As the market for old Amish quilts developed in the 1970s, a fragmented system connecting quilts in Amish homes with consumers emerged. Often the first step was a knock at the door of an Amish home. Those knocking on doors—typically called “pickers”—visited Amish homes in hopes that the family would have quilts they wanted to sell. In the early years, Amish families had no real sense of the market and pickers could usually name their price. As Gail van der Hoof recalled, “if what I offered for a quilt was enough for a new water pump, they’d take the money.”1 An Amish woman who sold a family quilt regretted the low price but remained matter-of-fact about the experience: “It seemed like a lot of money at the time, and there’s no use crying over spilled milk.”2
Some pickers searching for quilts in Amish country employed the local Amish church directory. Collector David Pottinger, who knocked on Amish doors in search of quilts in northern Indiana, recalled that “You’d see a quilt that was really wonderful and it was made by Emma Schrock, and you’d look in the directory and see that she had eight children, and that’s where you’d go next.”3 David Wheatcroft and Eve Granick used plat maps, describing their process as an archaeological dig in which they crossed off Amish farms on the map as they drove through the countryside knocking on doors and buying quilts. Other dealers made friends with Amish locals, who helped them gain entree into Amish homes.
Pickers and others buying and selling quilts in Amish settlements generally sold to other dealers, typically those with retail outlets or storefronts in cities. Dealers in New York City galleries valued their relationships with pickers working in Amish settlements as it gave them access to quilts directly out of Amish homes. Consumers and collectors then frequented these urban galleries, buying quilts that had frequently changed hands several times as they journeyed from the cedar chests in Amish homes onto art enthusiasts’ walls.
1. Quoted in Susan Colgan, “Collecting Quilts: Where It All Began,” Art and Antiques, October 1983.
2. Leroy Smucker and Elizabeth Smucker, interview by Rachel Pellman, March 10, 2005, Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum collection at the Lancaster County Historical Society.
3. David Wheatcroft and Eve Granick, interview by Janneken Smucker, Westborough, MA, September 19, 2008.
Excerpt from interview with Benuel Riehl, conducted by Janneken Smucker, May 13, 2008.
Excerpt from interview with David Wheatcroft and Eve Granick, conducted by Janneken Smucker, September 19, 2008.