“Woolie” Ship Portrait, ca. 1860

Value (2011) | $6,000 Insurance
Watch  

GUEST:
I got it in Salt Lake City, in about 1960. And it was in a shop that had it up in the rafters. I asked to go up and look in the rafters, and I found this. It was very reasonable. I think I may have paid $15 for it.

APPRAISER:
$15, okay.

GUEST:
And it's called Turkey work. The subject is of a British man-of-war, prior to the American Revolution, when they were patrolling to make sure that the Americans weren't going to rebel. And you can see here all of the British symbols...

APPRAISER:
Can I burst your bubble just a little before I blow it up again in a good way?

GUEST:
Sure.

APPRAISER:
Okay.I don't think it's of a 1775 ship.

GUEST:
Is that so?

APPRAISER:
And I can tell you very definitively why.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
These are actually called woolies.

GUEST:
Woolies?

APPRAISER:
And they were done by British sailors, and the earliest we can find them dated is around 1840.

GUEST:
Oh, is that so?

APPRAISER:
And we know they were done all through the 19th century and even into the early 20th century.

GUEST:
Oh, wow.

APPRAISER:
And they're primarily British. We don't see Americans doing them. They're primarily a British sailor needlework...

GUEST:
Product, uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
And they're called woolies simply because they're primarily done with wool. And nobody has ever been able to figure out exactly how they started. They're rarely signed, so we almost never know who did them. They're not handled by a lot of dealers, they come up at auction infrequently, but people that buy them love them. And so I've been in homes where there are 20 or 30 woolies.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
Textiles are very fragile, and they fade easily, so when we look at this example, you can see in here the greens. They're a little softer than they probably started out life, but we know what kind of blues-- a royal blue, in terms of the color. So there's clearly been some fade in here. But among woolies, you pretty much expect that. They're not Turkey work, which was a little more generic term early on. As woolies go, this is an exceptionally good one.

GUEST:
Oh.

APPRAISER:
We have the kind of English Rose, which you'd expect. Then we have the thistle, for Scotland. And they're not really well delineated, but we're pretty sure that those are three-leaf clovers, so we have Ireland. Interestingly, what's missing?

GUEST:
Wales?

APPRAISER:
The leek of Wales.

GUEST:
Oh.

APPRAISER:
So England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, we have three out of four. So was he Welsh, or did he not like the Welsh? I don't really know. When we go around here, we have the obvious British flag, but we also have the French. And of course, the French, they were at war with off and on, and in the Revolution, the British were at war with the French. So again, I think that would mitigate against the idea that it is from that period. This one I'm not as familiar with, nor this one. Typically they referred to places that the ship might have visited. And what's really special about this, these wonderful little tassels that you see here. And this is beadwork for the crown.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
Very unusual. Some woolies are incredibly crude. In terms of the quality of the work, which matters in a woolie, it's first-rate. I would put an insurance value of this, in a heartbeat, at $6,000.

GUEST:
Oh, really? Oh... (laughs) I can't believe that.

APPRAISER:
Not bad for a $15 purchase you had to climb in the attic for. (laughs)

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
Baltimore, Maryland
Appraised value (2011)
$6,000 Insurance
Event
El Paso, TX (June 18, 2011)
Period
19th Century
Form
Portrait
Material
Wool
February 24, 2014: At the time this appraisal was taped, appraiser Michael J. Flanigan was unable to determine which countries some of the flags represented. A viewer wrote to us suggesting the flag on the top left side of the woolie was the flag of Chile. Chile adopted the single red and white horizontal stripe with a star in the blue canton in 1817, but with a five-pointed star (the star on the woolie has six points). Further research indicates the top two flags on either side of the purple and gold crown likely represent White Ensigns, a flag of the British Royal Navy. The red, white and green vertical-striped flag with a shield in the center on the left side of the woolie is an Italian naval ensign. The last flag left to speculate about is the one on the right side of the woolie above the French flag. This flag with blue, white and red horizontal stripes matches the pattern and colors of a flag representing a Prussian province between 1866 and 1935, but whether this is the correct attribution or not is unclear at this time.

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