A History of the American Schoolgirl Sampler

The Benefit Shop Foundation's upcoming August 14th auction will feature a selection of beautifully embroidered samplers, dating to the 19th and early 20th century.

A History of the American Schoolgirl Sampler

A hallmark of the monthly Red Carpet auctions at The Benefit Shop Foundation, Inc. is the diversity of goods on offer, ranging from Midcentury Modern to antiquities. Buyers, especially Americana aficionados will be pleased to discover a trove of schoolgirl samplers at its next auction on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at 10 am.

Schoolgirl samplers were an important part of a young girl’s education in America in the 1800s and 1900s, teaching her necessary skills in the needle arts, which she would need to run her own household one day. Most common were alphabet samplers, which contained rows of letters and numbers, the quality of the stitching indicative of the girls sewing mastery. 

Many collectors also gravitate to highly elaborate pictorial samplers on which buildings, trees, landscapes, animals and people were also wrought onto the sampler via silk thread. Samplers also encompassed religious themes with many girls stitching expressions of piety and virtue such as The Lord’s Prayer along with other Bible verses and imagery. All these categories will be well represented in the August auction.

“Samplers are wonderful and highly collected examples of folk art. Once highly prized as proof of a young girl’s mastery of the needle arts, today they are nostalgic, visually striking and graphic and are part of the renewed interest in early women’s history,” said Pam Stone, owner and founder of The Benefit Shop Foundation. “We were thrilled beyond belief to receive a donation of over 100 fine samplers, which we will be offering over several months.” The offering this month is but a small sample (pun intended) of a large single-owner collection of samplers that will come to auction here over the next few months.

Among alphabet samplers is a Pennsylvania Amish sampler wrought by Katie Stoltzfus dated February 1, 1911, 25 ¾ by 18¼ inches.
Among alphabet samplers is a Pennsylvania Amish sampler wrought by Katie Stoltzfus dated February 1, 1911, 25 ¾ by 18¼ inches.

Among notable alphabet samplers will be a fine Pennsylvania Amish sampler wrought by Katie Stoltzfus, dated February 1, 1911, featuring letters in varying colors and sizes along with a border of floral motifs running across the bottom. It measures about 25 ¾ by 18¼ inches. While many samplers are signed by the girls who wrought them, often with their age and the year in which they were made, many more are unsigned but that does little to detract from their appeal. An alphabet sampler, undated and signed only “Mary” with some illegible letters features alphabet letters along with a plethora of animal and floral motifs, including a pair of rabbits under three trees flanked by a pair of birds, 23 by 16½ inches. 

This alphabet sampler, undated, signed just “Mary,” has animal and floral motifs, including a pair of rabbits under three trees flanked by a pair of birds, 23 by 16½ inches.
This alphabet sampler, undated, signed just “Mary,” has animal and floral motifs, including a pair of rabbits under three trees flanked by a pair of birds, 23 by 16½ inches.

Encompassing a stitched alphabet as well as pictorial elements is a linen and silk sampler of 18 by 13 inches, inscribed “Wrought by Betsey Ann Kenney, under the tuition of Clarinda Streeter in the year 1824. Preston, Chenango,  N. York.” 

Another fine example is an early 1800s alphabet sampler, signed Sarah Short, who was possibly born circa 1804. Besides colorful alphabet letters, the sampler depicts a pair of birds on pedestals and a bouquet of flowers along with a paper stencil of a side profile portrait along its bottom border, 8 by 11 inches.

This unsigned pictorial sampler depicting the Last Supper, with Jesus and the apostles embroidered in multicolored  tones, measures 18 by 22¼ inches.
This unsigned pictorial sampler depicting the Last Supper, with Jesus and the apostles embroidered in multicolored tones, measures 18 by 22¼ inches.

An interesting example of religious samplers in this auction is an unsigned pictorial sampler depicting the Last Supper, with Jesus and the apostles embroidered in multicolored  tones, about 18 by 22¼ inches.

Rounding out the group of samplers in this auction is a very colorful and ornate sampler inscribed, “Love wasn’t put in your heart to stay, Love isn’t love til you give it away.” A colorful floral border surrounds a large vase filled with flowers on the sampler, which measures 19½ by 23 ½ inches.

See all Benefit Shop Foundation lots on Barnebys

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