Antiques & Collectables - Samplers

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antique sampler
antique sampler

Both the preparation and presenting of ones Curriculum Vitae is a very important task.  The way it is constructed and its general presentation can often mean interview or not.  The preparation of CV's is now a professional job with all the frills and padding done on your behalf by experts.  The presentations are now very rarely in the applicant's hand.  Again, prepared by machine to an exact formula.  Gone are the days of quality precise handwriting, with the emphasis on neatness or beautifully crafted calligraphy.  Even before the average British citizen could write, children, especially girls, had to present their "CV" in a readable and graphic form.


The "sampler" was, as it says, "a sample" of the work done by a young lady.  The needlework showing quite clearly her abilities with the sewing needle.  All kinds of stitches, including cross stitch, single cross, holbine, Algerian eye, etc. etc.; creating symbols, buildings, mythological creatures, birds, flowers, trees and insects, together with the alphabet, or parts of it, numbers and sometimes verse or religious text.


This personal testimony of competency was the key to employment - not unusual for girls as young as 12 - to work at one of the large country houses or town dwellings of the wealthy.  The sampler showing to the employer that the applicants ability to sew family crests on to linen, the darning samplers showing that all types of mending could be undertaken and even the repair of sheets and stockings were well within her capabilities.


It is not uncommon to come across samplers signed and dated, together with a child's name and age, sometimes as young as 4 or 5 years.  The feeling is that while a child so young could have accomplished such a feat, it is more likely the sampler was created by family or friends on occasions to celebrate anniversaries.


One of this countries earliest recorded antique sampler with a date is 1598 and is in the Victoria and Albert museum, created by one Jane Bostocke and it is very unusual as it is part embroidered with a lion and a deer, together with a variety of stitches.


The variety is endless: needlework maps, darning samplers, stumpwork and very attractive linen or linen artwork, draw thread work and plain sewing - the latter showing just how skilled the seamstress was at repairing garments.  All of these were presented in sampler form.


These individual cameos of social history are a very personal insight into the achievement of young children and have always been a target for collectors.  Certainly in the last 30 years, they have seen a 20 fold increase in values.  Maybe because they had been much overlooked previously.  A 17th century sampler dated can now cost hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.  A good quality 18th century example with excellent colour and of large size can also realise 4 figures.  Victorian and later samplers are still affordable with some examples costing under £100.


Care of the sampler is vitally important.  It is vulnerable by its very nature - linen backing, fine coloured threads; both loved by the moth and the woodworm who frequently attacks the pine back of the frame.  Daylight breaks down the delicate colours, the threads and fibres themselves.  Always protect from strong sunlight and dampness, although excess heat can also cause damage.


If you are considering reframing at any time always replace the back with an inert board which is very strong and worm resistant.  If you are considering conservation, only use experts - never attempt it yourself - and, most important, never wash samplers as they are not colour fast.


Oh well, back to the darning!

In our area, we have two excellent conservationists :


Ksynia Marko, Textile Conservation, Blickling Hall, Aylsham, NR11 6NF




New Day Cleaners, 349/352 Aylsham Road, Norwich, NR3 2RX


Very useful reading on samplers is Shire book written by Pamela Clabburn, our local expert.


Mike Hicks