Friday, June 15, 2007

Collecting Antique Quilts

Besides being a Rabid Quilter myself, I also woke up to the fact, several years ago, that the charm and unusually soft and cozy feel of antique quilts was irresistable and I began to collect them. (Like I needed more quilts in my house!)

My favorite place in the whole world is the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. There, several times a year, a clever and debonnaire man named Rafael Osana holds an auction which consists mostly of island and New England treasures. Since I am but a visitor 3,000+ miles from my home on the west coast, I am limited to what I can purchase if I don't want to spend more for shipping than the item itself costs. Since most quilts can fit into my luggage (or in extreme cases, my husband's golf bag) they are what I focus on.

The first time I went to one of these auctions, I fell in love with at least 6 of the quilts Mr. Osana had displayed at the pre-auction preview. Oh, how wonderfully dense and mezmerizingly soft they felt! I wanted to touch them to my face as I'd done as a child with my own "binkie" but caught myself before this impropriety.

It was about 1996 that I happened to be there, off-season and I was the lucky bidder on an authentic, bed-sized, "Grandmother's Flower Garden" quilt which was hand-pieced, quilted and bound and complete with 1930s green border and 1 1/4" hexagons. I happily paid $325 for it. At that moment I was in heaven (because I could now, actually touch that quilt to my face!) and at the same time hopelessly adicted to collecting.

The price tag for my first aquisition might sound steep, and to some of my fellow collectors, it is. When one visits a high-end locale such as Nantucket, the Hamptons, and such, one expects to pay a premimum. However, if you are willing to get on your hands and knees, bumping your head under a low table to reach a broken-down cardboard box full of 'linens' in a place the proprietor named "The Antique Shoppe" when you might refer to most of the items as rusty 'junk', you might just come away with a treasure for a few dollars. That is indeed what a couple of friends of mine do when hunting for old quilts. In fact, they have a hard-and-fast rule never to pay more than $50 for anything! Of course, in most cases, you get what you pay for but if you're able and willing to put in some time in on a dozen quilt blocks c. 1880 or clean up a soiled and stained, hand-pieced quit top and make it into a completed quilt, you'll feel the satisfaction only a bargain-hunter knows.

Finding old quilts to buy is as much of an art as is knowing how to date the quilts you find. Dating the quilts is paramount to knowing what they're worth. Just as fashions change every season, so does fabric--even back 150+ years ago! Although I'm not a licensed dater of quilts, after much study and experience, I can usually tell you the age of a quilt, plus or minus 20 years, just by looking at the tiny scraps of fabric in it and how it was put together. As with every collector, be it baseball cards or bake-a-lite, the more knowledge you have of these hints to age, the better deal you can make.
The pictured close-up of one of the blocks in a quilt I purchased 3 years ago at the Houston Quilt Show shows my married name! Dozens of other names in vairous fonts with fancy flowers, all hand-embroidered, denotes a special occasion such as an anniversary or family reunion, a popular type of quilt throughout the years. This was a once-in-a-lifetime find (and I'll admit I paid more than I'd ever paid for a quilt for it) but I wouldn't have been able to pass up at any cost.

Whether it's a garage-, tag-, or estate sale, an auction, a thrift shop or an antique store, old quilts can be found in every stage of completion and condition. Taking the time to hunt for them and learning what they're worth can result in a lovely investment.

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