Antique Needle Work: An 18th Century Sampler

Updated on October 21, 2019
Dolores Monet profile image

After inheriting her grandmother's collection of antiques, Dolores has maintained an interest in the care and sale of vintage items.

Antique sampler: Brinton family sampler
Antique sampler: Brinton family sampler | Source

Rediscovering My Antique Sampler

An old sampler hung on my wall for years. My mother said that my grandmother probably bought it an antique shop in the 1950s. It was simple, sweet, and rather plain. I did not really study it. But, after some time, I realized that it was old and fragile, so I put it away to get it out of the light and out of the potentially destructive reach of my boys.

Last summer, my son's girlfriend decided to take up cross-stitching. We looked at patterns together and talked about the old tradition of young ladies creating needlework—how the practice fell by the wayside, but now there is a new appreciation for that beautiful art.

Suddenly, I remembered the old sampler that I had put away. I rummaged through the press cupboard and fetched it, taking a good long look at it in the process.

"Hey, this looks really old," I said.

On it was the alphabet, numerals, and a list of names, combined with the surname, Brinton: Eliza, Hannah, Lydia, Phebe, Joshua, and Maria.

How I Almost Found The Person Who Made My Sampler

I Googled all the names and the surnames as well. Boom! Up popped a Brinton Family Genealogy created by one Danial Garrison Brinton (born in 1837) that put up by the New York Public Library. The genealogy itself was obviously old.

I scrolled down the lists of the descendants of William Brinton who had come to the US in the mid-1600s. And there they were, listed together, the string of names that appeared on my sampler along with their birth dates.

  • Elizabeth, b. April 28, 1786
  • Hannah, b. April 9, 1788
  • Lydia, b. March 24, 1790
  • Phebe, b. January 28, 1792
  • Joshua, b. March 24, 1794
  • Maria, b. April 12, 1797
  • Phebe, b. September 2, 1798
  • Ferree, b. October 9, 1800
  • Susan, b. May 20, 1806

Sadly, the listing of two Phebe's must indicate that the first Phebe died. But both are listed on the sampler. And, unfortunately, there appears to be a cut-off name at the end. However, it seems apparent that the sampler was created before 1807.

When I saw those names, every hair on my body stood on end. Tears sprang into my eyes. That little girl, so long ago, had created a list of her siblings, and here it was in my hands. This was, indeed, a precious find.

Antique sampler: Brinton Family sampler close up
Antique sampler: Brinton Family sampler close up | Source

Mine Is Actually a Band Sampler

I learned that it was a band sampler. Band samplers feature letters stitched along narrow bands. Part of a girl's education in those days, was sewing, a significant accomplishment as sewing was a necessary skill.

One the area that featured the alphabet, the letter J is missing, common among young ladies of Germanic descent (either the mother or teacher as William Brinton was British). The sampler was on a piece of linen, stitched with silk thread.

Not long afterwards, I attended a Home and Garden Show. Appearing there was a famous antique appraiser who appeared on TV. She had a PhD in art history and put on a fascinating, entertaining show as she appraised the various treasures attendees presented.

The famous appraiser moved along a table of items, educating the audience on the value and history of each item, what it had been used for, and how common it was. Each item included a lesson in collectibles, antiques, and the behavior of people in the past, what they saved, what they did not save, and the things that were important to them.

When she got to the Brinton Family Sampler, she gave the information that I had already acquired from a textile expert at a local museum. When the time came to value the piece, she claimed that it was worth $4,000.00. (That's right, four thousand dollars) My jaw dropped. After all, the sampler was not in perfect condition.

How to Learn the Value of an Antique Sampler

It was time to get rid of the antique sampler. It belonged in the hands of someone who understood how to care for it, who really appreciated the historic textile and would give it the home that it deserved. It needed to be properly framed and stored. The sampler was so delicate, I would never attempt to frame it myself.

I also realized that the value of any item is only what someone is willing to pay for it. You may check out values in catalogs, but that does not mean you will sell it for that amount of money.

I looked at online sales. Forget about eBay; they had nothing that approached the historic value of the textile.

I decided to approach the Brinton Family themselves, as well as an antique dealer who specialized in antique samplers.

From Dr. Daniel Garrison Brinton's genealogy, I assumed that the Brinton family had lived in southeastern Pennsylvania. Once again, Google to the rescue. There, I found a Brinton Family Association that maintains a historic site south of West Chester, Pennsylvania and includes the William Brinton 1704 House and Historic Site.

The Brinton family seemed only slightly interested in the sampler. Even though my heart said to donated it to them, my pocketbook was pretty empty these days, and I hoped for a little bit of recompense. So, it was on to Philadelphia.

Now, one of the appraiser's warnings was—never have a piece appraised by the person who may buy it. Unsavory dealers may appraise an item for a minimum amount of money, then turn it around and make a bundle.

The William Bronton 1704 house
The William Bronton 1704 house | Source

I located an antique shop that specialized in old textiles, particularly antique samplers.

My husband I thought it worth our while to go to Philadelphia and a visit to the Finkel shop. Ms. Finkel was friendly and business-like and we conducted a brief meeting. I allowed Ms. Finkel to remove the old sampler from the frame to see if the edges were intact. They were. And the sampler did not dissolve into dust. As it was a very simple piece with limited information, I was offered an adequate sum of money which I accepted. After viewing the stuff they had online and on the walls of the shop, my own dear little paltry example of historic, traditional needlework paled in comparison.

I accepted far less than the exciting amount suggested by the appraiser, considering that the old textile would need a lot of cleaning and repair.

Afterward, I went out to lunch and bought an egg sandwich. My husband had a hot dog. Just to let you know we didn't have a champagne lunch.

Why Should We Have Antiques Valued?

Questions & Answers

  • I have 1792 needlework sampler, where I can get it appraised?

    You can find an appraiser in your area who specializes in antique textiles by looking up the American Appraisers Association.


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    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Marie - if there are names embroidered on the sampler you can investigate those names online or with the US census. You could also contact your local historical society if the pieces were made in the area in which you live. Before you try to sell them, you want to get an idea of how old they are. Are they in good condition?

      To sell them you could contact a dealer who specializes in textiles and sell on commission.

    • profile image

      Marie F Nelson 

      2 years ago

      Hi my name is marie nelson and ive been searching and searching for someone to help me appraise my antique needle point family heirlooms (but unfortunately i hve no family left who can tell me the history behind these pieces)or who'd be interested in buying them pls email me so i may better understand about my family

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      GenWatcher - wow! Let me tell you that I am no relative of the Brintons, but finding that list online, I just burst into tears. I hope that my sampler finds it's way into the hands of a Brinton.

    • GenWatcher profile image

      Mary Briggeman 

      7 years ago from Maryland

      I just found this post and had to comment because I am also a Brinton descendant and have two Brinton needlework pieces. I'm a very active genealogy buff as well and maintain several sites dedicated to Chester County Genealogy. Love seeing pictures of the Brinton 1704 House!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      10 years ago from East Coast, United States

      kate - fortunately for you, there seems to be a lot of information available about the Brinton family, so you should be quite busy for some time. It sounds like a book would be great as there is a huge interest in the family, and there are so many Brinton homes still around. Good luck with the sampler. It won't be cheap.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      YES, it is truly amazing - I've made many connections on the computer as I put all the family pictures and letters into some kind of order to eventually write the family story for my several nieces and nephews! I don't know if this will become a book or simply a series of outlines for each section of the family. I know that every family has a rich history with windows on so many aspects of life in the past, both in this country and the countries of origin - Those rich histories deserve telling!

      I will contact Finkel and see what happens and will certainly keep you posted!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      10 years ago from East Coast, United States

      kate - I had meant to post this hub before I actually sold it as a sort of story of how things went. I sold it to Finkel and Daughter in Philidelphia. There is a link for them above. I can't believe that I am in contact with a descendant of one of the girls who created the sampler! This is so exciting! Sometimes, this whole computer thing seems too much. But the idea of how people can connect, that you could find a thing like this old sampler online is amazing. If I had posted this earlier on, we could have eliminated the middle man. However, Amy Finkel knows her stuff and will have taken the right preservation measures. Since this just only happened last week, I don't thing they will have posted the sampler online yet. Maybe you should email them. Good luck. I hope that the sampler falls into your hands. It was a huge pleasure hearing from you. Please let me know what happens!

      habee - thanks for the congrats! I keep popping up to 100 quite often lately, as you have. It's nice to see that nice round number. Makes me feel like I'm doing something right for a change, haha!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Just wanted to say congrats on the 100!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This sampler lists the siblings of my grandfather's maternal grandmother, Hannah Brinton who was born 1788, and d. 1856. I wonder if you can tell me to whom you sold the sampler and I might be able to find it and purchase it. I realize it is a slim chance, but it would be nice to try. Thanks for your posting! So good to see the photo, too!


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