A stitch in time: needlework samplers in spotlight at auctions

“The Five Senses” stumpwork picture, England, 17th century, stitched in silk and metallic threads on a silk background depicting the five senses in oval vignettes against a background of flowers, fruit trees, birds, and animals, framed, 23-1/2” h, 28” w, sold at Skinner for $17,220 – thousands more than its estimate of $2,000-$4,000. Image courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers

Bidders made a beeline for various samplers and other needlework offered at recent auctions, with a couple of them selling for five figures, and several others for thousands of dollars above their pre-sale estimates.

At an Americana auction at Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers (skinnerinc.com), the top-selling needlework was “The Five Senses” stumpwork picture, stitched in silk and metallic threads on a silk background depicting the five senses in oval vignettes against a background of flowers, fruit trees, birds, and animals. The 17th century, England, work sold for $17,220 — thousands more than its pre-sale estimate of $2,000-$4,000.

Over at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers (bruneauandco.com), a matching pair of samplers, done by young sisters in Ohio in 1806 and 1808, sold as one lot for $10,000. The samplers were beautifully executed in Wallingford, Ohio, by the Kirkland sisters — Nancy, age 7 in 1808, and Sara, age 8 in 1806. Each sampler was decorated with a central home motif, surrounded by birds with strawberry bushes and trees. They were done on silk and linen.

A matching pair of samplers, done by young sisters in Ohio in 1806 and 1808, done on silk and linen, with both measuring 14” x 11” and both framed, sold at Bruneau & Co. for $10,000. Image courtesy of Bruneau & Co.

“What a thrill it was to hammer down the samplers for $10,000,” said Travis Landry, a Bruneau & Co. specialist and auctioneer. “You’d think the market for early Americana is depressed, but the best always performs.”

At the Benefit Shop Foundation’s (thebenefitshop.org) monthly Red Carpet auction, Americana aficionados had a trove of more than 100 schoolgirl samplers to bid on. The top-selling sampler, a signed antique Pennsylvania Amish sampler done by “Katie Stoltzfus” in 1911, sold for $475, hundreds more than its estimate of $50-$200. The sampler, which received 24 bids, features the alphabet embroidered in various sizes and colors, along with floral motifs throughout.

Schoolgirl samplers were an important part of a young girl’s education in America in the 1800s and 1900s, teaching her necessary skills in the needle arts, which she would need to run her own household one day. Most common were alphabet samplers, which contained rows of letters and numbers, the quality of the stitching indicative of the girls sewing mastery.

This linen and silk sampler signed and dated, “This Wrought by Betsey Ann Kenney, under the tuition of Clarinda Streeter in the year 1824. Preston, Chenango, N. York,” features the alphabet embroidered in various sizes, along with floral motifs and inscription. It measures approx 18” h x 13” w and sold for $325; estimate was $100-$300. Image courtesy of The Benefit Shop

This signed antique Pennsylvania Amish sampler, with signature of “Katie Stoltzfus” and date “Feb. 1, 1911” embroidered along the bottom, sold at the Benefit Shpp auction for $475 against an estimate of $50-$200. It features the alphabet embroidered in various sizes and colors, along with floral motifs throughout, and is approximately 25-3/4” h x 18-1/4” w. Image courtesy of The Benefit Shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefit Shop said that many collectors also gravitate toward highly elaborate pictorial samplers on which buildings, trees, landscapes, animals and people were also wrought onto the sampler via silk thread. Samplers also encompassed religious themes with many girls stitching expressions of piety and virtue such as “The Lord’s Prayer,” along with other Bible verses and imagery.

“Samplers are wonderful and highly collected examples of folk art. Once highly prized as proof of a young girl’s mastery of the needle arts, today they are nostalgic, visually striking and graphic and are part of the renewed interest in early women’s history,” said Pam Stone, owner and founder of The Benefit Shop Foundation. “We were thrilled beyond belief to receive a donation of over 100 fine samplers, which we will be offering over several months.”

The Benefit Shop said its offering last month is but a small sample (pun intended) of a large single-owner collection of samplers that will come to auction over the next few months.

Needlework allegorical picture, England, 17th century, depicting three figures with deer, squirrels, flowers, and fruit trees, buildings in the background, in a molded and black-painted frame with a gilt liner, 14-5/8″ h, 17-3/4″ w. This sold for $4,305 against an estimate of $1,500-$2,500. Image courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers

Needlework candle sconce, England, 18th century, the rectangular “sconce” with a framed floral needlework picture supporting a single brass candle socket on a scrollwork branch, 22″ h, 9-3/4″ w. Sold for $6,765 – far above its estimate of $800-$1,200. Image courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers

 

Embroidered alphabet sampler, signed Sarah Mazen, dated May 7, 1817. Sampler features floral motifs, is matted and set behind glass in wood frame, approx. 12″ h x 16-1/4″ w. Sold for $150. Image courtesy of The Benefit Shop

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