were again becoming a hot topic, certainly for scholars and probably for a broader public as well. Arthur Dilley, however, remained sceptical, thoroughly convinced that “despite ample instruction, public taste in Oriental rugs has gone decadent. During the Great Depression, American culture was attacked by so many debilitating diseases – modern art, morbid plays, salacious novels, vile music, and related neuroses – the dear old lady seems permanently hospitalized.”26 So convinced was he that interest in rugs
had ‘gone decadent’ that he suggested the Club, in order to remain viable, should broaden the scope of its interest to include all aspects of Islamic art and perhaps even all “Near Eastern Affairs.” His suggestion received little support, probably because many Hajjis had, unlike Dilley, detected a shift in the perception of rugs, which the Club had toiled so consistently to foment, and that was, at least with the benefit of hindsight, becoming discernible as early as 1949.

fig1.461.46 Joe McMullan escorting the Shah and Shahbanou of Iran at The Textile Museum in Washington D.C., 1964

On March 11, 1949, the Fogg Museum at Harvard unveiled the first public exhibition of rugs from Joe McMullan’s collection. The principal speaker for the occasion wasDilley (fig. 1.44), who after mentioning the collections of James F. Ballard, Charles T. Yerkes, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., echoed one of his favourite themes: “The collection of Joseph V. McMullan… was made under singularly adverse conditions. He arrived late at the feast of Harun-al-Rashid. All important guests had departed after dividing up the tablecloth.” Later, in private, he expressed his regret that “this young man came to this table when only the crumbs
were left,”27 clearly the opinion of someone who still believed himself trapped in the worst of all worlds for rug enthusiasts. But Marie Brantley, the wife of Oliver Brantley and a woman with a better grasp than Dilley of what the future might hold, rejected his pessimism and proclaimed a bright future for rugs. As she later explained: “The surge of interest in rugs really started about the time Joe had his exhibition at the Fogg Museum in 1949.” She continued: “As we kept hanging the rugs for the show, people would come in from the museum and remark about their beauty…”28

fig1.471.47 Joseph Reinis, President of the Hajji Baba Club, and other members at the Metropolitan Museum’s 1979 Thacher retrospective

7. AFTER DILLEY – 1959 TO 1982.

Arthur Dilley refused, down to the end of his life in October 1959, to acknowledge any rebirth of enthusiasm, despite indications that the good days were returning, despite acknowledgment that the club he created had been a driving force in this rebirth and, most amazingly, even despite the establishment by several Hajjis, primarily McMullan, of the Dilley-Damon Fund, named for him and for Theron Damon, to encourage the study of Islamic Art at Harvard, his beloved alma mater. But while he remained dispirited, Dilley never totally abandoned all hope; during the April before his death,
he drafted a new will in which he bequeathed all rights to Oriental Rugs and Carpets, A Comprehensive Study to the Hajji Baba Club, perhaps hoping his 1931 tome, which on account of bad timing had been largely ignored, could, once in the hands of the Club, still at some point bring about a new day. In late 1959, Hajji Maurice Dimand produced a revised edition of what Dilley had always believed was his greatest accomplishment. It sold more copies in its first month in print than the original had in its first two years, and in doing so, helped to fulfill Dilley’s wish.

fig1.481.48 Richard Ettinghausen

fig1.491.49 Arthur D. Jenkins and Joseph V. McMullan

Despite the passing of its founder, the Hajji Baba Club continued to prosper. Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman continued to organise congresses and exhibitions, and the Hajjis continued to play a major role in these events. Four Hajjis – Joe McMullan, Maurice Dimand, Charles Wilkinson, and Ernst Grube presented papers at the Fourth Congress, held in New York in 1960. A unique feature of that Congress was a depiction of a handsome and complex Persian carpet drawn on several sheets of transparent material, each of which revealed one of the many layers of design that comprised the carpet’s composition and all of which, when placed one on top of another, showed the carpet’s design in its entirety.
The depiction was the work of Hajji Charlie Ellis, a former student of architecture and a master draftsman. His work so impressed Lincoln Kirstein, the principal benefactor of The New York City Ballet, that he convinced George Balanchine to use the drawing as the inspiration for a ballet, The Figure in the Carpet, which was presented by The New York City Ballet as an ‘entertainment’ during the Congress, and which brought together the arabesques from the realm of carpet design with those from the domain of ballet.

fig1.501.50 W. Russell Pickering

Aware of the widespread interest in carpets stimulated by McMullan’s 1949 exhibition at the Fogg, the Hajjis, either individually or as a group, continued to use public exhibitions as a tool to arouse enthusiasm for carpets. In 1960, at the invitation of Alan R. Sawyer, then director of The Textile Museum, the Club displayed sixty-two members’ rugs in Washington. Charlie Ellis prepared the catalogue, an unpretentious item that appeared in mimeographed form, an economical but unfortunate choice because its shoddy appearance belied the solid information it contained.
A 1974 exhibition of prayer rugs held at both The Textile Museum and the Montclair Art Museum, while technically not a Club event, was the brainchild of Hajji Alvin Pearson and a success thanks to Bruce Westcott’s attention to detail. Hajji Richard Ettinghausen (fig. 1.48), then the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Islamic Art at New York University, wrote the catalogue essay, which he had presented to the Club, in abbreviated form, in 1971. Hajji Maurice Dimand described, in the same catalogue, the regions of Turkey that produced prayer rugs, while Hajji Louise W. Mackie prepared the actual catalogue entries. Serving as a consultant to the entire project was Hajji Charlie Ellis.

fig1.511.51 Hajjis Maurice Dimand, Dennis R. Dodds, Olive Foster and Charlie Ellis
at the Metropolitan Museum’s 1979 Thacher retrospective

Exhibitions of McMullan’s collection occurred often, not only because it was so large and contained so many masterpieces, but also because it was different from the museum or private collections that had, until he arrived on the scene, set the standard for collectors. Richard Ettinghausen, who certainly knew as much as anyone about Islamic art, explained what was both different and important about McMullan’s carpets in Don’t forget to smell the flowers along the way, Portraits of Joseph V. McMullan: an affectionate memorial volume edited by W. Russell Pickering (fig. 1.50) in 1977: “Before he came on the scene, it was the custom for museums and sometimes for private collectors to acquire as many fine examples of classical carpets as they could possibly afford, that is, carpets
of the 16th and 17th century from all the major carpet-producing countries. There were also people who bought carpets for utilitarian purposes for their homes or offices… They were very much appreciated for their own beauty, but there was a kind of dichotomy between the two: the classical carpets of the early period in the museums and outstanding private collections, and the rugs of the 19th century… found in private homes.” Then, Ettinghausen continued, “came Joe, and his contribution demonstrated that the two groups could go together… He realized the beauty of the so-called ‘village’ rugs, especially rugs from Turkey…” He further “realized that a late date did not mean that the rugs were degenerate” and urged carpet fanciers to expand their collections to include “the non-floor coverings, for instance, horse blankets, saddle bags, and other secondary types of carpet weaving,”29 thereby setting a brand new course for connoisseurs. The carpets – Classical Persian and Mughal pieces – that had,

since the days of Bardini and Bode, been regarded as the only ones worthy of a collector’s attention, suddenly found themselves joined centre stage by a whole range of previously-ignored weavings, objects that had been considered inconsequential. According to Ettinghausen, this was the aesthetic evolution Joe McMullan ignited.

Some of McMullan’s carpets were included in the ‘7000 Years of Iranian Art’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1964. It was during this exhibition that he had the privilege of escorting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi of Iran (fig. 1.46), on a tour of The TextileMuseum’s collection, an experience he never tired of proudly describing. The Metropolitan Museum of Art showed McMullan’s collection in 1970 and then, in 1972, in the first large-scale exhibition of important carpets held in England since Pope’s 1931 extravaganza, a selection of his rugs was seen at London’s Hayward Gallery in a display devised and installed by the respected critic David Sylvester. At the opening of the exhibition, McMullan, echoing the philosophy of the Hajji Baba Club – on which he had had such an enormous influence during the forty years he had counted himself a member, but which likewise had consistently been at his side as he assembled his collection – spoke for all Hajjis: “This show is a real victory not for me but for all of us because carpets, which have been considered decorative pieces for so long, really now are acknowledged as being a true art form,”30 a statement that might even have convinced the ever-pessimistic Dilley that the good times had arrived.


Not only did McMullan use his own collection to promote carpets as art, but he also helped organise exhibitions that included rugs belonging to others. A prime example was the 1966 exhibition of Turkmen weavings at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, curated by his protégé and Club member, Christopher Reed, an exhibition that McMullan supported generously with both time and money. Aware that Amos Thacher’s book on Turkmen rugs had appeared when, because of the Second World War, few people were focused on rugs, McMullan understood that its impact had been slight. With the support of his fellow Hajjis, he was determined to correct that situation, to make the world aware of the glories of Turkmen carpet weaving, a mission the Fogg exhibition accomplished beyond even his expectations. Enormously influential, it is generally credited with setting into motion the series of events that would lead to a craze for Turkmen rugs, so-called ‘Turkomania’, that infected so many collectors not long thereafter.

McMullan’s death in 1973, a great loss for the Club and for the concept of rugs as art, failed to dampen the Hajji Babas’ enthusiasm for spreading the good news about carpets through exhibitions. To guarantee that no one missed the point of the 1966 Harvard exhibition, in 1979 the Club held a retrospective in honour of Thacher at the Metropolitan

Museum of Art (figs. 1.47, 1.51), including a display of thirty-eight pieces that had either belonged to him, or that he had illustrated in his 1940 study.

Then, in 1980, Hajji Alvin Pearson (fig. 1.52) developed the idea of, and provided much of the funding for, yet another Turkmen exhibition, this one held initially at The Textile Museum in Washington to coincide with the Third International Conference on Oriental Carpets, and then at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey. Accompanied by a superb catalogue, Turkmen: Tribal Carpets and Traditions, edited by Louise W. Mackie and Jon Thompson, it closed in April 1981; by that time Turkmen weavings were hot items. n 1982, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the oldest Oriental rug club in the country, the Hajjis exhibited fifty of their rugs, first at New York’s Asia Society, which had just moved to 725 Park Avenue, and then at the Seattle Art Museum and the
Cincinnati Art Museum. The selection of rugs was made by Charlie Ellis and Daniel Walker, then Curator of Ancient, Near Eastern and Far Eastern Art in Cincinnati.Walker also authored the elegant catalogue that accompanied the exhibition. Al Pearson provided a planning grant to move the project forward, and BruceWestcott and Joe Reinis (fig. 1.47) supplied much of the necessary momentum to carry it to completion.

fig1.531.53 Charles Grant Ellis acquired this rare so-called ‘Para- Mamluk’ rug, now in an Italian collection,
too late for selection for the Hajji Babas’ Fiftieth Anniversary show at New York’s Asia Society in 1982.
Courtesy Moshe Tabibina, Milan



January 21st, 2000 was a day to celebrate, and the Hajjis did so spectacularly. A grand party at the National Arts Club presided over by then President Marilyn R. Wolf marked the re-incorporation of the New York Rug Society into the Hajji Baba Club and, at long last, acknowledged that an ancient dispute between Club members had been forgotten. In 1969 – a time when the United States was abuzz with talk of the ‘generation gap’ – a group of ‘Young Turks’ in the Club, most of whom, like their leader, Russell Pickering, (fig. 1.50), were indeed quite young, found any new ideas they tried to present consistently colliding with the opinions of the Old Guard, many of whom had been Hajjis for thirty years or more. The differences between the two groups smouldered for several months before reaching kindling point in October 1969. Pickering had recommended three candidates for membership, and, on a dubious technicality, the Club’s executive committee rejected all three.
Pickering appealed the decision, arguing that “today we face a new reality in the rug world where, for the first time in more than a generation, there is a rapid expansion of interest which brings forth a growing number of active and devoted collectors. I strongly believe,” he continued, “the Club ought to welcome the new enthusiasts with open arms… That must have been what the Club’s founders had in mind forty years ago…”31 His overture failed to change the minds of the committee members, tempers grew short, and ultimately Pickering was forced to resign from the Club, an outcome that troubled Joe McMullan, Richard Ettinghausen, Marilyn Jenkins, Marie Grant Lukens, Ralph Yohe, and Donald Wilber enough to persuade them to declare that the executive committee had “misrepresented” the Club’s constitution and to urge the reinstatement of this “valuable member of our Club.”32 Their effort failed.

fig1.541.54 (above, detail below) Ushak ‘Lotto’ carpet fragment, loaned to the Brooklyn Museum for exhibition during the 1996 post-ICOC NewYork tour.
Marshall &Marilyn R. Wolf Collection


In the aftermath of his departure, Pickering formed the New York Rug Society, and within two years its members outnumbered the Hajji Baba Club. For nearly thirty years, New York had two rug clubs. Although membership overlapped considerably, younger carpet collectors tended to gravitate to the New York Rug Society, making it the more vital of the two. But a handful of young Hajjis – among them Rosalind (Posy) Benedict, Barry Jacobs (fig. 1.56), and Bruce Westcott – joined forces with the older Hajji faithful to keep the Club from falling too far behind and, in due course, to allow it to reclaim its position as the city’s premier carpet group.
Over those thirty years, the passions that had created the split gradually cooled and were forgotten, so that when the Hajjis were preparing to celebrate their sixtieth anniversary, they invited Russ Pickering to write the foreword to the catalogue that commemorated the event. He graciously accepted, and on January 21st, 2000, among the crowd attending the gala and celebrating as enthusiastically as anyone, were Pickering and several of the Hajjis with whom he had battled.

fig1.551.55 (above with further details below)
Detail of a Mamluk rug, exhibited in Brooklyn during the 1996 post-ICOC New York tour.
Brooklyn Museum, New York, Gift of Mr & Mrs Frederic B. Pratt, no. 43.24.3.



In 1992, two latter-day Hajjis, R. DeWittMallary and Robert Pittenger (fig. 1.66), aided and abetted by honorary curator Hajji Newton Foster, organised an exhibition and prepared a slim catalogue of twenty-five of Hajji W. Parsons Todd’s rugs at the Maccullough Hall Historical Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.33 At least two of the Todd rugs on display had once belonged to Arthur Dilley.

Four years later, in November 1996, the Eighth International Conference on Oriental Carpets met in Philadelphia (fig. 1.56). That occasion provided what many Hajjis believed to be the perfect opportunity not just for an exhibition but for a whole series of events to celebrate carpets and textiles in New York City (figs. 1.57, 1.58). Co-sponsored by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the celebration began with exhibitions at those two auction houses, followed in close succession by the opening of the Hajji Baba Club’s show, ‘A Skein through Time’, at Baruch College, and then by a Club-sponsored Middle Eastern dinner at the National Arts Club. The Hajji exhibition, curated by Arlene J. Lederman, Daniel Walker, and Marilyn Wolf, which was accompanied by an eponymous catalogue, displayed forty-five members’ rugs and textiles.

The following morning, the Hajjis escorted their guests to the Brooklyn Museum, whose holdings (fig. 1.55) were enhanced by Classical carpet loans (fig. 1.54) from the collection of Hajjis Marshall and Marilyn Wolf, and that afternoon to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see seldom-seen carpets as well as Islamic textiles, once again from the Wolf Collection. As HALI magazine later reported, “It’s quite an accolade for objects belonging to a living private collector to be seen inside the august portals of the Met, let alone for a gallery to be devoted to them and for the collector’s name to appear on MMA posters out on Fifth Avenue.” The report continued: “The Met’s selection of Islamic textiles from the Wolf Collection was itself a trailblazer. Never before in the history of the MMA had a humble kilim been allowed to show its face on such hallowed ground. Too ethnic. But here we found two of these lowly objects – both Wolf cubs.”34

Once again Hajjis, this time the Wolfs, self-educated connoisseurs, were, as had McMullan and the other early Hajjis, moving along well ahead of the pack, seeing new opportunities, taking risks, pushing boundaries, and bringing overlooked treasures to the attention of more conventional collectors. One might even argue that this was, according to well-established precedent, what Hajjis were supposed to do.

fig.1.561.56 Hajji Brooke Pickering among Moroccan rugs from the Pickering/Yohe Collection
exhibited at the Philadelphia International Conference on Oriental Carpets in 1996

The HALI report disclosed another quality the Wolfs had in common with their forebears in the Club. “With some pieces already promised to museums,” the report continued, “the Wolfs buy for posterity as much as for themselves.”35 This is indeed a Hajji tradition. McMullan rugs can be found in The Textile Museum, the Victoria & Albert, the Fogg, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mary Jane and Jerome Straka gave the bulk of their collection to The Textile Museum, while Arthur Gale, like McMullan, contributed his best pieces to the Metropolitan. Maccullough Hall Historical Museum contains the entire collection of W. Parsons Todd. Arthur D. Jenkins’ (fig. 1.49) collection of rug books was more than the equal of his rugs; he donated both to The Textile Museum, where his books – many of them now impossible to purchase at any price – form the heart of the museum’s incomparable library. The best of Alvin Pearson’s rugs also survive there. And not only did Hajji George Hewitt Myers donate his rugs and textiles to that institution, he donated the museum as well.
Over six hundred McCoy Jones Turkmen and other tribal rugs and kilims now reside in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, which is also home to some fifty rare early Middle Eastern and Turkmen rugs and Indian and Central Asian silks from the collection of a Hajji of a younger generation, George Hecksher, and his wife Marie. Long-time New York residents before moving to California, the Heckshers also provided funds to create various textile facilities at the museum, including exhibition and storage space and conservation studios. In addition to these and other individual gifts, the Hajji Baba Club itself has made numerous donations of rugs and textiles to museums across the USA, many of them, as with the 17th century Persian brocade presented to the Metropolitan in recognition of Maurice Dimand’s service to the Club, to honour deceased members.

fig1.571.57 Sometime Hajji President Barry Jacobs with Hajji Mary Hammond Sullivan at the 1996 Philadelphia ICOC

In 2003, when Washington, D.C., was selected as the site of the 10th International Conference on Oriental Carpets, the Hajji Babas once more decided that a post-conference tour in New York was in order, the news of which prompted more people to ask to be included than could be accommodated: more than thirty had to be turned away. The tour encompassed visits to the Hispanic Society of America, to Sotheby’s. where Marshall and Marilyn Wolf (fig. 1.62) provided both lunch and the opportunity to examine their collection of Central Asian suzani embroideries (fig. 1.60),36 to the Metropolitan Museum where Dan Walker truly dazzled his guests by displaying several masterpieces that had not been seen for years (fig. 1.61), to the National Arts Club for dinner hosted by the Club and a chance to examine a small collection of Hajji members’ rugs, and
finally, the following morning, to the Brooklyn Museum where fifty rugs were displayed in the museum’s atrium (fig. 1.64). Also during the tour Hajji KurtMunkacsi (fig. 1.63), along with David d’Heurle and Peter Saunders, moved carpet literature into the digital age by publishing their CD-Rom, Bigger is Better: Main Carpets of the Turkmen, to accompany an exhibition hosted at Hajji Mark Shilen’s SoHo rug gallery. While some might argue that these post-conference tours, which cater to confirmed rug fanciers, are an instance of preaching to the converted, the rarity and beauty of the treasures that only New York can offer is not only an affirmation of the concept of Oriental rugs (and textiles) as art, the very core of what the Hajji Baba Club is all about, but it is also an assertion of the bond that has and does exist between New York City and the Club.

fig.1.581.58 Hajji Marc Feldman, lender to the Hajji exhibition ‘A Skein Through Time’ in 1996.

I One must ask whether the Club, as it celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary, is still the force it was during its early years, let us say before 1970, more or less the halfway point in its existence. In some respects it is probably not. Clearly now that dozens of rug clubs with hundreds of members exist in cities from Stockholm to San Francisco, and since the establishment of the International Conference on Oriental Carpets (ICOC), the American Conference on Oriental Rugs (ACOR), and the conception of HALI magazine, the Hajji Baba Club is no longer the solitary voice it was for so many years, and no
longer possesses a near-monopoly on American carpet scholarship that included not only a roster of top-flight amateur investigators – the entire crew from Damon to Thacher to Ellis – but also a sizeable contingent of the leading Islamic art specialists in the United States, among them Dimand, Pope, Ettinghausen, and Walker. Furthermore, if one were to list the publications either supported by the Club, or authored by Club members, and compare that list with all the rug books published in the United States prior to 1980, those with a Hajji connection probably constitute a majority.

fig1.59a1.59 A Yomut Turkmen tent-bag front exhibited at the 1996 Philadelphia ICOC Nancy Jeffries & Kurt Munkacsi.

Obviously the Club can no longer dominate at that level, principally because it has been so successful in inducing clones of itself – the other rug clubs – and in insisting that carpets receive the attention they deserve. What does remain from those early years is the Club’s devotion to the principle of rugs as art, an ideal it continues to press with no less zeal than did Dilley, Arwine, Gale, Winton, and Lau, and its determination to push into new directions, as the old-time Hajjis did, the study, appreciation, and collecting of carpets. Because of what Hajjis have done and continue to do, today, as we look across the world of carpet collectors and their collections, the imprint of the Club stands out with unmistakable distinction.
On December 4th, 1950, Oliver Brantley, whose declining health had forced him to leave New York for the warmer climate of Panama City, Florida, wrote to his fellow Hajji and friend of many years, Newton Foster. Elderly and despondent about having to swap New York for Panama City, he explained to Foster that the one thing he missed most about “being away from New York is the opportunity to study and there is nothing elsewhere that can replace a study group such as the Hajji Baba Club and do all you can to keep it rolling, it’s good.”37 Sound advice for the Hajjis as they embark on their next quarter century.

fig1.621.62 Hajjis Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf’s collection of suzani embroideries was exhibited at Sotheby’s in 2003.

fig1.601.60 The Wolf Collection of Central Asian suzani embroideries was shown at Sotheby’s during the 2003 post-ICOC tour of New York

In 1992, two latter-day Hajjis, R. DeWittMallary and Robert Pittenger (fig. 1.66), aided and abetted by honorary curator Hajji Newton Foster, organised an exhibition and prepared a slim catalogue of twenty-five of Hajji W. Parsons Todd’s rugs at the Maccullough Hall Historical Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.33 At least two of the Todd rugs on display had once belonged to Arthur Dilley.

Four years later, in November 1996, the Eighth International Conference on Oriental Carpets met in Philadelphia (fig. 1.56). That occasion provided what many Hajjis believed to be the perfect opportunity not just for an exhibition but for a whole series of events to celebrate carpets and textiles in New York City (figs. 1.57, 1.58). Co-sponsored by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the celebration began with exhibitions at those two auction houses, followed in close succession by the opening of the Hajji Baba Club’s show, ‘A Skein through Time’, at Baruch College, and then by a Club-sponsored Middle Eastern dinner at the National Arts Club. The Hajji exhibition, curated by Arlene J. Lederman, Daniel Walker, and Marilyn Wolf, which was accompanied by an eponymous catalogue, displayed forty-five members’ rugs and textiles.

The following morning, the Hajjis escorted their guests to the Brooklyn Museum, whose holdings (fig. 1.55) were enhanced by Classical carpet loans (fig. 1.54) from the collection of Hajjis Marshall and Marilyn Wolf, and that afternoon to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see seldom-seen carpets as well as Islamic textiles, once again from the Wolf Collection. As HALI magazine later reported, “It’s quite an accolade for objects belonging to a living private collector to be seen inside the august portals of the Met, let alone for a gallery to be devoted to them and for the collector’s name to appear on MMA posters out on Fifth Avenue.” The report continued: “The Met’s selection of Islamic textiles from the Wolf Collection was itself a trailblazer. Never before in the history of the MMA had a humble kilim been allowed to show its face on such hallowed ground. Too ethnic. But here we found two of these lowly objects – both Wolf cubs.”34

Once again Hajjis, this time the Wolfs, self-educated connoisseurs, were, as had McMullan and the other early Hajjis, moving along well ahead of the pack, seeing new opportunities, taking risks, pushing boundaries, and bringing overlooked treasures to the attention of more conventional collectors. One might even argue that this was, according to well-established precedent, what Hajjis were supposed to do.

fig1.61detail1.61 Detail of the ‘Emperor’s Carpet’, one of the rarely-seen Safavid Persian carpets shown
to the Hajji’s post-ICOC Metropolitan Museum tour groups in 2003 by curator
Daniel Walker. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, no. 43.121

In 1992, two latter-day Hajjis, R. DeWittMallary and Robert Pittenger (fig. 1.66), aided and abetted by honorary curator Hajji Newton Foster, organised an exhibition and prepared a slim catalogue of twenty-five of Hajji W. Parsons Todd’s rugs at the Maccullough Hall Historical Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.33 At least two of the Todd rugs on display had once belonged to Arthur Dilley.

Four years later, in November 1996, the Eighth International Conference on Oriental Carpets met in Philadelphia (fig. 1.56). That occasion provided what many Hajjis believed to be the perfect opportunity not just for an exhibition but for a whole series of events to celebrate carpets and textiles in New York City (figs. 1.57, 1.58). Co-sponsored by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the celebration began with exhibitions at those two auction houses, followed in close succession by the opening of the Hajji Baba Club’s show, ‘A Skein through Time’, at Baruch College, and then by a Club-sponsored Middle Eastern dinner at the National Arts Club. The Hajji exhibition, curated by Arlene J. Lederman, Daniel Walker, and Marilyn Wolf, which was accompanied by an eponymous catalogue, displayed forty-five members’ rugs and textiles.

The following morning, the Hajjis escorted their guests to the Brooklyn Museum, whose holdings (fig. 1.55) were enhanced by Classical carpet loans (fig. 1.54) from the collection of Hajjis Marshall and Marilyn Wolf, and that afternoon to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see seldom-seen carpets as well as Islamic textiles, once again from the Wolf Collection. As HALI magazine later reported, “It’s quite an accolade for objects belonging to a living private collector to be seen inside the august portals of the Met, let alone for a gallery to be devoted to them and for the collector’s name to appear on MMA posters out on Fifth Avenue.” The report continued: “The Met’s selection of Islamic textiles from the Wolf Collection was itself a trailblazer. Never before in the history of the MMA had a humble kilim been allowed to show its face on such hallowed ground. Too ethnic. But here we found two of these lowly objects – both Wolf cubs.”34

Once again Hajjis, this time the Wolfs, self-educated connoisseurs, were, as had McMullan and the other early Hajjis, moving along well ahead of the pack, seeing new opportunities, taking risks, pushing boundaries, and bringing overlooked treasures to the attention of more conventional collectors. One might even argue that this was, according to well-established precedent, what Hajjis were supposed to do.

fig1.641.64 Rugs from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum laid out in the museum’s grand
courtyard for the 2003 post- ICOC New York tour arranged by the Hajji Baba Club.

fig.1.631.63 Hajji Kurt Munkacsi (President of the Club in 2008) discussing Turkmen weaving with German collector Hans-Christian Sienknecht
at the exhibition of Munkacsi’s Turkmen main carpets in the Mark Shilen Gallery during the 2003 post-ICOC tour.

fig.1.661.65 The annual summer picnic remains an important Club fixture:
Hajjis Vinay Pande (wearing a Kashmir shawl) and Mae Festa
examine a tribal embroidery at the 2006 picnic.

fig.1.671.66 Robert Pittenger, Carol Ascher and former Hajji
President Joseph P. Doherty at the 2006 picnic

fig.1.681.67 Hajji Basha Ahamed lends a willing hand in
the 2006 summer picnic ‘show-and-tell’


1. Olive Olmstead Foster, Fine Arts, Including Folly: A History of the Hajji Baba Club, 1932-1960, New York, 1966, p. 8.
2. Ibid., p. 11.
3. Ibid., p. 12.
4. Ibid.
5. Arthur U. Dilley, How Oriental Rugs Are Sometimes Sold, Boston 1906, p. 16.
6. Foster, op.cit., p. 8.
7. Ibid., p. 9.
8. Ibid., p. 10.
9. Arthur U. Dilley, ‘Clio’s Scrolls’,” in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.
10. Foster, op.cit., p. 10. See also Barry Jacobs, ‘A Rogue’s Progress’, Hali 32, October/November/December1986, pp.12-17.
11. Daniel S. Walker, Oriental Rugs of the Hajji Babas, New York, 1982, p. 14.
12. Foster, op.cit., p. 19.
13.Wesley Towner, The Elegant Auctioneers, New York, 1970, p. 29.
14. Meryle Secrest, Duveen, A Life in Art, New York, 2004, p. 45.
15. Times, London, January 7, 1931.
16. Foster, op.cit., p. 2.
17. Nahigian Brothers, Oriental Rugs in the Home, Chicago, 1913, p. 5.
18. William M. Butler, Rugs of the Orient, Philadelphia, 1913.
19. Joseph V. McMullan, ‘The Hajji Baba Rug’, in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Foster, op.cit., p. 19.
24. Ibid., pp. 31-33.
25. Harold Weaver, ‘Derkazarian Rugs’, in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.
26. Foster, op.cit., p. 13
27. Both of Dilley statements are quoted in William Russell Pickering, Don’t forget to smell the flowers along the way, Portraits of Joseph V. McMullan, New York, 1977, p. 55.
28. Ibid., p. 58.
29. Ibid., pp. 69-70.
30. McMullan’s remarks are in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.
31. W.R. Pickering to Maurice A. Dimand, 13 April 1970, in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.
32. Joseph V. McMullan, Richard Ettinghausen, Marilyn Jenkins, Ralph S. Yohe, Marie Grant Lukens, and Donald N. Wilber to the Executive Committee of the Hajji Baba Club, 10 November 1970, in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.
33. Robert Pittenger & R. DeWitt Mallary, Oriental Rugs from the Collection of W. Parsons Todd, New York, 1992.
34. Hali 92, May 1997, p. 104.
35. Ibid., p. 105.
36. Ernst J. Grube, Keshte: Central Asian Embroideries, The Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection, New York, 2003.
37. Brantley’s letter is in the Hajji Baba Club Archives.