Delaware Historical Society Receives grant to Conserve Historic Sampler

December 19, 2019–  With funding from the Delaware Valley Historic Sampler Guild, the Delaware Historical Society (DHS) will conserve a historic sampler from its collection.

The oval sampler depicting flowers and a Bible verse was stitched in England by Ann Butler Danby in 1802, when she was 11-years-old.

“We are extremely excited to be getting this opportunity to undertake some much-needed conservation work on this piece” said Jennifer Potts, Curator of Objects at DHS. “Our sampler collection is one of our most popular and appreciated collections, and has been researched, published, exhibited, and formally documented as part of the nationally recognized Sampler Archive Project.”

Samplers have a long been utilized to record different types of stitches and patterns, with the oldest surviving European examples dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. By the late 1700s, a sampler was often an important component of the needlework curriculums at women’s academies, which emerged to mold young girls into good marriage prospects.  By the time Ann Butler took her needle to cloth in 1802, samplers were a well acknowledged way to for a young girl to demonstrate literacy, virtue and industry.

Danby’s sampler is done on a wool ground, which is quite common for English-made samplers, but its oval shape is somewhat unusual. Another attractive feature is the more naturalistic, free-flowing florals ringing the carefully-stitched verse, rather than the more geometric flowers often seen as borders.

The Danby sampler is one of only three English-made samplers in the DHS collection of 42 samplers; reminders of America’s immigrant heritage.  “We are thrilled that our historical collections can also connect to such contemporary topics as women’s history and the immigrant story in Delaware,” said Potts.

Currently tied together to keep the frame from falling apart, conservation efforts will include stabilizing the mid-19th century walnut frame and installing a new, conservation-grade backing that will stop acids from the wood leaching onto the fabric and turning it dark brown.

In addition to being part of sampler history, the Danby sampler also has local historical significance.  The Danby family has deep roots in Wilmington. Ann Butler became the wife of John Danby (1788-1857), an English-born Wilmington cooper who made barrels for the Dupont Company. John and Ann left England to seek new opportunities in America, where they raised their family of seven children, one of whom, Robert, served as First Assistant Engineer on Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous 1853/54 naval expedition to Japan, which eventually opened the country up to trade with the West. In addition to being one of the older samplers in the DHS collection, is also part of a larger collection of Danby family material ranging from the 1820s to the 1960s.

The conservation project is expected to begin in January 2020 and Potts hopes that the conservation will open the sampler up to being more available for display and programmatic purposes than it currently is.