In the second half of the 19th Century, hooked rugs gained immense popularity due to the efforts of a Maine Peddler named Edward Sands Frost. Commercial rug designs supplanted older traditions and led to the acceptance of hooked rugs as decorative objects, although the rug was beginning to be shaped by forces outside of the rug hooker, a fact illustrated by the story of Ralph Warren Burnham of Ipswich.
A collector, dealer, designer and repairer of hooked rugs in the early twentieth century, Burnham was an excellent if eccentric self-promoter, and he loved rugs. He employed expert rug artists to repair and restore antique rugs, as well as to duplicate the older examples. He was the subject of promotional articles and booklets, in which he claimed seeing rugs with unusual mottoes such as “Happy the home all cheery and snug, whose every room is covered with a fine hooked rug.”
Burnham told his customers that hooked rugs were kept face down in the best rooms to protect the rug surfaces , explaining the old saying, “I’ll mind the door while you tend the rugs,” when families scrambled to right the rugs when unexpected guests turned up at the front door. Burnham claimed that hooked rugs were sometimes used to cover “the bottom of burial caskets and had hooked therein the inscriptions which was afterward placed upon the tombstone.” Whether this tradition was real is unknown, but Burnham’s designs proved popular with rug hookers who wanted copies of older designs. (source: Hooked Rugs of the Midwest.)
Burnham’s hooked rug shop was at 126 High Street in Ipswich, which was later used as a marine supplies store and still stands today.
Just beyond the Choate Bridge on South Main Street, Ralph Burnham assembled several old buildings into one building which he intended to use as an art gallery. It later became a music venue known as the Kings Rook and the Stonehenge Club. and finally as a restaurant before it was torn down and replaced by the similar-looking professional building at that location now.
Burnham also operated a tea room, restaurant and antiques business out of the 1640 Hart House on Linebrook Rd., which he called, “Ye Old Burnham House.” The building is now the 1640 Hart House restaurant. Burnham sold the two oldest rooms in the house to the