Gentleman's folding pocketbook, c.1770
This charming artifact from Colonial America embodies a poignant gesture of love. The pocketbook was worked in wool Irish stitch on canvas by Catherine Steinmetz of Philadelphia in 1770 as a gift for her fiancé John Neveling.
During their courtship, Catherine made the pocketbook to show her affection as well as her abilities in the five arts of fancy needlework. She carefully embroidered his name and the date of the gift so he would always remember it.
The inside edges are embroidered "John Neveling/his pocketbook/October 28, 1770." They were married the following year on September 10 in St. Paul's Church in Philadelphia.
The pocketbook is lined with green silk, and the edges are bound with brown wool tape. The pocketbook was used to carry important papers, e.g., deeds and wills as well as currency.
The pocketbook comes with a 4-page handwritten letter titled "My Favorite Antique" by Nancy Quimm Sailer, who owned the pocketbook. In the letter, she describes the papers that came with the pocketbook. Although they are no longer included, you can still benefit from her research.
Ms. Sailer refers to the authoritative book, Plain and Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1650-1850 by Susan B. Swan. Our purse is very similar to the one in Plate 16, p. 97 in Ms. Swan's book.
Most of the finest needlework ever done in America was created by upper middle class women from 1700-1780. They used canvas, crewel, and lace work as well as silk embroidery. Enormous importance was placed on valuable household possessions. Fancy needlework represented a wife's contribution to the family's wealth.
Pocketbooks were favorites to be worked in Irish stitch. Since most legal papers were held by men, a pocketbook of this type would be carried by the man of the house as a kind of portable safe deposit box. This was considered safer than storing valuable papers in a secret compartment in furniture.
The condition is good and all original. The exterior has yarn loss; the lining has a few splits on the sides. This is reflected in the price. In excellent condition, the pocketbook would be worth at least $5000.
It measures 7"x 1/2" closed and 7"x 8 1/2" open.