In 2006, I acquired a very special quilt. It was a 40th birthday gift to myself, and I got the idea from Shelly Zegart. Shelly's website had quilts for sale, and one had a story about the late Sandra Mitchell buying herself a special quilt for a significant birthday one year.
I thought that was a great idea!
Mitchell's birthday quilt was for sale at the time, but I chose another quilt, one of the finest in her collection. Five years earlier, I saw the quilt at Shelly's home in Louisville, Kentucky. I was in town for a convention, which had been rescheduled and relocated after 9/11.
It was wonderful visiting with Shelly, but at one point I asked if she had any quilts to show. She led me to a quaint room with a small bed, and under the bed was a box. Inside the box was this quilt. It was the only quilt she showed me that day.
I'm sure I gasped when I saw it. The quilt took my breath away. My heart skipped a beat, and I was weak in the knees all at once. Somehow, I managed to stay upright.
The quilt appeared in Shelly's book, "American Quilt Collections: Antique Quilt Masterpieces" under the entry for the Sandra Mitchell Collection. Mitchell, unfortunately, was not very interested in maintaining family information for quilts, so this quilt was inadvertantly misattributed in the book as an 1860s quilt from Pennsylvania.
Eventually, we discovered two other quilts like it -- I know, hard to believe -- and attributed this quilt to Mary Couchman Small (1800-1863) of Martinsburg, Berkeley County West Virginia. It was made around 1850, when West Virginia was still part of the Virginia Territory.
An almost identical quilt made by her daughter, Harriet, surfaced during the West Virginia Heritage Quilt Search, and was featured in the book "Echoes from the Hills, West Virginia Quilts and Quiltmakers" by Fawn Valentine.
When I saw the quilt at Shelly's home in 2001, it was one of the finest quilts I'd ever seen in person, and certainly the most densely quilted.
Five years later, the quilt was available. It was a serious investment, so I had to think seriously about it. My choice was not which quilt to buy, or whether or not to spend the money. It was really more like a promise to myself. In the future, I would do something more with the quilts. With a quilt like this one, I felt obligated.