The building at 126 High St. in Ipswich has been through many owners but is still recognizable as the site of Ralph W. Burnham Hooked Rugs. In the late 19th Century, hooked rugs gained immense popularity, partly due to a Maine Peddler and rug hooker named Edward Sands Frost, who introduced preprinted hooked-rug patterns on burlap. In 1876, when Frost sold his business, he had about 180 patterns. Frost’s patterns included a wide variety of natural objects along with geometric patterns. As commercial rug designs supplanted traditional hooked rugs, traditional hand rug hooked rugs became valuable antiques, and were the most popular item in Ipswich antiques dealer Ralph Warren Burnham’s shop in Ipswich.
After Burnham, the building was used by Hi Liner and Melanson boats, then Bombadier and Northern Lights Skidoo shops.
Burnham was a collector, dealer, designer and repairer of hooked rugs, and an excellent if eccentric self-promoter. He employed artists to repair and restore antique rugs, as well as to duplicate the older examples. His promotional articles and booklets, were distributed widely, and featuredl mottoes such as “Happy the home all cheery and snug, whose every room is covered with a fine hooked rug.” Burnham told his customers how to care for their rugs, and believed that that hooked rugs should be 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. He also 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.”