July 6, 2016

An Amazing Day at an Auction ~ Quilt Rescue!

 Beautiful Windmills, 1930s;  lovely, fine quilting.  
Tried hard to win, but lost to the antique dealer.

What follows is a guest post by one of my readers.  I think of it as a cautionary tale about what wonders can be lost without a bit of research into the proper care of antiques.  She had the good luck and good sense to help rescue an amazing and amazingly mistreated quilt collection.  I am grateful to her for the time she has taken to share her story here.  (The photos were taken when the quilts were on display, before the "disaster".)

After reading this sad tale, I hope you'll join me in thanking her for giving it the happiest ending possible.


You just never know what you’ll find at an auction, and on a beautiful, warm Saturday morning 2 weeks ago, I was driving through the rural countryside en route to my latest discovery—an auction of 38 quilts from a local medical center.  As a quilter and a lover of history, I was on a mission to simply study the old quilts and to see what they would go for. So, with clipboard in hand, it was off to the auction.

What I found when I arrived there made me want to cry—all of the quilts had been improperly hung in heavy, archival metal frames, their tops completely exposed, and the auctioneers had layered them against one another along the walls of the room!

My Friend's "new" Amish Broken Star, Modern

The quilts dated from the late 1800s to probably the 1980s, all mixed in with framed artwork. It was impossible to get a good look at them all in that small room.

1930s Cactus on Steps.
A Stearns & Foster Pattern

While milling about, I was shocked to hear one of the auctioneers admit that the medical center was originally going to ship them to the dump! To make matters worse, several of the quilts had been ripped in transport to the auction location. These old beauties had certainly suffered from abuse! But I didn’t know the half of it, yet…

 1880 Pine Tree, damaged in transport.  
Sold for $15.

Judging by the questions and comments I received as I studied the quilts, it was obvious that few were willing to deal with the quilts in those frames.

 1940s Periwinkle Stars.  
Claimed by a friend of the quilt maker's family.

So, a day of study turned into a rescue mission. I hurried over to the table and asked if the auctioneers had a screwdriver and could assist me in getting the larger ones out of the frames. To their credit, they said they would help me after the auction.

 My "new" Lone Star (Amish?).  
1930s, quilted in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

I called my husband for help, and then a quilting friend, and her husband was able to come to the auction later that morning. Between the three of us, we managed to rescue several of them. About mid-way through the auction, an antique dealer showed up and the bidding began to soar out of my meager range; still, our two households did a fair share of winning.

My biggest regret was losing the wonderful Amish wool economy block quilt to the dealer.

 Canadian Amish Wool Economy Block.  
Very nice condition (at least in the frame.)  
Won by the antique dealer.

Once the auction ended, it was a scramble to get the quilts out into an open area of the parking lot to remove the frames. And oh, the shock! They were not only improperly framed, but most of my quilts had bindings or borders directly stapled every few inches to the wood form of their frames.

 Pinwheels in Circles, 1930s.

It took the three of us all afternoon to free them. It was difficult to remove them without damaging them even further. Sadly, my “new” Kentucky Baskets will have to be cut down about an inch or two and rebound.

My "new" Kentucky Baskets, on point, 6" blocks. 
Very fine quilting. 
Amazing win at $37, but damaged by staples. Will have to be rebound.

But the saddest story of all was the beautiful bed-size Tree of Life applique quilt. The family of the grandmother who made it showed up at the auction. Again, to their credit, the auctioneers gave them the family quilt, and everyone applauded!

However, when they managed to get the quilt outside, they found that the back of the quilt had a long rip up the center, and that one of the front corner appliques had been badly damaged.

 Beautiful Tree of Life.  
Fine quilting, but damaged in transport.

On the lighter side, my husband and I made a very surprising discovery after the frames were removed. On the back of 2 of my quilts was a blue and white sticker which read, “Shelly Zegart, Antique Quilts, Louisville, KY”, along with a serial number.

 1930s Fans quilt in solids. Fine quilting.  
Another one that went home with the dealer.

I called my quilting friend who had won one of the 1930s star quilts, and she had also found a tag with Zegart's name on her quilt!  And, I suspect that the dealer's quilts also have a Shelly Zegart sticker.

 My friend's "new" Touching Lemoyne Stars quilt, 1930s

You just never know what you’ll find at an auction!

My "new" Carpenter's Wheel, 1930s.  
Fine quilting. 
One of the few they didn't staple directly to the frame.


  1. Dear Ann....Thank you so very much for your rescue of these wonderful old historic textile pieces. It is so important to educate those 'buyers' that we come in contact with as to the lives that these quilts represent! And often, when we do come in contact with these pieces, it is completely by accident. For example, over ten years ago when my husband and I were out in the backwoods of Virginia with a realtor looking at old houses, we had such an experience. We came upon a Victorian house that had no pluming or electricity. The kitchen had a few old cabinets, but most fascinating to me was the beautiful old iron cook stove, and as my eyes followed the stove pipe up the wall to the edge of the ceiling, I noticed that the stove pipe was stuffed with something that appeared to be a pile of old tattered rags to keep the rain and mice outside. I gently pulled it free of the pipe, hoping that I did not meet up with a nest of mice or bugs. As I pulled the piece free, my excitement grew, as I realized that the old 'rags' were really a turn-of-the-century Crazy Quilt!! I felt like I had found a real treasure in this quilt of silk velvets and satins. Unfortunately, the quilt was split into pieces, I suspect in order to fit the plug of quilt pieces into the stovepipe with a firm fit that had apparently allowed no leaks into the home. I opened out the badly wrinkled chunks of the delicate quilt pieces on a small laminated table in the kitchen. Hand embroidery stitches were applied with bright, shiny silk flosses. Under the embellished top, were old pieces of hand-woven wool coverlet, frequently used in the early 1900’s to create the ‘batting’ necessary to create warmth and body to the delicate silks and satins. The third layer was made of the rough and loosely woven cloth, such as muslin to provide backing to the three layers. The total quilt was not on the property, but the realtor informed us that we could not bring the tattered quilt pieces with us, because anything found on the property was considered to belong with the property. So, I neatly re-bundled the pieces and stuffed then back into the stove pipe. We closed the house back up as we left and could see the streaks of sunlight pouring through the tall windows. The home was left as we found it, in its stately silence and as we drove away, I thought, “If only walls could talk.” I could hear the laughter as the women bound back in another time worked on a “Crazy” “Quilt” design that would in many years, communicate to another quilter who stopped by and found pieces of a work of art.

    1. Thanks very much, Gail. I especially like that you felt a connection to the quilters of years ago. How sad that the quilt was cut up! I'll make sure to pass your story along to the person who shared this story.

    2. Interesting story, Gail. I wonder who it was that used the quilt to fill the opening. Was it done years after the maker had passed? Did the maker's husband do it? (The wife would not have been pleased after all of that work, ha!) Kim

  2. Truly an amazing rescue story - another chapter in the life of each of those quilts. Thank you for sharing the photos with us, too. And, very sweet to read of Gail's connection to the quilters the past.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the stories! I always like quilts with, as you say, lots of chapters in their lives.