Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Shopping for Quilts 300 Years Ago

Silk quilt attributed to Marseilles, France. 1750-1770
Kathryn Berenson Collection
International Quilt Museum

Quilts made in Marseilles were sold in England.

Ian Mitchell has studied patterns in the history English retailing, particularly in Chester in Cheshire in northwest England in his book Tradition and Innovation in English Retailing, 1700 to 1850: Narratives of Consumption

Old Chester, Herbert Railton, 1886

Here's a look at where one might buy a quilt in the 18th century or earlier.

Winterthur Museum
17th-century wholecloth silk quilt, trade goods
from the Indian/Portuguese culture of Goa.

Many of the quilts sold in English shops were imported from
other countries.

Robert Herring was a London upholsterer 1755-1839
offering fashionable beds and funerals.
Heal Collection at the British Museum
"House furnishing...combined craft and retail skills. The traditional occupations were those of upholsterer and cabinet maker. They were not all that numerous: the 1747 Chester poll book lists 9 upholsterers...compared with 153 cordwainers[shoemakers], 56 tailors and 36 bakers." Ian Mitchell

From at least the late 16th century upholsterers had supplied and fitted all the textile furnishings in the home...

Trade card for James Rodwell's
Royal Bed & Star

Chester upholsterer Abner Scholes's 1736 inventory compiled after his death reveals: "He appears to have had a series of [10] showrooms laid out as the rooms of a house [and] a shop full of fabrics, quilts, blankets, rugs and some miscellaneous furniture....

"John Brook’s shop goods…similarly comprised fabric, quilts and carpets."

Daniel Wakelin sold carpets, blankets, quilts and rugs.

We wish we knew more about these 18th-century and early 19th-century quilts sold in shops.

Herbert & Mayo may have gone bankrupt; consequently their shop stock
 was auctioned in 1806. 

A Marseilles Quilt, whitework
quilt made in Marseilles, France,
Early 18th century. Kathryn Berenson Collection
International Quilt Museum

Herbert & Mayo sold fabrics like printed cottons and muslins and
Counterpanes, Marseilles quilts, printed quilts, &c.

Quilt associated with Susanna Redding Pierce, 
Kent, England, 1713, perhaps given as a gift when her child born.
Victoria & Albert Museum

We'd guess these early quilts sold in upholstery shops were wholecloth quilts, two layers of fabric with a filling, quilted into a bedcovering, as shown in the early quilts pictured here. Perhaps made domestically in England as in the Pierce quilt.

Sotheby's sale
Some imported.
Much from India.

Two cotton prints on a wholecloth quilt, 1780-1810
English, says the Winterthur Museum

The Victoria & Albert Museum has a trade card depicting the period upholstery business. The engraving may have been printed as a generic card where one could add one's business and location byhand as Christopher Gibson has done. He had a shop from 1730 to 1745.

The public room, the shop with its bolts of fabric, is
behind the workroom in the picture. Do the potted plants line
the walk leading to the door?

The bewigged, fashionable upholster and his deferential assistant interact with the customer in the workroom. Behind them a kneeling upholsterer fits fabric. As the trade card may be generic rather than
designed and printed specifically for Gibson the scenario can be interpreted as a conventional view of a shop.

In a corner a bearded man covers a wooden chair seat.
Who is that woman on the stair?

I'd like to think she's the seamstress who does the quilting.

1843, Charles Knight
The Pictorial Gallery of Arts

Silk bedcover, 1750-1800, England
Victoria & Albert Museum

Pattern books kept everyone aware of
current bed styles

Early 19th-century English wholecloth quilt found in the U.S.
Colonial Williamsburg

Wholecloth quilt, 1747
(Silk on one side, wool the other)
Great Britain, Metropolitan Museum of Art

French silk quilt, last half 18th century.
From Trouvais

A little more on the ubiquitous Marseilles Quilts

Kathryn Berenson Collection
International Quilt Museum

Authority on French quilts Kathryn Berenson tells us that a "1800 city directory, Le Guide Marseillois,
lists over twenty tapissiers [workshops], where such pieces would have been made."
This whitework quilt is one of ten with distinctive quilted motifs, a hallmark of a particular tapissier: "High, rounded motifs. Each one shows different compositions of fruits and flowers, twining vines, ribbons, and pearls, and several include bird motifs. Not one is alike and not one is the same size, evidence each one was made to order."

See Kathryn's exhibit online: Marseille: White Corded Quilting

1 comment:

  1. This is so funny; just today I read one of Fons & Porter's older books about the quilts at our Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. They are discussing some basic history and mentioning all the types of quilts and styles. Your discussion is much better because you have great pictures. Thanks for filling in their story!
    The wholecloth with silk on top and wool on back has me wondering- silk for the lady and wool for her spouse?