How to Research an Antique Sampler
Lecturer: Cindy Steinhoff
Live Lecture Date: Sunday, June 11, 2023 1PM Eastern
Live Lecture Registration: May 22 – June 9, 2023 1PM Eastern
Format: Live Lecture and Recording
An antique sampler reveals some of its physical characteristics and often some information about the girl who stitched it, but what else can it tell us? Cynthia Shank Steinhoff will discuss how she learns more about the samplers she collects and researches. The result is a full documentation of a sampler’s appearance and history. Many of the characteristics that she identifies for older samplers can be used to provide a full description of a needlework piece made today.
Cynthia Shank Steinhoff is the director of the library at Anne Arundel Community College, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1983. A graduate of Edinboro State College (now Edinboro University of Pennsylvania), she also holds a Master of Library Science degree from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Business Administration degree from University of Baltimore.
Cynthia is a stitcher, sampler collector, and needlework researcher. She began stitching as a young girl and still owns the first set of stamped pillowcases that she made. Her collection of samplers includes works by girls in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, among other states, and from Scotland, England, and Ireland. The oldest sampler in her collection was made in England in the 1730s. Her current areas of focus are samplers made in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, and those stitched by Quaker girls. She researches many aspects of her needlework pieces, including stitches and materials used in the samplers, the stitchers’ lives, and connections between her pieces and others in museums and private collections.
Cynthia contributed to and copy-edited Wrought with Careful Hand: Ties of Kinship on Delaware Samplers, by Dr. Lynne Anderson and Dr. Gloria Seaman Allen, the catalog that accompanied an exhibition of 60 Delaware samplers at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, Delaware, in 2014. She is the co-author with Gloria Seaman Allen of Delaware Discoveries: Girlhood Embroidery, 1750-1850, published in 2019, and is also its editor. Cynthia wrote Delaware Schoolgirl Samplers, an essay on the M. Finkel and Daughter web site. She has given presentations about samplers at numerous needlework guilds, Winterthur’s biennial needlework conference, Penn Dry Goods Market, and Sewell C. Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, Delaware.
A member of the Annapolis Historic Sampler Guild and Loudoun Sampler Guild, Cynthia also belongs to three chapters of the Embroiderers Guild of America – Constellation, Washington DC, and CyberStitchers, the EGA’s online chapter. She is first vice president of Anne Arundel Genealogical Society in Maryland.
When not researching samplers, Cynthia can be found stitching (usually a sampler), reading a mystery novel, and hanging out on the family dog.
Link to event
“Lo Children are an heritage of God”: a Family Record Sampler of the Child Family
Article via Massachusetts Historical Society, May 2023; Object of the Month
Recording family history
While most people are familiar with published family genealogies and manuscript lists of ancestors in musty family Bibles, genealogy also played a starring role in the decorative arts. One of the most interesting is the family record sampler, which first appeared in the late 18th century and reached its peak of popularity between 1820 and 1830, particularly in New England. Whereas girls of a previous generation might have expressed their family pride by stitching an elaborate coat of arms, as Sally Cobb Paine did in the 1760s, by the turn of the century, girls stitched records that were less formal and more focused on recording their own family unit. As Peter Benes notes, family unity in these records was demonstrated in a common and easily understood visual vocabulary, “by interlocking chains, by adjacent circles, by standing architectural structures, and by planted grids or ‘fields’ of names.”
This needlework sampler stitched by Hannah Richards Child in 1827
memorializes the family of Daniel and Rebecca Richards Child ofWest Roxbury and Newton, Massachusetts.
Black cotton thread on loosely woven natural linen, 1827, 54.7 cm x 42 cm
The Child family sampler
Hannah Richards Child’s 1827 family record sampler contains elements of Benes’s formula. Strong twin pillars enclose the family’s names within, crowned with an arch and the phrase “Lo Children are an heritage of Gd,” from Psalms 127:3, which continues “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Hannah’s choice of psalm serves as both an affirmation of her strong religious faith and a loving tribute to her father. After her mother Rebecca died in 1826, Hannah—according to her own obituary—"had devoted herself assiduously to her surviving parent, consoling him under many trials, through which he has recently been called to pass, and directing his house with a degree of judgment, prudence, and affection that are seldom equalled.”
Within the pillars, Hannah recorded the names and birthdates for herself and her 11 siblings, although by the time she stitched her family register, three of her siblings and her mother had died. Two names are repeated on the list—Isaac and Hannah. At the time, child mortality was not uncommon and when a child died, the next child of the same sex would sometimes be named for his or her predecessor, often within the same year. This occurred twice in the Child family. The first Hannah was born in 1794 and stitched her own sampler in 1805, four years before her death in January of 1809 at the age of 14. Our sampler maker, born later that year, was christened Hannah, a name that proved unlucky for her as well. Four years after stitching this sampler, Hannah Richards Child met a tragic end and was glowingly eulogized in the 13 April 1831 edition of the Columbian Centinel:
"Died, in Newton, on the 5th inst. Miss Hannah R. child, aged 22, youngest daughter of Mr. Daniel Child. The sudden death of this young woman, together with the distressing circumstances of it, has cast a gloom over the whole neighbourhood. To see one, thus lovely and excellent, at one moment in perfect health, and, at the next, torn from us by death in one of its most heart-rending forms, is truly distressing. In the afternoon of that day, her aged father left his home to be present at an examination of a neighbouring school. On his return, about five o’clock, finding her not in the house, and having waited a short time, in momentary expectation of her return he became alarmed. The neighbours were assembled, and search was made. At 8 o’clock in the evening, her remains were found at the bottom of the well, near the house. It appears that she had gone to the well for water; and that, in reaching over the curb, to lift out the bucket, she was precipitated to the bottom of the well, that was twenty-five feet deep, with fourteen feet of water. Medical aid was at hand, and every effort made to rekindle the spark of life; but it was quenched.
The scene presented by this event was heart-rending to those who witnessed it. For several years since the death of her mother, this affectionate daughter had devoted herself assiduously to her surviving parent, consoling him under many trials, through which he has recently been called to pass, and directing his house with a degree of judgment, prudence, and affection that are seldom equalled. To see this old man, in the increasing alarm for his daughter’s safety, in the apprehension for her fate, that became more dreadful with every moment’s delay, and the yet evident fear to know the worst, and at last in the agonies of despair, when he saw that she was dead, must have touched every heart that was not itself dead to feeling. To her father no blow could be more painful, to her brother and sisters none more severe—by the circle—the large circle—of her friends, none more sensibly felt. The void that this death has left in society will not be easily filled. But all her friends have the consolations that spring from their religious convictions and hopes, and the beauty and excellence of her character. We bow before the mysterious movements of God’s holy providence, and hope and trust that such as may have been influenced by her example to follow in her steps, may hereafter be united with her in the rewards which have been graciously set before our hopes, as motives to virtue, in the gospel in which the deceased trusted till her death, and which she adorned in her life."
For further reading
The samplers worked by both Hannah Child and Hannah Richard Child were given to the Massachusetts Historical Society along with the papers of their brother John Richards Child.
The Society also holds the papers of their brother Daniel Franklin Child.
The MHS also owns a family record sampler by Sally Whitcomb of Randolph, Mass., ca. 1809.
Benes, Peter. “Decorated New England Family Registers, 1770 to 1850,” in The Art of Family: Genealogical Artifacts in New England Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002.
Child, Elias. Genealogy of the Child, Childs and Childe Families Utica, N.Y.: Curtiss & Childs, 1881.
Huber, Stephen and Carol Huber. Samplers: How to Compare and Value London: Octopus Publishing Group, 2002.
Ring, Betty. Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework 1650-1850 New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Tuesday 18th April 2023 to Sunday 22nd October 2023
Special events: Friends' Study Morning May 11 & June 21
This display showcases a range of textiles from across the Mediterranean world and explores the embroidery practices that connect them. Mostly created by women, these lively and decorative textiles provided a means of self-expression for women and girls of all ages. Generation after generation of makers handed down their needle skills, creating pieces that reflected personal tastes, social standing and community affiliation.
In the main, the embroideries were made for use in the home, as cushions, towel ends, bed tents, or as clothing.
Common features included ships, vases, fantastical beings, humans, birds and even words, while other motifs denoted regional differences. Some patterns travelled, appearing on other objects, such as ceramics, from opposite ends of the Mediterranean.
The selection curated here for the Shiba Gallery begins to tell the intertwined stories stitched into these detailed and delicate embroideries.
Watch the short film 'Running threads, dancing bodies: The life and collection of Andreas Peris Papageorgiou'.
This six-minute film tells the story behind the little-known collection of Andreas Peris Papageorgiou (b. 1931). Peris is unusual in that he is both a maker and a collector, an artist who has spent his life collecting the last remnants of a once vibrant tradition and at the same time keeping them in use, outside the museum, by having his own dance troupe wear his collection for performances.
Greek textiles, embroideries and traditional dress have been sought after by European collectors since the 1600s. By the early 1900s, the most valued specimens had found their way into museum collections, such as the collection here, soon to be on display in the Shiba Gallery.
Link to Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge website
Gracious and Artful Devices for the Adornment of Life
BY WILLIAM DEGREGORIO AND CHRISTIAN JUSSEL
An early step in needlework’s reappraisal as an art form was the Exhibition of Old English Tapestry Pictures, Embroideries and Samplers of 1900, organized by the former editor of the Art Journal, Marcus B. Huish, at the Fine Arts Society in London. As he wrote in the large illustrated catalogue that appeared later that year, popular interest in the exhibition was extraordinarily high, precisely because “almost every visitor possessed some specimen of the craft, but few had any idea that his or her possession was the descendant of such an ancestry, or had any claim to recognition beyond a quite personal interest.” Only when needlework was removed from its domestic context and viewed en masse did the public begin to accept its value. It took a “museological” approach to elevate estimation of this material, and Huish cited no less an authority than John Ruskin in arguing for needlework’s fundamental place in the English museum landscape. The Illustrated London News hoped that the “publicity thus given to the primitive phase of our national art may draw other specimens from their hiding-places.”
Subsequently, in a fulfillment of this wish, the numerous exhibitions that showcased English needlework in the interwar period (1919–39), often staged for charities, brought together large quantities—up to 600 pieces in some cases—of embroidery, impressing the public with the sheer mass and brilliancy of this material. Typically viewed in sometimes sad country-house contexts, domestic needlework of the seventeenth century did not have a stellar artistic reputation. However, the needlework caskets (Fig. 1), baskets (Fig. 4), framed panels (Fig. 5), and trinkets (Fig. 6) collected by Percival Griffiths, Sir William Burrell, William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme), Sir William Plender, Sir William Lawrence, Frank Ward, and Sir Frederick Richmond were carefully chosen to be the best of the best in connoisseurial terms, and when these objects were presented in large numbers—often with the endorsement of the omnipresent exhibition patron Queen Mary—their reputation and interest steadily grew.
Needlework picture of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, English, c. 1650.
15 1⁄2 by 19 1⁄2 inches. Collection of Joseph P. Gromacki.
Article continued on The Magazine Antiques
Between the Lines
Part 1: April 15–June 18
Part 2: June 24–September 3
Thanks to Lynne Anderson and the Sampler Consortium for the following news items.
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College announces a sampler exhibition (April 15 – September 3, 2023) entitled “Between the Lines: Innovation and Expression in Women’s Sewing Samplers.” The exhibition is curated by Caroline Culp, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History at Vassar, with the assistance of Ida-Rose Chabon, class of 2024. Exhibited in two parts, the samplers and related needlework pictures are drawn from the museum’s collection, with different objects in each part. Dates for Part 1 are April 15 to June 18 and for Part 2 dates are June 24 to September 3. In total, approximately 15 schoolgirl embroideries will be on display, plus loans of 19th century materials for sampler making from the nearby Locust Grove Estate. According to Caroline, the objects chosen for the exhibition explore “how women makers from across Europe and the Americas expressed creativity and individuality from within the confines of this formulaic medium. Visually similar examples demonstrate how women makers created variation within established patterns. And a collection of items used to plan and execute these objects–such as a hand-drawn embroidery pattern–illustrate the complexity, nuance, and mathematical formulas required by the craft. Such examples reveal how women needleworkers used the linear system of the sampler as a site of innovation, working “between the lines” of convention to express their individuality.”
Eliza Fisher (American), Sampler, 1824, silk and wool threads on linen ground,
transfer from Vassar College Libraries, Special Collections,
Martha Clawson Reed Collection, 1997.7.164
Link to event
Sampler ID Days in Vermont
First event: Shelburne Museum on April 21 and 22, 2023
Second event: Vermont Historical Society in Barre on May 12 and 13, 2023
Thanks to Lynne Anderson and the Sampler Consortium for the following news items.
Posted on the Sampler Consortium’s website is an update of past accomplishments and recent funding support for the Vermont Sampler Initiative. Described are details surrounding the successful Sampler ID Days held November 18 & 19, 2022 at the Bennington Museum, locations and dates for upcoming Sampler ID Days in 2023, and receipt of a project grant from the Vermont Humanities Council. The latter will help offset expenses of hosting Sampler ID Days at four different locations in Vermont in 2023, an important step toward locating, photographing, and documenting schoolgirl samplers held in Vermont’s public and private collections and preparing them for in the Sampler Archive’s online database of American samplers. Please see the posting at the Sampler Consortium website for details about both past and future Sampler ID Days, including numbers and types of samplers photographed and documented and overall goals for the project. There is also a PDF promotional flyer that can be downloaded to share with other sampler collectors and lovers.
Link to Event
Stitched in Time
Opens December 3, 2022
This exhibition will be on view in the Len and Cyndy Alaimo Gallery
Needlework—which includes canvas work, lace, tambour, crewel work, silk embroidery, quilting, and counted stitch—played an important role in the homes and lives of many early Americans. Embellishing textiles with decorative stitches was one method in which the Founding Mothers contributed to their family’s household furnishings and enriched their homes and clothing with pattern, color, and beauty.
Sewing and mending everyday functional textiles such as bed and table linens, as well as clothing, was another means in which women contributed economically to their family. Stitching needlework projects was also an educational tool for young schoolgirls, and a creative outlet for many housewives.
American needlework reflects great diversity and regional variations. Many factors influenced distinct regional characteristics including the ethnic origins of the makers, trade and migration patterns, influential teachers and artists, current fashions, religious affiliations, geography, and even climate. “Stitched in Time” explores regional variations in American needlework of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the forces that molded them.
Memorial to Terry Family by Elizabeth Terry,
Marietta, Pennsylvania, 1836.
Museum Purchase, 1962.604.1
Map of the Eastern Half of the United States by Ann E. Colson,
Pleasant Valley School, Dutchess County, New York, 1809.
Museum Purchase, The Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections Fund, 2019-70
Sampler by Mary Welsh,
Massachusetts, ca. 1770.
Museum Purchase, 1962-309
Link to event here
Presented by Margi Hofer, Museum Director and Vice President of the NYHS, it's a deep dive into Rosena Disery, a student at New York City’s African Free School, and her highly significant 1820 sampler. Hofer includes a great amount of information about the school and also its students along with fascinating information about the lives of Rosena, her husband and family - highly successful caterers in NYC. The New York Historical Society also holds the African Free School’s records and papers.
This sampler, and much information, is in the archives of our website. Put "rosena" in the search box upper right on any page of our site (of course you can use this for any other search). We are proud to have owned, researched, conserved and framed the sampler before NYHS acquired it, ten years ago.
Article in The Magazine Antiques (July 3, 2020) by Dr. Gene R. Garthwaite
visit Bennington's website for more information on this sampler from 1835.
Check out a recorded Zoom presentation (in Spanish, password is: 0p%eR140) about school girl embroidery in Mexico City from the College of San Ignacio De Loyola, Vizcaínas, founded in 1767
National Museum of American History (NMAH) in Washington, DC.
The exhibition is one in many ways in which the various Smithsonian museums have chosen to honor the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.
The exhibition will be at the NMAH for two years, after which it will be a traveling exhibition and be on display at five to seven other museums in the country 2023-2025. https://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/girlhood-its-complicated?utm…
by Stacey Fraser
Lexington Historical Society, Massachusetts
by Aimee Newell
Luzerne County Historical Society, Pennsylvania