Nate writes:

Hi, We just bought an old house, and under a carpet in one of the bedrooms was a “something” — I am not sure what its real name is… It is 6 feet by 8 or 9 feet, and is a fantastic picture / mural. Looks like it is on masonite or some other fiber type board. The “rug” is not attached at all — we can pick it up and move it. It is not gummy at all, seems like just fiberboard, maybe 1/8 of an inch thick. The house was built back around 1900 as a schoolhouse, then sold, dismantled, moved and rebuilt maybe around 1935. The family we bought it from had it since the mid 50’s… I would like to … see if anyone knows anything about it. Thanks!

Nate, it’s hard to say what this is made out of —  there are a number of possibilities.  I recommend that you have it looked at by experts to (1) identify and value it, (2) discuss how to preserve it, and most importantly —  (3) to ensure you know what materials it may be made of  so that you can make informed issues about environmental and safety issues.  In an old house, you want to check every surface for vintage nastiness such as lead and asbestos, for example. Update: Jane Powell in her book “Linoleum” says that while linoleum is known today for its use of renewable resources (cork, linseed oil, namely), heavy metals such as lead may have been used in the manufacturer of old linoleum. So — Precautionary Pam repeats: Get with your own properly licensed professional to determine what’s in this , so that you can make informed decisions about how to handle. Be Safe / Renovate Safe.

That said, here are some possibilities that I am aware of:

1. Impregnated and enameled felt: I have a 1954 catalog for Armstrong flooring, and it is mostly all tile and sheet. But, at the back, in a very small section, they they still feature several rugs like this, with the “Quaker Floor Covering” brand attached. In their description, they say the rugs (two shown here) are made of felt impregnated with a waterproofing and strengthening saturant. It then has sealants on the top and bottom, a leveling coat, then is painted with the design and baked. (“Impregnated… saturant… paint” = code words for get it tested to know what you have.)

2. Linoleum: While my catalog shows a kind of felt-painted-rug, bona-fide linoleum rugs also were produced… and it could be that you have one of those. Here is a link to Secondhand Rose and their discussion of linoleum rugs and the process with which they were made. By the way, I am pretty sure these are wicked expensive and then some. So much so that the price is not even mentioned, and they forewarn you of the difficulty to install. Read: Brittle. The linoleum or linoleum-style rug that I once saw at an estate sale was flexible, but very brittle. In fact, I could not buy it because it was clear that it would bust into pieces if it were not kept absolutely flat.

3. Other: You say your rug feels like it is on a piece of masonite or something stronger and less flexible than linoleum, so it could well be that you have something else. (Most of my focus is on post-war decor, whereas these types of rugs, I believe, were more popular in the early 20th century.)

One thing is pretty clear to me, Nate: I bet your your rug is quite rare and valuable. Novelty and juvenile designs like this are always very collectible. And even with the condition issues, your rug has tremendous charm. Perhaps it belongs in a museum. Good luck, and many thanks for sharing.

  1. Jason says:

    I bought a late 1800’s Italianate house recently that had a bunch of these “faux rugs” in nearly every room in the house. There were some still new/unused rolls of them in the attic. They weren’t in great shape and did not have the mural like patterns you see above. I assumed they were all asbestos and threw them out. I wish I would have taken pictures, but I was so focused on being careful around the asbestos I don’t think I did:( They were all made out of a rubber like backing that was very fragile. I know they wouldn’t have been safe to keep or use, but would have been good to have pictures of.

  2. pam kueber says:

    Hard to say what’s in them unless you have them professionally tested. But gold star for you for making the conservative choice.

  3. Michelle says:

    I would love to show you the “rug” we found in our newly purchased farmhouse -How do I upload a photo to this page?

  4. Michelle says:

    We found this under two rugs in our 1800’s farmhouse. There is only a tiny edge that came off . I love it my husband says sell it but I cant bare to part with it.

  5. christie says:

    i just found the same one pictured above in an old house were flipping in Pa. im going to leave it and put floating floor on top for a future surprise for the new owners. it was a cool find

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