Thursday, September 19, 2019

Earliest Sampler Quilt?

Blocks dated 1841-1842 Ella Maria Deacon (1811-1894)
Mount Holly, New Jersey
Art Institute of Chicago

We had a good time recently in one of the Social Media groups showing sampler quilts, with some discussion of what the definition is. 

1850 for Benoni Pearce,
Pauling, New York
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

Sampler Quilt: A composition of  blocks in different patchwork patterns.

Then I wondered what's the earliest American sampler quilt in my files of date inscribed quilts. The first problem is defining a sampler quilt more narrowly.

Quilt dated 1810 Margaret Gundacker
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Dated 1819
Collection of Molly at Fourth Corner Antiques

Are these samplers or medallions?

1824 by Mary Taylor, International Quilt Museum

Ten blocks of cut out chintz.
Does this count? It's patchwork designs whether or not
there are seams dividing them.

Quilt dated 1832 by Mary Taylor,
MESDA Collection

Mary Taylor's later quilt is done in similar style.
Mary seems to be on to something.

Rosanna McCullough, 1832,
Collection of the North Carolina Museum of History

Cut-out chintz applique framing the popular fruit basket panel.

But maybe this isn't a sampler; it's a framed medallion.

Dated 1831 - 1832 

Eliza Smith-Goltho-A. D. 1831 Age 11, -
Eliza Smith-Mendon-A. D. 1832 
Arizona Project & the Quilt Index

This looks more like what we think of as a sampler, but my first guess is it's English by the openness of the design. 

My second thought: I bet those blocks on the north/south axis are older, dated embroidery that Eliza incorporated into a later quilt. Finding Eliza Smith would be hopeless but there is indeed a town named Goltho in Lincolnshire, England. There's a Mendon, Massachusetts but also a Manton in Lincolnshire.

Dated 1837-1838
Collection of the Concord Museum in Massachusetts

This may be the earliest sampler quilt in the files. Multiple designs,
blocks the same size....

The problem with using date-inscribed quilts is that the dated blocks may be older than the quilt itself, way older.

UPDATE: Pam Weeks, the authority on blocks quilted and bound (potholder quilts) says this is one of those very New England types.

This quilt sold at an auction is dated 1835-1838.

The sampler idea is certainly linked to the block repeat concept so samplers became fashionable as the block/square format took over about 1840.

1838, Mary Wilhelm, 15 years old
Betsey Telford-Goodwin's Rocky Mountain Quilts Shop

Most of us would agree that Mary's quilt is a sampler. And because it's so stylistically consistent and signed in the center the date of 1838 probably reflects when Mary was working on the quilt.

 Mary might get the honor of making the earliest dated sampler quilt.

Abby Palmer, Maine
Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Does embroidery count?

1841 for Cornelius Cuyler
Philadelphia Museum of Art

1841 For the Dandy family
Bordentown, New Jersey

By the 1840s the style seems to have become established although cut-out chintz was at first the preferred technique.

Ella Maria Deacon and her New Jersey friends might 
win the prize for earliest sampler.
Note the cactus block, cut-out chintz still done, but pieced blocks and conventional applique are starting to dominate.

Collector Sandra Starley owns this one dated 1842.
Same cactus fabric in center second row from top

Both these 1842 quilts fit everybody's idea of a sampler quilt. After that---a deluge.

Quilt dated 1892, Lynn, Massachusetts

Gay Bomers at Sentimental Stitches is patterning the Ella Maria Deacon quilt.


  1. This is month one for a quilt along with Gay Bomers on her blog for the Ella Maria Deacon quilt.....4 blocks a month for 21 months....it is not free but very, very reasonable.

  2. Thanks so much for a wonderfully informative post on samplers. I'm excited to be re-creating the Deacon quilt with Sentimental Stitches in the next couple of years. I had no idea it was the oldest one, so far.

  3. great post! We have two of Mary Taylor's quilts in our collection at Telfair Museums.

  4. Cyndi, we need to do a post on Mary's 4 quilts.

  5. We have a selection of Sampler quilts from our collection currently on display at the New England Quilt Museum. There are some antiques, a group from the 1980's, and a contemporary example.

  6. Were sampler-quilts quilts that different friends and family made the blocks to be remembered when the recipient moved away? How often were they quilts finished in a hurry by the maker of the blocks, so that they would have quick bedcovers?

  7. I got your blog from Barbara Hutson. She said you might be able to help me. I have a family collection of vintage quilts. They have been stored in acid free paper and acid free box. The white background fabric is turning yellow. Is there any thing I can do to get them back to white without damaging the colors. bearlynew2000@hotmail.com Thank you Bethany