As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, June 2006 

Sampler made by Elizabeth Barton, aged 11, c. 1809. Courtesy, Mark Gulezian/Quick Silver.

Some of the most collectible and charming samplers were made in the early 19th century by American children. Needlework was taught at that time in American schools and the alphabet sampler served as a practice work. They are the most common examples that turn up in shops and auctions. Often they followed the school formats. Designs often were in brown, blue or black on tan. They date earlier in England to the 18th century.

However collectors look for pictorial samplers that depicted family homes and floral and bird motifs.

While most beginning collects think of samplers as being strictly a Colonial American art craft, they were actually made in England's as early as the fifteen century, followed by other countries such as German, Italy and France.

These first examples had no particular pattern, but rather were used to record a newly learned stitch or design. It was in Germany that the first pattern books were printed in the early 16th century. Later in the century France, Italy and England printed sampler pattern books.

When early examples from the 18th century come to auction they are still affordable. Prices can range from $1,000 for European samplers depending on the quality of the subject. More if they are identified as American. The reason being that fewer American 18th century samplers have been documented.

Not many major collections of American samplers come to auction. The last was the Ted Kapnek collection, sold by Sotheby’s in 1981. It consisted of 172 documented American samplers. Many were 18th century. The earliest was dated 1714.

CLUES: Without documentation it is difficult to tell if a sampler is English, Canadian or American.

Size is often a clue to origin. Early American samplers were not as apt to be long and Narrow. Seventeenth century English samplers were narrow, long and rectangular, with two bands of alphabets, minus the letter J and V. They were usually made with silk thread embroidered on a linen ground. Colors were usually green, red, blue, tan, cream and white. By the eighteenth century the sampler became more square. Many figures, scenes, texts and alphabets were used.

Subjects are another way to tell where a sampler was made. In England the map sampler and religious subjects were popular. Coronets were used in European, not American samplers.

German samplers were of several types. One used a black and cream silk cross stitch on cream linen. Another type used white linen with red embroidery in the 18th century.

American schoolgirl samplers made in Alexandria Virginia and the District of Columbia area are known for their quality. They were not only taught simple sampler needlework in black cross-stitches but ornamental needlework. There were also women who privately taught this art form. One, a Mrs. Edmund Edmonds opened a school in 1810 in Alexandria and advertised, “Embroidery in chenille's, gold, silver and silk. Maps, print work in figures or landscape,”.

By 1830 needlework instruction in Alexandria had become out of fashion. It was also replaced by other crafts.

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