1847 Emily Holbert's "Vanity of Vanities" Quilt

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Emily Holbert put not only her name, date, and location on this quilt, but also two maxims that held significance for her. Boldly and precisely appliquéd in the border: “INDUSTRY, AND PROPER IMPROVEMENT OF TIME 1847 VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY. EMILY HOLBERT’S QUILT; WORKED JANUARY, A.D. 1847. CHESTER, ORANGE COUNTY, NEW YORK.” “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” is from Ecclesiastes I:2. “Industry, and proper improvement of time are the duties of the young” was an expression that could be found in mid-nineteenth-century school books. Similar religious and moralistic sayings are found on samplers, embroidered pictures, and other needlework items, that were made by young women in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.
This quilt consists of twenty 14-inch blocks, each appliquéd with a medallion surrounded by three-lobed leaves, iris, and tulip motifs. The blocks are set with a 2-inch printed green sashing. The 9¾-inch-wide border contains the appliquéd inscriptions on all four sides of the quilt, sandwiched between a band of appliquéd leaf, tulip, and cherry motifs and a pieced sawtooth edge. Roller-printed fabrics are used for the appliqué work; the lining is white cotton with a cotton filling. All the appliquéd motifs, letters, and numbers are outline-quilted, and the leaves have quilted veins. Open spaces are filled with quilted motifs of scrolls, botehs, oak leaves, and hearts; 8 stitches per inch.
Emily Holbert, born October 15, 1820, was the daughter of James Holbert (1788-1871) and Susan Drake Holbert (1791-1851 or 1854). Emily was born and lived in Chester, Orange County, New York. On October 30, 1851 she married Theodore Finch, son of John and Catherine Anne Woodward Finch. Theodore was born about 1827 and died in January 1852 at the age of 24, a few months after his marriage to Emily.
There is no record that Emily remarried, and she died in 1858, only six years after Theodore. In 1988, the quilt she so proudly put her name to was donated to the Smithsonian by Mr. and Mrs. John Beard Ecker. Emily Holbert was Mrs. Theodora Ecker’s great-aunt. At the same time another quilt from the same family, Susan Holbert’s “Little Sister’s" quilt, was also presented to the Museum.
Currently not on view
Date made
Holbert, Emily
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 85 in x 102 in; 215 cm x 258 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Beard Ecker
Sewing and Knitting
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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