251. An Eskimo Child’s Blanket

19th century
Size: 151 × 98 cm
Eider down and puffin skins

Download PDF

I hesitated to include this blanket in the catalogue, because I had illustrated a similar blanket in the 2015 catalogue, and it would be easy to assume that it was the same one, re-offered. The previous one belongs to Errol Fuller – the man who knows about everything that nobody else knows anything about – to whom I had gone to consult about dodos, which interested me at the time. When I saw the blanket on the wall of his house it seemed so beautiful that I begged to borrow it for the exhibition, to which he graciously agreed, stipulating that on no account would he agree to sell it, something I made clear in the catalogue. I had never seen one before, which is hardly surprising since they are extremely rare, particularly in good condition. They become vulnerable once they leave the dry, cold climate for which they were made, with the result that most of the examples in American and European institutions are now badly faded and often disintegrating. 

Made aware of the rarity of such things by Errol, I was surprised when an elegant young lady approached me at the exhibition one day, and said she had another one just like it that she wished to sell. It came from a baronial hall in Scotland, where it had long been preserved in a box from which, apparently, it had never been unpacked. Probably for this reason the pale green, grey-blue and dark brown feathers in the border have retained their freshness. Another interesting feature is that the blanket is of double thickness, so two blankets sewn together, with the back composed of twenty rectangular panels of beige and white down. Errol’s blanket is also double, but with the same design on both sides.

Another blanket was sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 1990, with the same swag design in the field as Errol’s has, and a dark border. It once belonged to William Sturgis of Boston, Massachusetts, who brought it back from his sailing expeditions in the Pacific and along the Northwest Coast between 1798 and 1810. Therefore, these other two blankets must date also from the 19th century, rather than from the 20th century as I rather timidly suggested in the previous catalogue. Three London buses come along at once, as is well known, but in the case of Eskimo blankets it takes 25 years for such a phenomenon to occur.

Provenance: Parlett family, Midlothian, Scotland