In about 1890, Rosamond Gibson redecorated the front hall of her home at 137 Beacon Street. Her mother-in-law, with whom she had shared the house for nearly seventeen years, had recently passed away. And in the thirty years since the house was built, styles had changed. Rosamond selected an embossed, gold-leaf wallpaper, called “Japanese Leather.” She also chose a luxe red-on-red patterned Wilton carpet.
|Wilton red-on-red pattern|
The carpet was manufactured by the Bigelow Carpet Company in Clinton, Mass. Bigelow was a prominent name in carpets; the company’s founder, Erastus Bigelow, developed the first power loom in America. His inventiveness ultimately revolutionized the carpet industry, making quality carpets cheaper and quicker to produce. By the late nineteenth century, Bigelow carpets were a household name. Bigelow’s classic advertising campaign encouraged people to consider purchasing a carpet for their home and business, “A Title on the Door Rates a Bigelow on the Floor.”
The Wilton style of carpet that Rosamond selected was top of the line. Traditional Wilton-weave carpets have a thick, cut pile that resembles velvet. They were the most expensive to produce and served as a status marker in many wealthy homes.
Rosamond’s carpet held up well, but after almost 130 years of use, it became worn and faded. In 2016, the Museum’s Board of Directors, with the help of several generous donors, undertook a project to reproduce a new carpet for the Gibson House.
The Museum worked with the J. R. Burrows Company here in Massachusetts and the Grosvenor Wilton Company Ltd., located just outside Birmingham, England, to design a replica of the original carpet. This involved taking samples of the old carpet to the mill, so that the pattern and dye could be matched exactly. The historic Stourvale Mill, where the new carpet was woven, is the site of the first steam-powered carpet mill in Britain. It is a fitting place to reproduce a Bigelow carpet.
|Sewing carpet strips by hand|
|Installing carpet on the staircase|
In August, Pulsifer-Kingston, a carpet installation company in Quincy, Mass., received the carpet bales in the traditional twenty-seven-inch strips and hand-sewed them together in their workshop. Installation took three days.
We were proud to unveil the new carpet at the beginning of September. It is vibrant and plush, and complements the wallpaper beautifully. It is now easy to imagine how impressive the house's front hall would have been in 1890.
Visit the Gibson House and see the new carpet!
Information about guided tours can be found on our website.
-Meghan Gelardi Holmes, Curator
To learn more:
- Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company, A Century of Carpet and Rug Making in America (1925).
- Patton, Randall L. "A History of the U.S. Carpet Industry," Economic History Association (no date).
- J. R. Burrows & Company, Historical Design Merchants