Collecting Vintage Hankies? It's Nothing to Sneeze At


The history of the handkerchief goes back hundreds of years-- as the perfect way to dry tears, a gentle way to take care of a cold, and even as a way to catch the eye of that special fellow. More recently, with the introduction of facial tissues, it's also become a representation of a bygone era-- a symbol of comfort, of style, and of a less complex world. They've also become incredibly collectible.

Yesterday, a church rummage sale proved extremely lucky, hanky-wise. An entire box of hankies, of varying styles, colors and time periods. Forty-two in all, for ten bucks! And it was hitting this hanky motherlode that made me realize-- there was no better time than now to talk about those soft little cotton squares so many of us still love.

Simple white handkerchiefs... ones with tatting edges... some monogrammed... some delicately embroidered... Many in vivid color... Or showcasing the shades of the seasons... There's virtually no end to the options available.


The book Handkerchiefs: A Collector's Guide by Helene Guarnaccia and Barbara Guggenheim showcases a range of hankies like I've never seen before. Their collection shows handkerchiefs bearing everything from pets and popular cartoon characters, to souvenier handkerchiefs of the 50 states, hankies displaying airline first class menus, recipes, pop art, calendars, holidays, botanicals and so much more.


Why the variety? Well, according to the book, when facial tissues were invented in the 1920s, the hanky fell a bit out of favor as less sanitary. But after World War II, hankies had a big resurgence as a colorful yet inexpensive accessory. Priced at anywhere from fifteen cents to a dollar, hankies became a way to have a little fun shopping without breaking the bank. They were given as gifts to family and schoolteachers, and used as a way of expressing oneself.

Some women even collected specific handkerchief artists, and would wait for the next work in the artists' series. Popular artists over the years included Tammis Keefe, Carl Tait, Pat Prichard, Jeanne Miller and Tom Lamb.

Today, it's possible to find some lovely hankies at thrift stores for around the seventy-five cent to one dollar range. And at flea markets and antiques malls? They average $3 and up, depending on collectability.

Ones most commonly found are in the holiday and botanical lines. Here are two holiday hankies prepared to celebrate Christmas and St. Patrick's Day...


And one as a souvenir from sunny Florida....


It's interesting to see the different range of colors available on botanical hankies, too. These browns and aquas are actually appropriate for today's decorating trends...


Roses were popular in botanical handkerchiefs, though other flowers were done quite realistically, as well.


While some hankies have straight edges, many of them are scalloped, and some are actually round instead of square. Collectors may choose to purchase hankies based solely on their shape or type.


I love the depth and realism of these peonies. They appear to be almost hand-painted.


Embroidered flowers were popular decorations on hankies, as well. Note the different kinds of flowers included here: pansies, daisies and lily of the valley.

As gifts, hankies were sometimes tucked into what was called a hanky book. The book below was my mother's, given to her as a girl by a family friend...

The hanky-a-day included in this case, Mother Goose story characters where their clothing was made of a brand new hanky. Some were skirts, some overalls, some bibs...




Mom never had the heart to use them-- and I can certainly see why, when the book has such charm with the hankies intact.

For those interested in picking up a few hankies at your local thrift stores or flea markets, keep in mind, there are a lot of interesting things you can do with them, too. Consider ideas like:

  • Using hankies in a similar color palette as unique cloth dinner napkins
  • Frame them as wall art
  • Sew them into a handkerchief quilt, a unique halter top, or a broomstick skirt
  • Use them as a curtain pelmet
  • Use them as doilies under a lamp or on an armchair
Pretty, collectible and functional... Vintage hankies take us back to a kinder, gentler era. I hope your coming week is kind and gentle to you, as well.

Oh, and while I remember-- folks visiting here who also participate in Entrecard, you've probably noticed The Thrift Shop Romantic is now accepting Entrecard blog advertising. I'm mainly looking to include other home and garden blogs, thrift blogs, crafts, art, collectible and related hobby blogs. So I hope you'll check it out.

24 comments:

Jaffer said...

Wow those handkerchiefs are really beautiful !

I used to carry one too when I was in school because I sweat. It was much better than having bits of tissue stuck to the forehead. But over the years I lost most of them.

Your first paragraph reminded me of a time when I was in grade school. We were coming home from India and were boarding a train bound for Bombay. While saying good-bye to my crush through the grilled-window, I discovered my finger was bleeding.

So she gives me her hankie to stop the bleeding. Soon the engine whistles and the train begins to move and we bid our last good byes.

2200 miles later I pull out a bloody piece of cloth from my pocket and wonder where that came from ! LOL!

I think my mom still has it. I was white and had an embroidered border. And had a small blue flower and her monogram in the corner. And oh yes, it was much softer than my hankie.

:-)

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Jaffer- That's a really lovely story-- thanks so much for sharing it! That is the power of the hanky in action. :)

RE Ausetkmt said...

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO - aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, ooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwww...

yes I am also a hankie enthusiast. I only have a few now. I usually carry one in my purse for special occasions.

I love the single letters, embroidered flowers and the lace border styles. lots of mine were purchased in transit throughout the caribbean and on lincoln road in miami beach in the early 80's. ladies from the caribbean still carry hankies. My style never changed.

one flew out of my purse this spring in a parking lot, and a lady in a nearby car caught it as it blew toward her. when handing it back to me she said - "you are a lady, because most women just use kleenex these days".
I smiled, thanked her and told her it was all in the home training. she agreed.

do you still carry a hanky in your purse occasionally ?

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

RE Ausetkmt- I haven't as I'm afraid I would ruin them, but one of my friends does. She's got quite a collection, and uses them and enjoys them. I tend to use mine as doilies or as part of decorative displays. I find them just so cheery.

I'm glad to hear in the Caribbean, the hankies are still a part of life-- it's a terrific image. Hold onto your hanky! :)

Kim~"HomeIsWhereTheHeartIs" said...

I love hankies...I have quite a few that my dear Mom gave to me. I love your little hankie book...it is really sweet!

Da Old Man said...

This just reminded me of the less delicate handkerchiefs that used to be carried by railroad workers and other working men. They obviously weren't the delicate ones like you have shown, but instead were a red or blue with a pattern (you know I can't decribe it on a bet) and were woven in small factories like one near my town. My grandfather used to go to South River, NJ to the factory to buy them, because that man was tough on handkerchiefs, and bought a bunch at a time.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Kim- They do tend to remind us of Moms, grandmothers and favorite great aunts, don't they? :)

Da Old Man- The book did discuss very briefly that men's handkerchiefs tended to be larger and in darker colors, and were popular particularly with those who chewed tobacco.

I recall my grandfather having handkerchiefs when I was a kid. His were white.

Carrie said...

Wow...42 hankies for $10.... That i s some deal! I enjoyed your survey about handkerchiefs. I didn't realize that they were even used for airline menus.

Da Old Man said...

My grandfather didn't chew tobacco, he smoked DeNobili cigars, which were just as nasty.

Now that I think about it, he did chew on them as much as smoke them. That would probably explain his need to buy so many of the big blue and red handerkerchiefs.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Carrie- It was astounding some of the things they printed on the hankies. I can't say I've seen any in my travels with some of the things they said were printed on them. It's really diverse.

Da Old Man- Interesting-- and it's funny how those details stick with you forever.

Jean Tuthill said...

Thanks for sharing the lovely stories associated with the hankies. I have a collection, too, and I loved hearing the history.

NJTomboy said...

Great article.. I too have many, many hankies I have collected over the year...

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Jean- You're more than welcome!

NJ- And they're so much more versatile than collecting baseball cards. :) (kidding, kidding)

Sher said...

In a word - okay, a sound - Awwww!

grace said...

I just thrifted a couple dozen vintage hankies a few weeks ago. I'm hoping to feature them on my blog on Vintage Thingies Thursday this week, if I can get photographs taken. I was intending to use them myself (trying to stop using disposable paper products as much as possible and I have bad allergies), but they are so old and so lovely I don't want to be washing them over and over again. So now they're all in a box...waiting for some new idea.

Lana Gramlich said...

Those peonies are absolutely lovely! Cloth hankies remind me of my father (who grew up when they were more commonly in use.) He bought them for my bro & I, too, stating we should never leave home without them (& a dime, so we could make a phone call, if necessary.)

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Sher- Need a hanky? :)

Grace- I don't blame you, not wanting to ruin them. Perhaps you can thrift yourself some less inspired hankies for messier occasions. :)

Lana- Your dad was a wise fellow. Funny-- now the phone call might just cost more than the hanky!

SavvyDecorator said...

These are beautiful! Hankies are little works of art in and of themselves, and they hearken back to nostalgic, simpler times. Love this entry!

chyna said...

That hanky book is so darn cute!!!! I can see why she didn't have the heart to pull them out and use them.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Savvy Decorator- So glad you enjoyed the little hanky tour.

Chyna- The little hanky characters really are sweet, and the hankies look like they were specifically chosen to color-coordinate with the book pages. It was a delightful thing to uncover.

Alan Gay and Straight said...

Hmm, I always thought of hankies as something for old men.

I really like some of those designs. I like the poinsettia and peonies.

Mary said...

What a wonderful find! Those are beautiful hankies.

Shirley said...

Love the hankie book!

Poo said...

... all the hankies with you are wonderful. yes vintage hankies are soo unique (in shape and design ) and still brings a smile ON.

I would like to say women hankies trun's me on :) and the smell of it ( perfumed hankies ) are soo wonderful ....

take care and good luck. ( collecting hankies )

...cheers Poo