Such was the case with this wonderful Patriotic Star Quilt made in the early 1940's for a World War II veteran. The estate auction listing where the quilt was discovered made no mention of quilts, though even if it had I probably would not have attended. Instead, I discovered the quilt in a vendor's booth at a flea market two days later. The seller, a World War II memorabilia collector/dealer, was at the auction when this quilt came out of a trunk where other military service items had been stored for years.
How do I know this quilt was meant for me to find? Well, we did not set out that day to visit a flea market, much less purchase a quilt. In fact, we headed into the city early on a Saturday morning to pick up supplies at the home center. While in the city we decided to visit an upholstery shop where I took much longer to look around than my dear hubby. While he ran another errand, I continued to dream about all the things I could do with some of the beautiful fabrics and trims in the shop.
When he came back I learned he had discovered a surprise he wanted to share with me. :-)
As flea markets go, it was late in the day. Most of the sellers were getting ready to pack up their wares to go home. Yet there it was! I spotted the quilt hanging in a seller's booth about the same time my dear hubby did. He stopped to look briefly before continuing through the maze of vendors. He knew where I would be. :-)
I took my sweet time to admire the quilt and it's exceptionally good condition. I was pretty sure what I looking at was a World War II quilt, though quilts made with only solid fabrics can be tricky to date. I might not have thought twice about this quilt except for two things:
One, Sue Reich's exceptional book titled 'World War II Quilts', published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.;
Sue's excellent talk at an exhibit of some of her World War II quilts that I was fortunate to finally attend a few months earlier at the 2012 Lancaster Spring Quilt Show.
If you have an opportunity to hear Sue discuss this topic, which she is clearly passionate about, I highly recommend you do! At the very least, read her book about these amazing treasures.
So there I was, on a warm summer day standing in a flea market booth with an opportunity to purchase a World War II quilt to be my very own. What is a quilt collector/historian to do?
I inquired about the price. I clarified the price just to be sure I heard the seller correctly. I was tempted, but determined that I was NOT going to purchase a quilt that does not fit in my collection - which I have been attempting to whittle down to only quilts that make my heart go pitter pat! Most quilts that have that impact on me are from the 19th century and earlier. Most!
I tried my best to walk away. In fact I did, explaining to the seller I did not need another quilt. He chuckled. Somehow he knew the intended buyer of this quilt had arrived. It didn't take long before I went back to ask for more information about the quilt. It wasn't calling my name, it was screaming it loudly!
The seller informed me the quilt came from an estate auction held just a couple of days earlier. He went on to explain that he is a collector/dealer of World War II memorabilia which does not include quilts. In fact, while he knew quilts had been made during war time he had never considered quilts could be directly related to the war. I shared information with him about Sue's book.
There was something about this quilt that prompted him to bid anyway. With no mention of quilts in the auction listing there were few buyers at the auction interested in this quilt. He happily gave me information about the auction so that I could contact the auctioneer and ultimately the family to see if more could be learned about the quilt.
That afternoon I searched the internet to see what else I could learn about the gentlemen who had kept this quilt stored away in a trunk. The auction company was closed for the weekend. However, from his online obituary I learned:
Ralph, 91, died peacefully at a hospice center on Friday, January 13, 2012. Born in Pennsylvania, he was the son of the late John and Irene. In 1984 Ralph retired after over 41 years at the same company. He was the loving husband of the late Mae who died in February of 2011. Ralph was a member of St. Paul's United Church of Christ. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific during WWII where he was the recipient of the Purple Heart and commendation ribbons. Ralph was a member of a local Historical Society, a local Senior Citizens Group and also volunteered for Meals on Wheels. He enjoyed camping, hunting and history; and was a member of a camping club.
A few days later my suspicions about this quilt were confirmed! While the children had no clear knowledge about who had made the quilt for their father, they all knew why it was stored with his military uniforms and medals. I thanked them for their kindness and willingness to share such loving stories about their father.
As World War II ended almost 70 years ago, the world is loosing our veterans daily. Those men and women who lived through that time come from a generation that greatly valued privacy and strength following all they experienced around the world in the late 1930s and 1940s. As some of the estates are settled families are discovering some amazing treasures saved in memory of those experiences. As Sue Reich works to remind all of us, now is the time to pay attention and watch for these wonderful treasures and quilts so that the stories can be learned and saved with them before they are too far separated from the veterans' for whom they honor.