Our forefathers have left us many incredible examples of their talent and craftsmanship over the past centuries.
But just as significant, although sometimes overlooked, are the contributions of the housewives of yesteryear. From folk art and hand painted china to needlework and quilts, the beautiful pieces created by the talented women of past generations have survived and found their way into today’s collectible market. At the top of the “must have” list for many are the intricate hand-work pieces known as “Samplers.”
While no one is certain when the first Samplers were made, we can establish that they go back at least 400 years. The earliest known existing example, from the late 1500s, is signed and dated “Jane Bostocke, 1598” and today resides in the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The earliest documented “bill of sale” record is credited to Queen Elizabeth of York who listed the purchase of a Sampler in her household expense accounts in 1502.
The Samplers collected by today’s enthusiasts come mainly from the works of the young women of the 18th and 19th Centuries. “Sampler,” taken from the Latin word Exeuplum, meaning “an example to be followed,” is a true to it’s definition.
With no printed examples available to follow, those who crafted Samplers were dependent upon the works of those who preceded them. When a woman found a stitch that appealed to her she would add a small example of the stitch to a piece of fabric that she kept as her ‘sample’. These collections of random stitches were cherished and added to by future generations and a rare and cherished find to the serious collector.
In the late 1700s and Map Samplers came into vogue. While they are highly inaccurate geographically (due to the nature of the medium), they are some of the most intricate pieces ever made. From this time period of “educational samplers” you will also find Almanac Samplers, Alphabet Sampler and those with mathematical times tables. Unlike the elaborate samplers that would become popular as we crossed into the 1800s, these earlier works were very crude in appearance and void of any decoration.They are most difficult to find and demand high dollar at specialty auctions.