Monday, June 4, 2018

Pheasant & Palm Chintz # 4: Dating the Quilts

Star of Bethlehem or Mathematical Star with cut-out chintz corners.
Picture from an online auction.

The Broderie Perse applique here is cut from the Pheasant & Palm chintz.
Can the print help us date the quilt?

The earliest dating information on the print is a record in the Bannister Hall archives with a date of 1814, so most of the prints are dated about 1815. The quilts would have to date after that.
For years quilts made with the distinctive print were dated as "circa 1815." 

Montgomery County Maryland Historical Society

But this is a case when knowing when the fabric was printed is not as helpful as you'd hope. In fact using the fabric to date the quilt doesn't work here. It's more using the quilts to date the fabric---or at least when it was used. American quilts tend to be at least a decade later than the fabric. 

 The  U.S. and Britain were fighting a war in 1814, so the print was unlikely to have been shipped to American ports in a timely fashion during the War of 1812-1815.

Once in Margaret Cavigga's collection

This is the earliest date-inscribed American quilt with the print that I have found.

Quilt date-inscribed 1826 by Sarah Alexander 
Harris Gilmore, North Carolina
The North Carolina Project.

We see at least a ten year lag between the time the fabric was first printed in England and when it was used in a quilt in the United States. The fabric is thought to have been reprinted in the 1830s, which may explain why it was so popular here after 1825. 

Another possibility: A good deal of it was printed in England during the Napoleonic Wars that ended in 1815. Yardage may have sat in warehouses till shipping was revived and the fabric was shipped across the Atlantic. 

Or it may be that it was reprinted in the 1820s particularly for the "Brazilian" or South American market---the export market that favored exotic plants and animals. The export prints also reached U.S. ports.

Quilt dated 1830 by Sarah T C Miller,
Charleston South Carolina, Shelburne Museum Collection

American quilters continued to use the print for several decades. I have a few more date-inscribed examples in the 1830s.

Also date-inscribed 1830 by 
1830 Violet Alexander.
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

1833, Margaret Seyle Burgess, Charleston Museum

And many similar examples without dates on them.

No date, Cynthia Clementine Johnston, North Carolina Project & the Quilt Index

Rebecca Eloise Alexander McCoy, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
Again from the NC project.

But not all are from the South

Tree of life by the Hasbrouck family, Ulster County, New York
Smithsonian Institution

Quilt documented in the Ohio project, attributed to Betsy Crocker 
105" x 105"

The Smithsonian has seven quilts from the Corwin family of Orange County,
New York.

People are no longer dating these cut-out chintz medallions to 1815 when the fabric
was printed, but to 1825 - 1840, the peak years of the cut-out chintz style here.

And then there are the later style quilts that might be 1840s or even '50s.

Center of a block style/medallion. Estimated date 1845.
Bruce or Maury Family, Virginia in the collection of 
Colonial Williamsburg.
See the whole quilt here:

And a fragment of an album style quilt at the Winterthur Museum with the print in the setting triangles along the side. The prints in the piecework look very "1840-1860." At first I thought the triangles might have been her last pieces at the bottom of the scrapbag but then I see the back is also the pheasant and palm print.

Back and front corner.
The fringe was probably added later when the quilt
was cut up to make drapes.
Let's say it's 1850; the quiltmaker was using a 35 year old print.
I do it all the time.

And then there are the innumerable wholecloth versions.

I'd date American quilts featuring this print as "After 1825."

Kay Triplett has a list of quilts using the print in the book Chintz Quilts From the Poos Collection , page 283.

And that's the end of the posts about Pheasants & Palms.


  1. I’ve really enjoyed these recent posts. Love the old fabrics and their stories.

  2. Perhaps some of the delay between the date this fabric was printed and the date it was used in a quilt might be because the fabric's first use in the household was in drapes or bed hangings. That's what was intended as its primary use, in England anyhow. We would not have seen photos of its appearance as drapes or bed hangings because there were essentially no photos outside a studio before the mid 1840's.

  3. Wow that was an exhaustive study. Thanks for the stories and theories.
    Suzanne's comment is interesting about the fabric being originally for drapes
    or bed hangings. Did Americans at that time use 'bed hangings' (meaning bed
    curtains maybe?) less than the English? Just wondering.

  4. Thanks for including my list in Chintz Quilts of the Poos Collection. I am sure there are more out there, but these are those I knew about in Museum Collections.