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SAMPLERS originated as a means of keeping together samples of stitches used in embroidering tablecloths, napkins, towels, pillowcases, and other household articles before books of patterns existed. The earliest known mention of a sampler dates from 1505, when Elizabeth of York paid eight pence for "an elne of lynnyn for a sampler for the queen." By the mid-sixteenth century samplers were popular in England. The will of Mary Thompson, dated 1546, read, "Igyve to Alys Pinchebeck my sampler with semes." The sampler appeared in the colonies with the arrival of Anne Gower in 1610. The first sampler known to have been made in America was the work of Laura Standish, daughter of Myles Standish.

American samplers, often created by children as young as five, were noted for their originality, inventiveness, and decorative quality. In the mid-eighteenth century, Adam and Eve were popular subjects for samplers. Later, family trees, shepherds, the sampler maker's house, and sometimes whole villages were depicted, with the designs becoming increasingly diverse. The American eagle was a popular motif in early nineteenth-century samplers. After 1830 the art of sampler making declined but did not completely disappear.


Bolton, Ethel S., and Eva J. Coe. American Samplers. New York: Dover Publications, 1987.

Hersh, Tandy, and Charles Hersh. Samplers of the Pennsylvania Germans. Birdsboro: Pennsylvania German Society, 1991.

Ulrich, Laura Thatcher. "Pens and Needles: Documents and Artifacts in Women's History." Uncoverings 14 (1993): 221– 228.

Katharine MetcalfRoof/a. r.