Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Outlier Uncovered

Unquilted counterpane dated 1782 with initials E.B.
Collection of the Winterthur Museum
In 1974 the Orlofsky's book Quilts in America gave us all our first real overview of the magnificent history of American quilts. Included was a black and white photo of this unquilted spread with the caption:
"Framed Center Counterpane, 1782. Appliqued and embroidered linen and cotton....The bird at the top of the tree amd the pair of peacocks are cut from copperplate printed linen and cotton cloth that dates from about 1765-75....The coverlet is said to have been made in America from various English textiles." (Page 52 in the second edition.)
The complexity of this design was hard to fit in with the other American quilts dated in 1780s (a low number to be sure. I think there are three others.)
Anna Tuels' Quilt
Dated 1786
Collection: Wadsworth Atheneum

Elizabeth Nace quilt
Dated 1786
Collection: Lancaster Quilt  & Textile Museum
Deborah Wilson Quilt
Dated 1783
Collection: Daughters of the American Revolution Museum
 But just because it was an outlier in the data----a visual outlier---doesn't mean that isn't an accurate date. I tried wrapping my head around it (as we used to say when the Orlofsky book was new.) If this quilt were made here in 1782 the style should be reflected in quilts in 1810.
A detail of the center showing the copperplate printed bird.
A few years ago I saw the E.B. coverlet in person at the Winterthur exhibit and was pleased to see it labeled as Irish. Pleased because I no longer had to wonder about it's origins, its maker or fit it into my concepts of American-made quilts. E.B. is Eliza Patten Bennis (1725-1802) who emigrated from Ireland in 1788, taking this five-year-old bedspread with her, to Philadelphia where it surely impressed her new neighbors.
See Linda Eaton's Winterthur catalog:
 Quilts in a Material World for updated information about Eliza Bennis's quilt
Eliza's life is well-documented. She was born in Limerick and married sadler Mitchell or Michael Bennis. She gave birth to numerous children and converted to Methodism. The Bennises prospered. She was obviously an educated and upperclass woman; the evidence is in her letters as well as her quilt. In 1773 Methodism's founder John Wesley wrote her alluding to the fact that brother Bennis had got very rich.  She phrased it more decorously. "The Lord has blessed my husban'ds industry far above our expectation, [giving] me both the necessaries and conveniences of life."

I like to think that as a prominent Methodist she was acquainted with fellow Methodist and British immigrant John Hewson who lived in greater Philadelphia during the four years Eliza resided there. I can imagine that he and his wife Zebiah enjoyed examining the prints and the workmanship in her spread.

Eliza's prosperity faded at her husband's death although her religious fervor did not. Her obituary:
"Mrs Eliza Bennis died in Phla June 1802...aged 77 years, after struggling with severe and unexpected trials, nearly the last twenty years..."

Eliza's quilt is important because it is NOT an American quilt. The story of how it came here is an example of how easily material culture transfers from one culture to another.

Read more about Eliza and her coverlet here:

See her son Thomas's 1809 publication of her correspondence with John Wesley here:
 Buy Eliza's journal here:
Buy Megan Carroll's pattern inspired by Eliza's coverlet here:


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Have We Learned?

1810 Date Inscribed
By Margaret Gundacker
Collection: Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum

After a year and a half of this blog on early quilts I have said about everything I have to say, so we are coming to an end here in November. What have we learned?

My goal was to organize my thoughts and teach myself about the first two decades of the 19th century in America. I wanted to give some guidelines to people interested in making reproduction quilts for the War of 1812 anniversary.

Harmony Before Matrimony
by British cartoonist James Gillray 1805

I had read a lot about Regency England and wondered about Americans' parallel lives from 1800-1820.

1811 Date-Inscribed
Hewson panel in center
Collection: Cincinnati Art Museum

I wanted to get a good handle on quilt fabrics, styles and techniques of the era to help in dating antique quilts too.


1816 Date Inscribed
British quilt with Princess Charlotte panel in the center
Sold at Christie's in London.
The border is the same fruit print that Baltimore's Achsah Wilkins favored.

It's fairly easy to find information about English women from the upper class such as the Duchess of Devonshire to the middling people like the Austen sisters, but understanding the lives of American women is not so easy. I began with Cokie Roberts' book Ladies of Liberty, a group biography of American women from the era, and branched out from there using her list of sources.

John Lewis Krimmel- The Pepper Pot, 1811
A German-born artist's view of Americans.

Over the past 18 months I have tried to share information about a diverse group of American women. One thing I have learned is that Americans had values different from England's. Upper classes here may have gotten into debt and enjoyed sex outside their marriage vows but these behaviors did not seem to be licensed by the same set of conventions that framed British and French society. Americans did not seem to gamble as much as the English and French. They borrowed and defaulted but not with the same abandon. People had affairs and marital separations but there was little public conversation about it.

1807 Date Inscribed
Esther Bradford
Collection: Henry Ford Museum

And of course people found it easier to rise above their origins here. I learned how many foreign-born people were assimilating into American culture, surprised to find how strong the Caribbean influence was in places like Charleston and Philadelphia.


1813 Date Inscribed
Collection: International Quilt Study Center & Museum
I wanted to explore how quilt fashion changed, figure out what was new and fresh and what was old hat in 1810. I classified quilts by style, looking at set, technique, color, etc.  I had a file of dated American-made quilts and I refined it, mainly by taking some quilts off it and moving them to the English-made list.

1812 Date Inscribed

I had wanted to find more conventional applique quilts, particularly pictorial appliques but a year spent looking for them suggested the quilts might not be American. At the end of the search my view of American quilts made before 1815 is a bit more narrow than it was when I began. My view of English-made quilts shows a more diverse group.

1813-14 Date Inscribed
By Ann Robinson
Collection: Shelburne Museum
I now find it hard to believe this variety of  fabric in these dyes
was available in the U.S. in 1813-14.


Quilts grow out of the available fabric and my views changed about what Americans could buy. I began the search with a mental picture of a lively international trade, ships importing Euorpean and Indian cottons to ocean-side ports and inland harbors.


I knew the war was about trade but it was hard to believe that such a vital econony could be inhibited. I learned that trade came almost to a halt, disrupted far more than I'd initially believed. This may be the most important thing I learned. Imported fabric was in short supply and domestic fabric was rather unsophisticated. The wondrous variety of roller printed calicoes and fanciful chintzes that were common in England seem to have been scarce here until after War's end in early 1815.

1817 Date Inscribed
By Elizabeth Marple
From Nancy & Donald Roan's
Lest I Shall Be Forgotten: Anecdotes and traditions of Quilts

I'll do posts here through November and then MAYBE we'll move on to post-war American quilts. Check here periodically in 2013 to see if that idea progresses.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

After the War: Protecting Home Industry

Ship from a quilt dated 1847 in the collection of the
Grand Rapids Public Museum
See more at Lisa's Stray Threads blog:

On a single day in May, 1815, fifty-three cargo ships arrived in U.S. ports, carrying tons of pottery, iron, paints, drygoods, tea and pianofortes, according to Justin Winsor's 1883 Memorial History of Boston.

Boston Harbor 1833
William J. Bennett

By December American manufacturers, particularly textile manufacturers, begged Congress for relief. During the War import taxes doubled, but the extra duty was to expire in 1816. Congress extended taxes on goods such as iron and sugar, and increased duties on cotton and woolen goods.

Low-grade cotton cloth from India was a particular target. Indians could produce cloth so cheaply that no American manufacturer could hope to compete even without the international shipping costs. Cheap India goods were eventually taxed at 100% of their value, which put an end to the venerable U.S.- India trade.

While India sold goods at cost, English merchants were so desperate to sell the tons of fabric stored in their warehouses during the Napoleonic Wars they were willing to sell for less than the manufacturing cost. Dumping, defined as selling goods for lower than what it cost to produce them, became a political issue in the U.S.

We tend to remember Clay as the Great Compromiser
but he ran for President at the Protector of Home Industries

Among the protectionists were Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Dallas, for whom the 1816 tariff was named, and Representative Henry Clay who had made his reputation by starting the war as a War Hawk, ending the war on the Ghent peace commission and maintaining the hostilities as an advocate of Home Industries and tariffs.

New Hampshire's Amoskeag Mill, built 1847

 The expected consequence was a welcome increase in American textile manufacturing. The United States, a minor player, became an industrial contender by mid-century.

Free Trade vs. Protection of Home Industries
The discussion continues today.
Unexpected consequences were also significant. Tariffs favoring infant Northern industries penalized Southern consumers, trading raw cotton for finished goods. The Dallas Tariffs increased sectionalism as Southern politicians promised to end import taxes and Northern politicians advocated maintaining them. The North and the South began to see themselves as very different cultures with different goals.
Another consequence was a decline in value for textiles and other goods. In 1832 Congress collected information on the topic with respondents reporting

"In printed goods, a piece of print, (used for ladies' dresses,) costing then 36s[shillings]. a piece, can now be had for 18s. and 22s. In 1816, a piece of common blue and white calico... 32s. sterling per piece; the same can now be had for 12s. to 15s..."

 "The prices of all the coarse fabric of cotton, such as shirtings, sheetings, checks, tickings, stuffs for men's wear, such as granderells, unions &c; and also of calicoes, both gray and printed; it is universally known have declined...from 25 to 75 per cent. [Gray calicoes are cotton cloth yet unprinted]
Jane Valentine's quilt dated 1825-1830
Smithsonian Institution
These American quilts reflect the wide range of cotton prints
available after the War of 1812

A drop in price was good news for shoppers--- increasingly cheaper cottons opened up a whole world of consumerism for people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder and cheaper cottons probably increased an interest in patchwork.
Sarah Johnson's quilt dated 1826
Shelburne Museum
Amelia Lauck's quilt dated 1822
But the effects on manufacturing and trade continued a long financial depression that had begun when France and England went to war in the early 19th century and drew the United States into the fight. It took decades to recover from the Napoleonic Wars.
I like to blame it all on Boney---years of fabric deprivation.

A Postscript on Henry Clay as the Protector of Home Industries
Thirty years after the War of 1812 Clay received a quilt as a gift, made by Elizabeth Schultz of Pennsylvania, "cloth, thread and every thing of home production." That quilt is in the collection of Clay's Kentucky home Ashland and now on loan to the American Textile History Museum's show Home Front and Battle Field.

Detail of the center of quilt by Elizabeth Schultz

One might understand that Schultz produced the fabrics by homespinning and weaving but what was meant was that these were factory cottons produced in the United States. The quilt was accompanied by a flowery tribute to Schultz's age (76), to Clay and to "the Needle---the NEEDLE, that implement and emblem of industry the source of all prosperity, of which throughout your whole life, you have been recognized and unrivalled advocate, protector and champion."

See a summary of this correspondence in a preview of The Papers of Henry Clay, Volume 10 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

After the War: A Glut of Goods

A ship from a Baltimore Album Quilt
ca 1845
The Quilt Complex

In New York City, so the story goes, a dry goods merchant named John Robins had been doing well during the War of 1812.
 "He purchased entire cargoes of such vessels as had successfully run the blockade and come into the harbor, or were smuggled through Canada." In early 1815 he heard "a large lot of dry goods was advertised to be sold at auction at the Tontine Coffee House... There were a thousand cases of dry goods to be sold. Whether they had run the blockade safely, or been smuggled through Canada, I cannot say. The goods were at a warehouse in Pine Street. They had been exhibited a week. There were buyers here from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Albany and every city around.

The Tontine Coffee House by Francis Guy (1760-1820).
 The building on the left was a meeting place
 for trading and public auctions.

"The Saturday bidding was very spirited, and the highest prices of the war were reached; the commonest samples of unwashable calicoes brought fifty to seventy-five cents a yard, such as to-day would sell at three cents.

"Everybody outbid Mr. Robins...About dark the sale closed. Every package had been sold. John Robins had bought none. He felt annoyed. His stock of goods on his shelves did not amount to but a few dollars, a few remnants of calicoes, which he could have carried on his shoulder. He went to bed about eight o'clock, sick of his hard luck. He had just began to drowse, when he heard some one down William Street shout 'peace.' "

 "Henry Laverty['s] store was heaped up with goods bought at the auction...Mr. Laverty was walking rapidly up and down the store and swearing like a trooper....There were no buyers... He would sell for half price...

By Monday "every auctioneer was busy selling goods of all kinds for a mere song." Robins felt lucky enough to tell the story of his auction experience with a dig perhaps at Laverty, who'd taught him the drygoods business.

Battle of New Orleans by Esther Magafan
 The War of 1812 ended on Christmas Eve 1814 when English and American diplomats agreed in the city of Ghent to end hostilities and return to pre-war boundaries. The British returned Maine which they'd been occupying and the Americans returned the area near present-day Ontario to British North America.
News of the treaty and its February ratification did not reach the United States until weeks later. Andrew Jackson led troops against the British in New Orleans and won. Henry Laverty gambled on calicoes and lost.


Philadelphia Fourth of July 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel
Philadelphians feted the War's heroes for years.

John Robins was not the only New York dry goods merchant to benefit from the peace. The city, smaller than Philadelphia and Boston, enjoyed a post war boom. Robert Greenhalgh Albion in a history of the port of New York attributed part of the growth (much of it was due to the Erie Canal) to English imports.

"New York's rapid commercial rise...was stimulated when the British selected it as the center of their 'dumping' operations early in 1815. A huge surplus of textiles and other manufactures had been piling up in England during the years when the war had interrupted trade with America and the Continent; and manufacturers were naturally ready to sell them for whatever they might bring."

Ackermann's Repository in May 1810 included
swatches of fashionable fabrics of English manufacture,
 goods that had no market during the Napoleonic Wars.
 They piled up in English warehouses and
bankrupted weavers, printers and drapers.

What were they dumping?  The warehouses were packed with goods that had been waiting for peace.
I am guessing among the bolts---- many yards of panels, palm trees and small multi-color prints.


Textile historians have long characterized this print
 as one that was dumped after the War.
Ackermann's Repository July 1809
 The small multicolored calico prints.
Some references on the post-war textile trade
Joseph Alfred Scoville The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 2, T. R. Knox, 1885.

 Robert Greenhalgh Albion The Rise of New York Port, 1815-1860. NY Charles Scribner; Sons 1939 (republished 1970)


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ann Dagg.S Quilt

Quilt signed
"Done BY Ann . Dagg.S
The .1. Of May . 1818"
Collection Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Patricia Smith Melton 1998.149.5

The caption for this quilt at the Smithsonian website reads:
"1818, Ann Dagge, hand-printed, indigo-resist,
white cottons, and linen 84 x 80 1/2 in. (213.4 x 204.5 cm)"
In building my mental case for an early American style of conventional applique I often thought of this quilt, first published in a Quilt Engagement Calendar and then in Rod Kiracofe's The American Quilt (pages 52 & 53) where it was attributed to Ann Daggs, Rochester, New York. The quilt apparently went from family[?] to the antique quilt dealers America Hurrah to collector Patricia Melton Smith who generously donated it to the Smithsonian with the rest of her significant collection of calico and chintz quilts. As in the above Smithsonian caption it is now attributed to Ann Dagge.

Here is a detail of the inscription.

And a portrait of the maker from The American Quilt.
There are many Daggs and Dagges in the history of Rochester, but Rochester's history is only a year older than this quilt. During the War of 1812 there was a small frontier settlement at at the mouth of the Genesee River. In 1817 Rochesterville was incorporated (population approximately 700) but the town didn't really grow until the building of the Erie Canal in the 1820s. This quilt may have resided in Rochester during the 19th and 20th centuries but it was not likely to have been made in that frontier settlement.

Well ,so much for trying to define an early American style of applique. The more I think about it the more I think Ann Robinson's, Ann Dagge's and Louisa Brigham's quilts are probably British. If there was a needlework school involved it's likely to have been in Great Britain.

I have long used these quilts as evidence that American women during the War of 1812 had access to the very up-to-date British multi-colored calicoes seen in swatch books and British fashion magazines like Ackermann's....

Shawl print, April, 1811
But if these calico quilts are all English that theory is also on a slow boat to the Isle of Wight.

See the Dagge/Dagg's/Daggs quilt at the Smithsonian's webpage

And at Rod Kiracofe's

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Style: Unconfined Applique

Ann Robinson's quilt
dated 1813-1814
Collection of the Shelburne Museum
The caption in this catalog of the Shelburne's collection reads:
"Appliqed and Pieced Counterpane, Floral Medallion Pattern 1814. Made by Ann Robinson. New England, possibly Connecticut. Cotton; marked 'Ann Robinson October 1, 1813' and 'Finished January 27, 1814.' 100" x 95". Museum acquisition 1954-439 (10-140) 
I've been thinking about Ann Robinson's quilt for years.
I began a copy and have finished my 4 cornucopia. Being quite familiar with those cornucopia with their tulips and blade-shaped leaves I was surprised to come across this photo in Averil Colby's English book Patchwork.

Colby's caption reads: " 'The Isle of Wight' coverlet with applique and patchwork patterns in chintz and cotton dress prints, ca. 1820". She said in 1958 that it was lost and this black and white photo the only record.
Same cornucopia, a lot less stuff. I should have copied this one. I'd probably be finished.
The "American" quilt on the left,
the Isle of Wight spread on the right
Could it be that Ann Robinson's quilt is English? And my whole theory about an early American applique style is on a slow boat to the Isle of Wight.
In this 1958 book Colby also included a quilt made by the Sharman sisters about the same time as the Isle of Wight coverlet.
This quilt by "the two Miss Sharman's ca 1820" includes horns of plenty in the corners.

I am thinking a lot more work needs to be done on the Ann Robinson quilt: more geneaology, more looking at English pictorial quilts. I'm becoming more doubtful of a Connecticut origin.
It has more in common with English applique such as this one that Colby also pictured "applique coverlet with a great variety of cotton prints." She dated it to about 1850. It's now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The applique style with pictures not confined by blocks seems very British.
So when we see something like this one dated 1845 we can guess it's British, even though it was found in the United States.
The human figures, the horses and other animals and particuarly the freedom of the unconfined applique seems to define a style found in the English quilts below. 
An English quilt dated 1852 signed Lucy Hasell (?)
Horses and hearts are a recurring theme.

From an English auction in 2004---probably 1840s
Averil Colby drew up some of the appliqued images, but her book seems to have inspired few to copy these pictorial quilts in the 1950s.
Here's a British quilt with an orderly center and a border of scattered flowers, hearts and leaf shapes, again probably 1830s or '40s.

Similar to this one

I think this style resonates better with us today than with Colby's original readers.
This pair of panels was probably separated a long time ago.
The one above is on the Cora Ginsburg site.

A shorter, more faded piece that sold at an online auction.

They may have been borders once and even though they are in the U.S. are probably English.
American Quilt
Unknown Maker
About 1850
It's not that we don't see hearts, horses and people in American quilts. They just stay inside their blocks where they belong.
This brings us back to Ann Dagge's quilt, dated the 1 of May, 1818. 
 We shall consider its origins next week.