Buying Old Quilts

By Deborah Roberts

Lady of the Lake quilt. Contributed by Kris Driessen, Hickory Hill Antique QuiltsA few days ago I was talking to a dear friend, one of my few friends who does not share my passion for quilts. I was telling her one of "those" stories about a quilt I had just appraised. This quilt was a wonderful "Lady of the Lake" c.1875 quilt, in excellent condition, and had never been washed. What makes it one of "those" stories, is that the owner picked it up a month or two ago at a junk store for less than $50.00. To me, this was an incredible find. The comment of my friend, however, was: "Who would pay $50.00 for an old blanket?" This conversation demonstrates the profound truth in the old adages, "one man's junk is another man's treasure" and "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

In this series of articles I will discuss why we want to collect quilts, how to collect quilts, what to look for when buying quilts, and current trends in the marketplace, including tomorrow's quilt treasures.

In talking to quilt lovers and reading various posts on the "Quilting Heritage Listserv," it is evident that for those who love and collect quilts, there is definitely something about a quilt that speaks to your heart and evokes a strong emotional response. Is it the pattern, the workmanship, the fabrics, the person who made it, the history of it? What is it that makes someone love a quilt so much that she has to buy it?

In interviewing collectors, it soon emerges that there is a universal reason they bought that first quilt in their collection -- they fell in love with it.

That certainly is easy enough to understand, but why do they keep buying? One collector I know calls it a "sickness." In my own life, it can be likened to an obsession. That first quilt can raise many issues and frequently the owner starts researching history, technique, textiles, and becomes a knowledgeable collector. The collector frequently will narrow down the types of quilts they buy into certain categories. Some collect red and white quilts, some charm quilts, some collect quilts only made before 1900 -- the list of reasons for and types of quilt collections is probably as many as there are quilt patterns, almost endless.

How does one go about starting a quilt collection? Well I am going to assume that if you are reading this article, the obsession has already taken hold. There is one place to find quilts that is often overlooked. Sometimes quilts can be found where you least expect them. Let your family, friends and neighbors know that you are collecting quilts. Often, such acquaintances have quilts that have been tucked away in a box or a closet and have almost been forgotten. Ask at garage or yard sales if they have any old quilts or linens; sometimes these things are missed when cleaning out the closets for such a sale, and the owner will gladly pull them out if someone is interested. Another way to find quilts, as well as learn about them, is to attend quilt shows and antique or quilt fairs.

Along with looking for quilts yourself, one important thing that the serious collector should do is establish a rapport with a reputable quilt dealer. It is important to find a dealer with a reputation for being fair and honest, knowledgeable about quilts and who has been a dealer for several years. Ask fellow collectors about dealers, and who they buy from. Let your dealer know what it is that you are looking for and the price you are willing to pay. As an established dealer, that person is likely to come into contact with or hear about available quilts more often than you, and if they have an idea of what you want, they will keep their eyes open for you.

In the next article, I will begin to discuss what to look for when buying an old quilt with an overview of quilt dating and how the date can affect value.

Copyright 1997 Deborah Roberts


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