Religious needlework sampler produces shock result at auction

Posted on 9th November 2017

A piece of needlework crafted nearly 300 years ago created quite a stir at our Antiques and Collectables Sale on 7 November when it sold for an eye-watering £1,200 - thirty times above its original price estimate of £40-80.

The framed needlework sampler made by Rebeckah Ansell in 1725 was fiercely contested on both the telephone and Internet before being finally knocked down to a telephone bidder.

The early date of the sampler was undoubtedly a contributory factor to this extraordinary result but the piece was also in excellent condition. Samplers of this age are usually very faded but the colours in this case were particularly vibrant and the design was beautifully executed, portraying a range of letters and pictorial illustrations.

Samplers have been produced throughout history as a demonstration of needlework skill and techniques, mainly embroidery or cross-stitch. They often included the alphabet, figures, motifs and decorative borders and sometimes – like this example – carried the name of the person who embroidered it and date.

Early samplers tended to be long narrow pieces that displayed a particular technique or style and were rolled up and stored away for future reference. By the 18th century, they were becoming wider and more square-shaped and showcased a variety of techniques – often with borders on all four sides – and were designed to be hung as pictures. This particular sampler is typical of this trend and depicts religious text surrounded by naturalistic floral patterns.

The inclusion of religious text was quite common at this time and the sampler was as much a demonstration of a girl’s dutiful piety as her needlework skills. Indeed the stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry and in the 18th century girls were taught the art from a young age.

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