Stumpwork showcases mastery of 1600s' overlooked needlers

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

Textiles are fragile and need special care. Dust, light, insects and moisture can damage them. Antique textiles in good condition are rare and often sell for high prices.

The embroidered figures on this 17th-century box are three-dimensional. They were made with a technique called stumpwork that was popular at the time and, even after hundreds of years, shows the embroiderer's advanced skill.

This needlepoint casket was made about 1660 in England and sold for $17,920, nearly three times its low estimate, at Morphy Auctions. A closer look shows that the colorful people, plants and animals stitched onto the fabric are three-dimensional, making the stitching even more complex. This tricky technique, called stumpwork, required padding the stitches to make the designs stand out. Scenes of people and animals in nature settings, often with allegorical meanings or Biblical references, were among the favorite subjects.

All forms of embroidery, including stumpwork, were popular in England throughout the 1600s. Richly embroidered textiles and the items made from them grew more popular as more people could afford them. Many surviving examples of embroidery, including some museum-quality pieces, were made by amateurs, probably girls or young women. Girls would learn embroidery at a young age and practice their stitches with samplers, another popular collectible.

Elaborately embroidered boxes like these may have been projects for girls learning embroidery to show their mastery of the skill. However, no matter how skilled women were at embroidery, they were not likely to become professionals. Only men could join professional embroiderers' guilds.

Question: Did Avon create their Cape Cod style dishes in other colors besides red? Also, I noticed on the bottom of some of the blue versions being offered for sale on sites such as eBay, there is a number. What does it mean? Were they truly made by Avon as the seller claims?

A: Wheaton Glass made Avon's "1876 Cape Cod Collection" line of dinnerware using a special formula to make the dark red glass. Although most sources list red as the only color, we have seen a few pieces online that appear to be the same pattern but are cobalt blue. Thirty-seven different items were made in the dark red glass. Samples of each item were made in clear flint glass first and sent to Avon for approval. Several molds were made for each piece. The number on the bottom of the glass could be the mold number. The first pieces of Cape Cod, a candlestick and a cruet, were made in 1975. A few new pieces were added each year. The last new pieces, a bread and butter plate, cup and saucer, and pie plate, were made in 1993. The remaining stock was sold until it ran out in 1995. Avon's ruby red Cape Cod glass is very collectible. There are websites where collectors list pieces they are looking for or pieces they are selling.

Q: I would like to know the history and value of an upholstered and carved mahogany chair. I think it's called a parlor chair. A tag on the bottom says "Morganton Chair, Lenoir, NC." It was my great-grandmother's. It's in perfect condition, no tears or stains. She never let anyone sit on it.

A: Morganton Chair started in business in Lenoir, N.C., about 1935. The company made upholstered chairs. The business was dissolved in 1979. It's not possible to give you the value without seeing the chair. Since it's not made by a famous maker, it would sell as good used furniture. The value depends on the desirability of the style and the color and design of the upholstery.

Q: You had an article about a "Back to the Future" VHS tape selling for thousands of dollars. What auction houses or other outlets might be interested in buying or selling VHS tapes or LPs?

A: The VHS tape that sold for a record $75,000 was a sealed copy of the original 1985 film from a collection owned by Tom Wilson, who played "Biff" in the film and its sequences. Factors contributing to the high price include the popularity of the film and the actor who previously owned the tape. Desirability, rarity and condition determine price. An unopened or sealed copy is more valuable than a used copy. Most VHS tapes sell for less than $10. Vinyl records have become popular again. Many are worth less than a dollar, but sought-after albums, including those from the 1960s and '70s, are worth a lot more. You can find prices online for both VHS tapes and LPs by searching sites like, which has an archive of auction prices, or Look for "sold" prices on eBay. There are stores that buy and sell old VHS tapes and LPs. They can tell you which ones are worth more than a few dollars. They'll give you about half what they expect to sell them for.

TIP: The best way to store plates is vertically in a rack. If you don't have space, store them with pads between the dishes.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Be sure your name and return address are included. By sending a question, you give full permission for use in any Kovel product. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We do not guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. Questions that are answered will appear in Kovels Publications. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at