Museum Textiles Services recently conserved a signature quilt that piqued our curiosity due to its lack of a date, place of origin, or occasion for which it was made. Using our research skills, we were able to answer two of these questions, and pose a theory for the third.
We determined date range for the quilt by dating the fabrics and the design, and then used historical information to confirm our hypothesis. Signature quilts became a favorite way of defining a community or family in the mid 19th-century and remained popular into the early 20th century. MTS Director Camille Myers Breeze states in her article Harvard signature quilts that by the 1840s quilts of all types were popularly made to commemorate events such as presidential elections, marriages, strong friendships, or fundraising efforts. Signature quilts get their name from the fact that they were inscribed with names, verses, poems, or important dates. Sometimes individuals made and inscribed their own block. Other times a single person made all or many of the quilt blocks and had different people sign each one. This quilt appears to have been inscribed by just one person, another common practice. We further narrowed the probable time frame during which this quilt was made to between the last quarter of the 19th century to the early 20th century using Eileen Jahnke Trestain's invaluable book Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide.
This signature quilt is a rare historic document listing many prominent Dublin families. Why these people are commemorated on this quilt still remains a mystery. Once the quilt is returned to New Hampshire, perhaps its origins will be revealed.