The samplers I buy from madelena.com have all been "conservation framed," meaning they have already been gently stitched down to muslin/cotton fabric which has been fitted over a padded mat board-like material. Typically, if you buy a sampler from a reputable dealer, the hard work will have already been done (it's best to ask, though, if you're not sure.) If you ask, these dealers will sometimes be willing to do layaway -- I have done this with Madelena a few times, and it makes paying for the samplers a lot easier.
Now, a number of the samplers I have purchased from eBay have been on their original wooden boards or other original framing materials, and I remove them as carefully as I can. I'm currently in the process of getting ready to frame some of those (the ones I have already reproduced), and those will be likewise sewn to fabric (which has been stretched around acid-free mat board.) I have saved the board the Euphrasier Enout (French Cathedral Sampler) was stretched on. The entire sampler image is "burned" onto the board. Yikes! I typically pay less for samplers from eBay, but they're more of a risk, in that I can't always see really well what the condition of the sampler is (sometimes I'm going on just a snapshot or two.) People ask me how I know I'm getting the "real deal," and honestly, I don't always. But, since I have been stitching and running my business a while, I do recognize samplers that have been released as reproductions (sometimes those do pop up on eBay as "antiques.")
Any good frame shop should be able to help you with framing a delicate sampler. I always figure if they've lasted THIS long, they can survive just a little more handling. And, as always, it's really important you purchase the finest quality sampler you can afford (look for one that's in good shape with few holes/thread loss.) Unless...
...some of the ones I buy for less money have issues -- i.e., they're faded, stained, "hole-y," incomplete, or, as in the Spanish Mystery Sampler, cut in half. These samplers I buy for several reasons, the first one being I can usually get a really good deal on them; I have paid as little as $25 for an antique sampler.
Also, I often see a sampler with a beautiful design, color palette, or sentiment that might also be in pretty rough shape. I try to look beyond the condition of the sampler and into its "heart," so to speak. I feel like when I buy one of these "ragamuffin" samplers, and then reproduce them, I am kind of resurrecting the dead. Most antique sampler collectors aren't going to buy a sampler in poor shape, generally, because they generally look for condition, origin (school, state, country) and provenance.
When *I* buy a sampler, I look for pleasing colors, originality, a lovely verse, red (I LOVE red in a sampler), personality, and a balanced design. I really have grown to love non-symmetrical samplers, although they can be more difficult to find (think "Ann Grant" -- the bottom of that sampler is a scene, rather than a mirror image right to left.) It's fun for me, as a stitcher, to stitch something that isn't symmetrical, because then I don't feel like I'm repeating myself, you know? I also like trees, flowers, birds, houses, animals and people.
And sometimes it's the verse that grabs me -- like with Sarah Woodham. That verse just knocks me out..."When e're I take my walks abroad, how many poor I see...."
As a designer and a stitcher, I'm in a unique position when I look at buying antique samplers. I buy, basically, what looks fun to stitch! I also love the faded look of old samplers, so when I reproduce them, I go by the colors on the front of the sampler. Sometimes the colors on the back of the sampler (the original colors) are...well...awful. Part of what makes a piece fun to stitch is working with a pleasing selection of fibers.
I'd highly recommend madelena.com (look in their samplers section). They do a great job of packaging and sending their samplers, and I've always been pleased with what I've purchased from them (Jane and Sarah Philpott, Ann Grant, Ann Dale, and Sarah Woodham). I bought my first several samplers from eBay.com, and that probably wasn't the best place to start, but it was definitely affordable. Look for sellers with a good rating and ask questions when you have them.
Take care - T