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Trash or Treasure: Colorful quilts were Victorian-era craze

Khristi Zimmeth  |  Special to The Detroit News

Intricately designed and crafted, crazy quilts are colorful reminders of the Victorian era. Katherine Smith recently brought one that she inherited from a family member  to DuMouchelles hoping to find out more about its value and history. 

“The attached photos are of a crazy quilt that I inherited from my aunt several years ago,” Smith wrote in her original email, adding that her aunt gave art lessons and that at one point the piece had been on display in her tea house/antique shop located next to the West Springfield (Massachusetts) library in the 1950s. “I do have a photo of the quilt hanging in her shop,” Smith added.  

“I am not sure of the age of the quilt,” adding that she was told by her aunt that it was “quite rare.” “The lace is also all handmade and in excellent shape. The quilt itself is in beautiful shape as well. I'm trying to gather a bit more information about the piece, but since my father and my aunt, his sister, both recently died, it's been quite challenging.  I think this is an amazing piece with a history I would love to know about.”

Catherine Page, an appraiser at DuMouchelles, was happy to fill her in.

“Handmade quilts are definitely works of art,” she confirmed, admiring the colors and fabrics used in Smith’s piece, which features fabrics that go beyond the simple cottons usually seen.  “I see satin, velvet, so many vintage materials,” said the appraiser.  There are also embroidered flowers on some of the squares and quilted fans at each of the four corners.

Crazy quilts have an interesting history, according to, which traces it to influences from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia.  “Asian designs and decorative arts were a big part of the Aesthetic Movement of the second half of the 19th century, and many Americans had their first exposure after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Crazy Quilts have their roots in the cracked finishes seen on Asian pottery, called “crazing.” American women adapted this ceramic finish into the decorative embroidery work and irregularly shaped patches that typify crazy quilting.”  The fans in the quilts corners are evidence of this connection.

Unfortunately, like many antiques at the moment, the market isn’t as strong as it once was, the appraiser noted, adding that the auction house has sold a number of similar textiles in the past 15 years.  Currently crazy quilts bring less than other quilts that feature more graphic or modern designs, somewhere between $250 -$450 at auction, she said, adding that it would have a replacement value of $800 to $1,200.

“The amount of work in it is just amazing,” says Smith, who added that she’s going to keep the piece in the family, at least for now. The appraiser agreed that she should keep it if she likes it, and continue to enjoy it.

 “It’s very beautiful,” she agreed. “Definitely one of a kind.”

Calling all collectors: We are seeking collectors who want to be featured in upcoming columns. If you’re interested in seeing your treasures in our pages, send a paragraph about your collection and what appeals to you about it along with a few photos of you and items in your collection to If chosen, we will be in touch.

About this item

Item: Crazy quilt

Owned by: Katherine Smith

Appraised by: Catherine Page, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $250 to $450.