Collecting American samplers in Southern California

Ives family coat of arms

By Rebecca Ives Gilman (1746-1823)

Beverly, Massachusetts, 1763. Silk and gold and silver thread on black silk, 17 by 16 inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, promised gift of Victor Gail and Thomas H. Oxford.

Heraldic works were among the most impressive products of the needle arts in eighteenth-century America. This coat of arms (one of the rarest pieces in the Gail-Oxford Collection) was stitched by Rebecca Ives Gilman when she was seven­teen years old. She was the only daughter of Captain Benjamin Ives and Elizabeth Hale Ives, both from prominent Massachusetts and New Hampshire families, who were married in Beverly on October 12, 1743. In the year she stitched the coat of arms (and thus gave up her maiden name of Ives), Rebecca married Joseph Gilman in Salem, and they moved to his family home in Exeter, New Hampshire. He became a prominent business­man and community leader. In 1788 they and their son Benjamin (b. 1766) moved west to newly de­veloping settlements near present-day Marietta, Ohio. Over the next several years, Joseph Gilman was appointed to offices of increasing responsibil­ity and influence, including, in 1796, an appoint­ment by George Washington as judge of the Northwest Territory. After her husband's death, Rebecca remained in Ohio until about 1812 when she moved to Philadelphia to be near Benjamin.6 

That fancy needlework was but a part of Re­becca Ives's education is confirmed in an account in an 1869 Gilman family genealogy: "Mrs. Gil­man' was far superior to that of most ladies of her time, being chiefly acquired under the direction of her grandfather, the Honorable Robert Hale. By him her literary taste was highly culti­vated, and a love acquired for books and useful reading that attended her through life. She was familiar with the best writers of Queens Anne and Elizabeth, could read French authors with facility, and her acuteness was such in polite literature, that when any disputed point arose among the learned visitors and circles at her fireside, she was often appealed to as an umpire, and her decisions were usually decisive of the question, and seldom appealed from."7

A closely related coat of arms with the same inscription, "By the name of Ives," was illustrated in Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe's watershed 1921 publication American Samplers and included in a needlework exhibition at the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in Boston in 1937.8 At the time, that coat of arms was in the collection of a direct descendant of Rebecca's brother Robert Hale Ives (its present location is not known). It is quite likely that Rebecca stitched both coats of arms, one as a gift to her beloved brother.9



By Anne "Nancy" Moulton (b. 1786)

Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1796. Silk on linen 23 ¼ by 20 . inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gail-Oxford promised gift.


This unusually large sampler with its meandering floral border depicts a pastoral landscape in which wild and domesticated animals peacefully coexist. Made in Newburyport, Massachusetts, it is related to a group of compositions that Betty Ring described as the "Shady Bower" samplers.10 The heart and trefoil bands and the checkered sawtooth border are also frequently seen in Newburyport samplers of the period. Anne Moulton used the so-called "long stitch" in her landscape, a stitch characteristically used in needlework from this region. Needlework scholar Tricia Wilson Nguyen has identi­fied Betty (or Betsy) Bradstreet (1738-1815) of New­buryport as the possible teacher of the girls who worked these samplers.11 Born in Newburyport, Anne Moul­ton (also known as Nancy) was one of twelve children of American silversmith Joseph Moulton (1744-1816) and his wife Abigail Noyes Moulton (1744-1818).12 She worked the sampler in 1796 when she was ten. However, as the unstitched pencil marks below the central flowering tree indicate, she never fully com­pleted it.13 Also noteworthy is that the numbers indicat­ing the year of her birth seem to have been removed at a later date, perhaps to conceal her age. A related sam­pler was stitched by Moulton's sister Phoebe Lane Moulton in 1792.14

Victor Gail purchased this sampler from a Southern California dealer in 1989, along with six pieces of silver by members of the Moulton family, including Anne's father, Joseph, that had come to California with fam­ily descendants.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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