Sampling the Database: Discoveries from a New Jersey Sampler Project

An 1834 sampler of Elizabeth Voorheis, age 13, made at Elizabeth L. Wycoff's school

An 1834 sampler of Elizabeth Voorheis, age 13, made at Elizabeth L. Wycoff's school

To paraphrase The A-Team‘s Hannibal Smith, I love it when resources come together!  This month, we got an e-mail from researchers in Hunterdon County, New Jersey who have been accessing the database through their library.  Dan and Marty Campanelli are working on a book on Hunterdon County samplers, and in searching, they found a sampler with unidentified origins by an Elizabeth Voorheis with the name of her teacher, Elizabeth Wyckoff, included, and the date of 1834.  In the early 1800s, young girls, especially those from upper and middle class families, were educated, but not in the same manner as their male counterparts.  And, like their male counterparts, if it was available and affordable, they were educated outside of the home, or at least by outsiders who visited their homes, as well.  However, instead of studying Latin, geometry or history, young women learned skills that are often grouped under the heading of “schoolgirl art” – things like landscape and tole painting (on paper or canvas, but also often seen on small pieces of furniture), music, and needlework, all skills designed to help young women create and entertain in lovely, cultured homes.  As a young unmarried woman, it’s likely that Elizabeth Wyckoff supported herself in a modest manner by instructing young women in the finer points of needlework.

After some genealogy work, they’ve determined that the Voorheis sampler was likely made in neighboring Morris County, New Jersey, a fact which not only offered them an example from one of Ms. Wyckoff’s earlier schools, but allowed them to determine where she had been living prior to arriving in Hunterdon County.  All this has made it possible to identify similar characteristics in the works and draw together a group of several New Jersey samplers influenced by the same woman – Elizabeth Wyckoff.

This is a great story, not just of the results of dogged research or the shadow of the story of a young woman who by all rights, as an unmarried middle-aged woman in the early 19th century, should have been lost to history by now, but also of how Prices4Antiques is able to offer so much more beyond just pricing information.  (And this is also one of the things that makes what we do special – we’ve gone back and annotated the record so that it includes more information and more current information than what the auction house originally offered.)  Amazing things can happen when materials are compiled in such a way that the right people can find them at the right time, and we’re pleased to have helped with another little piece of the historic puzzle!

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

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