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1720s embroidered coif



#c434 $2,900

Metallic embroidered silk coif, c.1720

I have not seen work of this caliber outside of a museum, e.g., the V&A in London. This exemplar of historical costume should be the centerpiece of a major collection in or outside of museum.

In addition to providing protection to the head, coifs were popular with women from 1500-1800 for two other reasons: to confer respectability; and for the wealthy, for decoration and display.

Rich embroideries of polychrome silk and metallic gold originated in the East and made their way to Europe along the trade routes from Byzantium to Venice. The polychrome technique was used to create the heraldry and lavish European ecclesiastical vestments of the Middle Ages.

With their brilliant sheen, silk and metallic fibers immediately convey luxury. When used in the work of a master embroidery artist, the effect is astonishingly beautiful.

The Jacobean-style motifs show the influence of older Gothic designs, Indian palampores, and Flemish verdure tapestries. Textile design ideas were exchanged all along the trade routes.

Thus, it is not possible to pinpoint the design origin of the few early 18th century pieces, like this one, still extant. William III, Prince of Orange, was the British monarch when this cap was crafted. The embroidery in our coif appears to be English or Dutch.

Made from écru silk damask and lined with beige linen, the coif came from a New England estate. The inside edge is faced with hand-stitched silk ribbon. Polychrome silk floss is used in the French knots and satin stitch. The burnished metallic floss is couched. The peerless perfection of the embroidery is breathtaking.

The condition is almost excellent and all original. In the silk in back is one small, inconspicuous tear. I did not notice it until I was going over the coif with a magnifying glass. There is also some wear on the silk ribbon facing.

Without these two minor imperfections, I would price this extremely rare 300-year-old historical treasure at $3,400 to $3,800.

It measures 6" front to back and 6" tall.

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