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An exciting discovery inside an early 17th Century embroidery!

Some of you will have seen this framed embroidery in Poppies Cottage, until I moved it over to Ebay for sale.

I knew that the embroidery was of exquisite quality, and bought it from a sale of the embroidery collection of Lord Iveagh which was so exceptional, that most pieces sold for prices far beyond my reach. Although the 17th Century remains largely a mystery to me, there were several 'clues' that intrigued me!

First, the frame. I have little knowledge of the age of antique frames, and the auctioneer stated that the frame was some hundred years later than the embroidery, being circa Queen Anne period. [1702-14]. This was exciting enough for me! I have examined Queen Anne period textiles and am most impressed by this great age.

Being so early, I instinctively knew that the frame would have a value in it's own right, but have no links with people who have expertise with woodenware, so my chances of finding out more were virtually none.

The embroidery appeared religious to me, and the work was exceptional. Such fine stitching and expert shading of the coloured threads. Although generally darkened with age, the whole piece was without damage and the pastel colours still so very true to their original hues. Only the gold thread was darkened with age.

The next clue was found when the embroidery was carefully removed from the frame:

Here was a date of 1627 and a price of £20, written with ink in a very old hand.

1627 is the time of King Charles 1st, the House of Stuart.

This coincides with a note to the rear of the frame:

Stuart period Needlework

A simple soul like me is simply beyond words when faced with such an old item. I have read widely about society in the 18th Century and can imagine life for an 18th Century woman, but a female in the Stuart Period? How did she manage in such a cruel World? Beyond my imagination!

Despite all my excitement with such an early piece, it attracted little attention in Poppies Cottage, probably because my wonderful regular customer friends do not go back beyond the 18th Century. I decided to transfer it to Ebay, where it would have a wider audience. Sure enough, it sold quickly to an English gentleman called Eric. This is when the true excitement begins! A newly found enthusiast with a wider skill set than I.

Shortly after receiving the piece, Eric contacted me. Now, as a teacher throughout my career, sharing knowledge is in my bones. But it is so wonderful when others feel the same way. The first discovery Eric shared, was that the frame could be earlier than Queen Anne, the construction of the joints being typical of the 17th Century. This meant that the frame and the embroidery could have been together throughout time. But there was more. Far more! Not an embroidery in a frame at all, in fact!

Here is what Eric told me:

'I had thought, given the positioning of the seam, that it might have been cut from a chasuble. When I looked at it again out of the frame I realised it that it is in fact a burse, complete and intact. The embroidered part forms its top cover and the pink panel its lower cover. It opens up and the colours inside appear as fresh and vivid as they must have been in 1627, and reveal the original front cover colour to have been a delicate light blue. This would have matched the vestments of the celebrating priest.'

It's a BURSE! An early 17th Century burse! Oh my!

Now, if you Google '17th Century burse' or '18th Century burse', you can find many examples of the superbly embroidered covers of these religious treasures. I am quite sure that few people who up-loaded these Google images knew which are 17th or 18th Century!

So here is a lesson to all of us textile treasure hunters. A lesson that I knew from experience but forgot to follow on this very early piece - probably because I allowed it's age to over-awe me. Always examine the piece as far as you can. Photographs and descriptions in specialist books are very helpful, but can never make up for the actual examination and a little prying around!

I asked Eric to do the impossible, without damaging the burse - could he take a photograph of the interior? Of course, very difficult to photograph the inside of a narrow opening. Here is his reply, with yet more valuable information about how it would be used:

'The burse opens on one side only, (so the corporax can be inserted), which is I guess why one might have supposed it to have been mounted on a board, and whilst this opening being ten inches long is sufficient to see its inner construction clearly by eye, the height of the opening is insufficient for a photograph to be taken. This is a shame, for the colours inside are quite something.'

I so wanted to see the colours and at a further attempt, he did it! Here it is - and how bright the colours are;


Eric added an extra footnote to demonstrate just how much I had missed in my examination. 'By the way, did you notice the beautiful lining inside the frame?' Eric asked. 'I removed some of the gunge with a little saliva and it emerged on all four sides a lovely deep green leather with swirling gold tooling.'

Of course I didn't notice! But of course, the marvellous Eric did! Thank you Eric! Thank you for sharing such a find. If I ever, EVER, find such an early piece again, I promise I will be peeking into every available nook and cranny!

As always, thank you for reading!

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