A Stitch in Time
Schoolgirl samplers provide an intriguing window into early Mainers’ lives, appraiser John Bottero writes.
TEXT BY JOHN BOTTERO
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE SACO MUSEUM
In the early 19th century, the curriculum at Misses Martin’s School for Young Ladies in North Yarmouth encompassed “a little French, music, painting and many kinds of fancy work,” as well as “geography with the use of globes,” observed Portland historian Edward H. Elwell. Such genteel topics were being taught at new female academies throughout the state, opening up educational opportunities for girls who did not have the means to attend fine finishing schools in Boston and beyond. Samplers, which date to the 16th century and showcase a girl’s sewing proficiency, were a popular concentration. They range from simple letter and number renderings to complex works with decorative borders, poems, bible passages, memorials, or family registers, which may represent the efforts of multiple generations. Many include the creator’s name, age, and year the work was made.
Often stored in hope chests, many samplers are well preserved; those that were displayed tend to be faded and difficult to read. (When framing, be sure to use UV-resistant glass.) They typically fetch $100 to $500, but special historical examples can command thousands. One such work, masterfully wrought by the daughter of an important Boston patriot, set off a bidding frenzy at our auction house. When the hammer fell, it sold for a record $465,000.
Special thanks to the folks at the Saco Museum for the photographs of samplers in their collection.
ABOVE Family register sampler, Olive Ann Parker, 1840, silk thread on linen, 18 ½” x 19 ½” BELOW Marking sampler, Eunice Cutts, 1792, silk thread on linen, 14 ½” x 8 ½”
John Bottero is the vice president of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. Constantly in pursuit of incredible finds, he sees dozens of people each week on Thomaston’s Free Appraisal Day and travels the state helping Mainers bring their collections and valuable heirlooms to market.