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The Tapestry Book

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THE commercial fact that tapestries have immeasurably increased in value within the last five years, would have little interest were it not that this increase is the direct result of America’s awakened appreciation of this form of art. It has come about in these latter days that tapestries are considered a necessity in the luxurious and elegant homes which are multiplying all over our land. And the enormous demand thus made on the supply, has sent the prices for rare bits into a dizzy altitude, and has made even the less perfect pieces seem scarce and desirable.

The opinion of two shrewd men of different types is interesting as bearing on the subject of tapestries. One with tastes fully cultivated says impressively, “Buy good old tapestries whenever you see them, for there are no more.” The other says bluffly, “Tapestries? You can’t touch ’em. The prices have gone way out of sight, and are going higher every day.” The latter knows but one view, the commercial, yet both are right, and these two views are at the bottom of the present keen interest in tapestries in our country. Outside of this, Europe has collections which we never can equal, and that thought alone is enough to make us snatch eagerly at any opportunity to secure a piece. We may begin with our ambition set on museum treasures, but we can come happily down to the friendly fragments that fit our private purses and the wall-space by the inglenook.

Tapestries are not to be bought lightly, as one buys a summer coat, to throw aside at the change of taste or circumstance. They demand more of the buyer than mere money; they demand that loving understanding and intimate appreciation that exists between human friends. A profound knowledge of tapestries benefits in two ways, by giving the keenest pleasure, and by providing the collector—or the purchaser of a single piece—with a self-protection that is proof against fraud, unconscious or deliberate.

The first step toward buying must be a bit of pleasant study which shall serve in the nature of self-defence. Not by books alone, however, shall this subject be approached, but by happy jaunts to sympathetic museums, both at home and abroad, by moments snatched from the touch-and-go talk of afternoon tea in some friend’s salon or library, or by strolling visits to dealers. These object lessons supplement the book, as a study of entomology is enlivened by a chase for butterflies in the flowery meads of June, or as botany is made endurable by lying on a bank of violets. All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, but makes dull reading the book he has in hand.

The tale of tapestry itself carries us back to the unfathomable East which has a trick at dates, making the Christian Era a modern epoch, and making of us but a newly-sprung civilisation in the history of the old grey world. After showing us that the East pre-empted originality for all time, the history of tapestry lightly lifts us over a few centuries and throws us into the romance of Gothic days, then trails us along through increasing European civilisation up to the great awakening, the Renaissance....