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Portland Rug History

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

We keep a keen eye out for rug-related ephemera. A few years ago, Val stumbled across the original typeset for a long-gone Portland rug retailer Cartozian Brothers Rugs Inc. for sale by an Etsy seller based in Chicago.

I've always admired the Cartozian letterhead, having seen old sales invoices and receipts in the safe keeping of grandma and great-grandma's rug purchases from Cartozian. It's too bad they don't make letters head like this anymore it makes companies more interesting. The photos don't do the typeset justice it invokes Orientalism 19th-early 20th century

1930's letterhead block print
Cartozian block print

Cartozian letter head type set
Cartozian typeset

In 1906 Tatos Cartozian and his family fleeing genocide immigrated to the USA, and Tatos settled in Portland, Oregon. Shortly thereafter, Tatos started selling rugs and in 1922, opened a rug retail shop in Portland near the corner of 10th and Washington. Some of the nicest antique rugs we see in Portland bare the Cartozian lable.

In 1923, Tatos applied for US citizenship in Portland Judge Robert Bean found Tato's ability to speak and read English sufficient, and Tatos was granted provisional citizenship in his newly adopted country, yet all was not well.

Portland rug dealer
Tatos Cartozian

However, In 1924, the United States government challenged the validity of Tato's citizenship and sought to revoke it based on his ethnicity.

 Tatos, an Armenian-born rug merchant who had faced persecution, fled genocide and made it to America to be a small business owner—now, had to fight the US government. Tatos fought his case, taking it all the way to the US Supreme Court.

In the case, United States v. Tatos Cartozian" (1925) US prosecuting attorney John S. Coke, stated- “The government contends that it makes no difference whether a man is a Caucasian or not or what the racial and language history of his people maybe if the man on the street does not recognize him as white.” Wow, Just wow. 

Thankfully, the Supreme Court disagreed, and Tatos won his case and became a US citizen. Tatos Cartozians survived genocide, racism, and his business weathered 2 world wars and the great depression. Tatos passed away on February 14, 1953. 

What Cartozian Rugs could not survive was the shifting trend in the 1950-60s from hand-woven Oriental rugs to broadloom, wall-to-wall carpets; the cartozian rugs business closed its doors in 1963. 

You can read more here about Tato's legal case  

hconnecting relatives and friends in America to workshops in Western Iran. Fostering a rich trade in Persian carpets and rug cleaning and repair. Locallay, Cartozians in Portland and Tacoma, Washington ME Dinihanian and Sons. The rise of modern rug washing and repair facilities is directly tied to ambitious, hard-working Armenian Immigrants and their descendants. 

Some of the best antique Persian rugs I've seen in Portland bear Cartozian labels. During the Armenian genocide, Persia, now modern-day Iran, took in hundreds of thousands of Armenians, and the Armenians in Persia connected with relatives in America. This connection helped drive interest and availability of oriental rugs in America in the early 20th century. 

Thank you, Tatos and others!


The story might have ended there but searching the web one evening young man found this blog post about Tatos Cartozian and the type set letterhead. The young man was Tato's Cartozian's great-grandson; he dropped by the shop and asked to see the family-type set, "Any chance you would sell it to me?" He asked sheepishly.

I won't sell it to you, but you can have it. The truth is, It didn't cost me much money, and I have similar family items. My grandparents owned a restaurant in Milwaukie back in the 1950s. I have some of the old kitchenware they used then; none of it is valuable in dollars, but when I cook with them, I think of my grandparents and that means a lot to me.

Old pots and pans or letters head, it's the same really. This is part of their family history, and I was happy for them to have it.

Tatos great grandson
Tatos Cartozian great grandson

Some of the story of Tatos and his journey to America and venture into retail rug sales were filled in. Tatos, unlike many Armenians, was given a document guaranteeing his safe passage out of Turkey.

The rug business may have survived, but Tatos didn't feel his sons had what it takes to run the family rug business and the businesses closed in time.

Here's a photocopy of this document dated 3rd of December 1903 guaranteeing Tatos safe passage out of Ottoman Turkey

Document granting Tatos safe passage out of Turkey
Document granting Tatos safe passage out of Turkey

Member of the Cartozian family lived and worked in Washington state as well, and a few years back, I ran into an old work van from the Cartizans in Tacoma, WA.

Old cartozian work van seen in Portland
Cartzian work van seen in Portland

I can't help but feel privileged to be part of the rugs and kindred sports of those before me that worked with oriental rugs.

Drop us a line and let us know if you have any interesting stories about Portland rug past

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