Discover Vintage America - NOVEMBER 2017

Top tips for antique quilt collecting - part one

My most asked question is "where do you get your quilts?" And my answer is usually from on-line sources, mainly eBay as well as Live Auctioneers and Invaluable (auction clearinghouses) that allow me to buy directly from regional and national auction houses. I also purchase from dealers at quilt shows and online. Most large quilting shows have antique quilt dealers and even some small shows have one or two. Antique and thrift shops are good sources too. In addition, don't forget to let friends and family know you are interested in quilts – you just might end up with great grandma's quilts that have been in a closet for years.

Detail of 1860s Rose of Sharon quilt. It's an example of a quilt that "makes the heart sing" for the author. (Sandra Starley Collection)

Buy what you love

When I polled my collector friends these were the most repeated collecting tips. It is so easy to be tempted by low prices and "good deals" but it is better to wait and get a great quilt rather than a cheap "okay" quilt. Do not buy based on price alone or what others think you should collect. Buy the quilts that make you smile, the quilts with heart, emotion, and style.

Go for unique and unusual

With the Internet giving collectors such wide access to antique quilts, they can see and compare many examples and buy the most interesting examples. Folk art and whimsical quilts fit in this category. Collectors now want unique items and are looking at quilts as art. Look for quilts with strong graphic appeal, great design, and that extra special "it factor." There are certain quilts that make one's heart skip a beat, that sparkle and pop with visual interest. Find and buy those. Follow knowledgeable dealers online through their shops and on eBay. Watch what quilts have the most "watchers" on eBay.

Bethlehem Star from the 1850s. It's an example of an antique quilt in excellent condition. (Sandra Starley Collection)

Condition, condition, condition

Like the location, location, location adage in real estate, condition is the key in antique quilts. Buy the best/highest quality quilts you can afford with the best workmanship and best condition. It will always be easier to re-sell a quilt that is in very good to excellent condition rather than one with problems. These quilts hold their value more than quilts with "condition issues." Many collectors and interior decorators will not buy damaged quilts. Don't fall for the "good condition for its age" myth – you can find 200-year-old quilts in very good condition and 10-year-old quilts that are in tatters. Always try to buy the best condition you can find.


A fancy term for who made the quilt, where it was made and when it was made. Of course, all vintage and antique quilts represent a bit of history, which is a big part of their charm, but some quilts actually are historical documents with strong significance. This documented history/background of a quilt is known as provenance and can add value to a quilt. Some collectors only purchase quilts with a known maker because they want this tangible connection to the past. This is one of the reasons the market for antique signature quilts (with multiple names) continues to grow. These quilts often showcase a particular family, religion, culture or moment in time. 

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

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