Saturday, June 12, 2010


 Ginger Rogers in an outfit made of money from Gold Diggers of 1933
 Several readers have written concerning an outrageous eBay posting, high in hyperbole.

The quilt, advertised as the Oldest Known Quilt in Western World, went unbid upon last month in an online auction with a starting bid of $2,900,000. One could have bought it directly for $3,200,000.

It's back up there in another auction this week. At the beginning of the week you could  "Buy It Now" for $500,000. A price reduction of nearly 3 million dollars. But then the listing was dropped.
Click here: http://cgi.ebay.com/Oldest-Known-Quilt-Western-World-1650s-/170485551759?cmd=ViewItem&pt=Quilts&hash=item27b1bb128f
or maybe click here:

It was advertised as dating possibly to the 1650s, attributed to Hester Hosmer (1641-1702) who was later the wife of Rev. Thomas Buckingham (1646-1709). If the quilt is indeed the 1650s Hester would have made it between the ages of 9 and 19.

When asked last month for any documentation the seller replied:
 The problem has been that every quilt appraiser who has looked at this has admitted that they are under qualified because of the obvious age and materials used. And they do not know of anyone who is qualified (I have been searching for years.)

The reverse seems to be patched of large pieces.
Here's a blue and white woven striped cotton

 Were I looking for assistance in dating a quilt from that era  I would take the quilt to an expert in colonial costumes, textiles and fabrics. There are many museums, here and in Europe, that specialize in the 17th century period. There are many people who would be glad to take on the job of identifying and dating the piece.

Detail of a patchwork coverlet dated 1718
From the collection of the Quilters' Guild of the British Isles

Even a novice appraiser should be able to identify the fibers in the fabrics. Anyone with any experience could find costumes and household textiles with similar weaves and dyes.

Patchwork attributed to early 18th century.
Collection of Colonial Williamsburg.
This quilt is on display through October, 2010.

If you are looking for a quilt appraiser the first place to check is The Association of Professional Quilt Appraisers/Quilted Textiles. Click Here: http://www.quiltappraisers.org/

But that is not the real point. The point is that the quilt is WAY OVERPRICED and WAY OVERHYPED.

 Let us say this wholecloth (or minimally pieced) quilt is indeed the work of Hester Buckingham who is said to have died in 1702. It is thus a 17th-century quilt. This may very well be true.

What is the monetary value of a quilted bedcover attributed to the end of the 17th-century? I'm not an appraiser and I don't keep up with the current auctions, but I do know that a quilt is worth the price agreed upon between an honest seller and a knowledgeable buyer. We can look at the history of quilt sales, which have been dropping in this recession.

 About 20 years ago people were paying premium prices for Baltimore album quilts, way over $100,000 and into the $200,000's. Baltimore albums now sell at auction for maybe $10,000 to $60,000.

See a link to a recent sale:

Album quilt by  Lucinda Ward Honstain

This quilt, now called the Reconciliation  Quilt, sold in 1991 at a Sotheby's auction for $264,000. It's now in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum and "considered the most valuable quilt by many experts," according to the IQSC.

Lancaster County center diamond from the Brown Collection

 The other consistently expensive quilts, rare Lancaster County Amish quilts, tend to go for $10,000 to $30,000.

These are posted auction prices and there may well be private transactions going on where prices are higher.
 So the Buy It Now price of $500,000 this week was nearly twice the record price for a quilt.

Adding to the impression of an outrageous price is that early wholecloth quilts without patchwork tend to be of far less interest to collectors that folk art classics with pictorial applique or Amish quilts with good sales histories.

Back to the claim, this is the "Oldest Known Quilt in Western World." Could it be? First we have to define the Western World---the Western Hemisphere, the North American Continent, Any place that's not the Eastern World???

There are many European textiles dating to the late 17th century, and several American pieces considered as old. Colonial Williamsburg right now is hosting an exhibit named Quilted Fashions, which "explores the use of quilting to decorate bed coverings, clothing, and accessories of the 17th and 18th centuries."

What can we learn from this?
  • Hyperbole like "Oldest Known Quilt in Western World" muddles the whole quilt dating field. Don't believe it.
  • Avoid claims like "oldest" and "first." There is no way to prove this.
  • Statements such as "There are no qualified appraisers are ridiculous." One can find an extremely qualified appraiser for a fee.
  • Don't ever pay over $300,000 for a quilt without a lot of expert advice. It's hard to find a greater fool to sell it to. 
The six fabrics in the quilt were described as:

  • Center is Damask fabric, blue floral on brown ground
  • Border fabric is a brown & tan stripe
  • Back is 2 main pieces of a blue & white striped fabric
  • Border of a dark brown wool
  •  Binding mostly a green jacquard
  •  With a piece or two of a lavender fabric



  1. eBAY WAS always sort of like the snake oil dealer. Why would anyone even consider such an item. This is the "first" listing for the seller name but they sure have the lingo down pat.

    As always enjoyed your step by step way of thinkiing about a quilt before arriving at any conclusions.

  2. Your blog is the best!! Thank you for sharing so much:)

  3. I have purchased several quilts from ebay, with trepidation. But I have read most of your books several times over. I go to museum shows, I have read most of the state documentation books, and I look at a lot of ebay listings before bidding. Oh, and I never go over $300 (so far) so I have a collection of Depression era quilts or quilt tops. An example is here;

    I should find a quilt appraiser though.

  4. Tons of great information in this post Barbara. It's hype like this that creates a bad name, not only for quilts and quilters but for eBay and those who use it honestly and seriously. Thanks, as always, for your expert information and the fact that we can always count on you for YOUR honesty!

  5. Interesting article that throws up a lot of questions about the quilt, the seller and ebay.

    Firstly, I cannot believe that there are no 'early quilt experts' around, despite years of searching. The quilt therefore has no real provenance and it would be dubious to call it the oldest quilt ever as I am sure that researchers are still open as to the definition of 'quilt' in different parts of the globe.

    Lastly, why would someone try to sell a valuable antique and part of textile craft history through ebay? Would they have not have gone through reputable channels such as an international auction house?

    It all sounds highly dubious and very 'ebay'if you ask me.

  6. Lot so of good information here...I just can't imagine spending that much money on something sight unseen!

  7. There is always so much information in your wonderful posts. Concerning another eBay listing:
    I wonder if you know the origin of this design? I have a top that has these designs embroidered, also in blue, with HSTs surrounding them, also in two shades of orange.

  8. This is a great perspective. But I do think that it is important to note that there are very many reputable sellers on eBay. I've bought plenty of Morris Garden and Morris Workshop fabric there!

  9. That is one claim I would not have been fooled by, not that I could afford it, lol. Most of the quilts I see in our stores look like they are from the 50's. We are headed to maine/NH border, so I might go to rocky mountain quilts, while there.


  10. You know, Ebay used to be such fun when it first started, but now I seldom go there. I agree with everything you wrote, thank God for people like you. I love the snake oil idea, so true. Thank you for posting about this sort of scam, just keep it up, please? Thanks, Elaine

  11. "Buyer Beware" has never been truer than when buying online. Over time I have given up buying quilts or antique/vintage fabrics that I have not personally seen, touched and believe to be genuine.
    Honestly? I can not imagine what fool would part with that kind of money for ANYTHING on not personally seen. I do like shopping on eBay and have found many bargains.
    By the way,an item on eBay auctioned at these prices would have a very large listing fee! What gives there? Something more than might at first meet the eye?

    Julie in TN

  12. What a great post about antique quilts- lots of good information. It certainly reinforces the need for the buyer to be aware of pricing. I am sure that you can find some terrific deals on ebay but you need to know what you are doing there too.
    Another terrific post Barbara.

  13. Oldest know quilt in the western world? I think Italy & England are part of the western world. . . aren't they? Tristan Quilt(s)? Very much in the news these days.

  14. This was such an excellent tutorial about quilt dating and pricing in general. Thanks so much for your terrific perspective!

  15. I enjoyed your post with breakdown of how a logical thinker should approach such a listing. I guess the seller is hopeful that P.T.Barnum's old adage is true? "There's a sucker born every minute"?

  16. I always thought the oldest known quilt was the one claimed to be Anne Hathaway's

  17. You may be interested in the following link with Bobbie Aug’s appraisal documentation and images.


    What a wonderful history!

  18. Just a correction....a quilt done in 1702 is 18th century, not 17th as written.
    ;) common mistake, but worth mentioning.