The Needlework Collection of Betty Ring - scholar and American historian

When most people think of art, they tend to think of grand paintings created by the celebrated artists of their day; whether it be Da Vinci, Monet or Picasso. But often it is folk art which captures more of a country's history - and includes contributions from talented by less celebrated artists too.

Last weekend, Sotheby's sold the collection of Betty Ring. Betty Ring was someone who took seriously the value of folk art in embroidery and on needlework samplers.

Betty was keen to make as many people aware of the value of this pastime and method of household decoration as possible. She wrote two books on the subject: American Needlework Treasures and Girlhood Embroidery Volume I and Volume II.

Sarah Cooper sampler
Sarah Cooper's needlework sampler

A genuine scholar and needlework historian, Ring was often sought to deliver lectures on the subject. In 2005 she was given the Award of Merit at a dinner hosted by the Antiques Dealers' Association of America.

She bought her first piece of needlework in 1960 for $30: a Scottish verse sampler, but it was in 1965 that she had her real revelation, fascinated by the particular similarities between silk memorial embroideries suggesting the way those who'd created them had been instructed. A lifelong passion was born.

Needlework Sampler Susannah Saunders Sarah Stivours School
Susannah Saunders Needlework Sampler of the Sarah Stivours School

The collection, which went under the hammer in New York on January 22, included some extraordinarily intricate and historical pieces:

A rare needlework sampler by Sarah Cooper, attributed to Ann Marsh's School, created in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dated 1792, which was made using strikingly coloured silk and coiled metal stitches on a linen ground. The attribution is due to its similarity to the work of Cooper's sister Mary.

From a little earlier was another fine piece of needlework created by a 12 year old Susannah Saunders, following the Sarah Stivours School, which presents a pastoral scene.

Mary Antrim needlework sampler
A scene from a Burlington girl: Mary Antrim's needlework sampler

These each sped past their $60,000-80,000 listings to achieve $170,500 and $314,500 respectively. But neither was the top lot. That honour went to a sampler by Mary Antrim of Burlington County.

Mary Antrim was the daughter of a weaver, John Antrim and this work, created using silk and painted paper on linen, was always going to be coveted, not least as samplers made by girls from Burlington County are now regarded as important.

In the event, it sold for a World Record for a needlework sampler at auction - $1,070,500. In total the collection sold 87.5% by value, for a final sale price of $4.39m.

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock