Monday, June 30, 2008

How About Some Hanky Panky?

Nothing is more exciting to a linen lover than seeing a stack of hankies at a flea market or auction. You never know what charmers that pile holds.
Handkerchiefs started their lives among the aristocracy, carried them in the folds of togas since pockets had not been created. They have been woven with threads of sentiment, intrigue, and romance since the first century BC. In Pathos, Cypress, birthplace of Aphrodite, there is a sacred tree at the entrance to Agia Solomoni Church where people still hang handkerchiefs in hopes of wishes coming true such as finding healing or true love.

In 300 AD using a cloth to wipe one’s nose is mentioned. During the same period it was customary to wave handkerchiefs to greet the appearance of high ranking persons in the theater or in place of applause.

It found great success with the lords and ladies in the court of Henry II, and during the Renaissance, handkerchiefs were considered an essential accessory, prompting Erasmus to note that ''To wipe your nose on your sleeve is boorish.'' It became a display and fashion object of the greatest importance.

When snuff usage became common in Europe during the 16th century, people used large colored squares on which the brown tobacco stains were less visible.

In the 18th century, the handkerchief found another use in the theatre, where it became the prerequisite in tragedies in France and eventually throughout Europe.

Marie Antoinette was so enamoured by the beauty of the square handkerchief, that Louise XVI decreed that all hankies be made square. In many communities, elaborately decorated handkerchiefs were exchanged as symbols of betrothal. Personalized with names, dates or locations, hankies were also sent as remembrances between those separated by distance and war although I am not sure how "Chubby Nellie" liked her gifts!

During the 19th century ladies regarded the handkerchief as an indispensable accessory for an elegant costume. It no longer disappeared in the bags that they carried but were artistically decorated articles to be displayed. Ladies carried them openly in the hands, even in the streets. Handkerchiefs became more ornate, at which point they also began to serve as tokens of a man's love for a woman, and vice versa.

The custom made it easy for young people while chaperoned to evolve a system of signals that enabled them to carry on a discrete conversation across the room. For example: drawing a hankie across your cheek meant “I love you”, a hankie held to the right cheek meant “yes,” but, if it was held on the left cheek, it meant “no”.

Let it up to the Americans to create a disposable handkerchief. In 1924, the Kleenex brand of facial tissue was first introduced. Kleenex tissue was invented as a means to remove cold cream. Early advertisements included endorsements from movie stars who used Kleenex to remove their theatrical make-up. By 1926, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, the manufacturer of Kleenex, became intrigued by the number of letters from customers stating that they used their product as a disposable handkerchief. A test was conducted in the Peoria, Illinois newspaper.

Ads were run depicting the two main uses of Kleenex: either as a means to remove cold cream or as disposable handkerchief for blowing noses. The readers were asked to respond, and when 60% responded that they used Kleenex tissue for blowing their nose, by 1930 Kimberly-Clark had changed the way they advertised Kleenex and sales doubled proving that the customer is always right. But how much more fun for a child to blow his or her nose on this hankie!

The handkerchief was not gone. Hanky Greeting Cards became more popular during the 1940's and 1950's when a handkerchief and a greeting card were combined to reflect the sentiment of an occasion.

I think many learned to iron when Mom let them do the hankies! I know it was my job, but now looking at a pile of hankies truly reflects how much our culture has changed in the last 50 years.

Who wants to iron them? So much easier to grab a tissue, blow, and toss. Oh, yes, the bride still carries one…the businessmen still have them in the lapels and workmen wipe their brows with them. When you think of the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into those little squares, you realize how much they life they carry. Now that is some real hanky panky!


Anonymous said...


I look forward to your "Show and Tell" every week. I adore vintage hankies but never knew their history. Thank you. Love the hankie tree!


Carolyn Kocman said...

love that rose one with the blue border...i mean seriously LOVE that. it's so pretty! thank you for another lesson learned, my dear!

Cottage Collections said...

What a beautiful collection and interesting history lesson! Thank you for sharing Susan.
xxoo, MB

Miniature Patisserie Chef said...

Thanks for sharing with us the history of hankies! I love the printed ones with ballet dancers. And of course the ones with flowers!

Pei Li

Sweet Necessi-Teas said...

Susan, this is my favorite blog post of all! I love hankies and have collected them for years. Now I know a bit more history behind my cherished finds!

sita said...

Thanks for sharing those facts I appreciate them a little more now! I just love them they are scattered everywhere around here but I dare the kids to wipe anything with them!

Silena said...

Hi Susan,
I love your hanky panky and you are such a great historian. Thank you for the lesson. I have a few hankies in my collection and I am a great history buff. I think I should save your blogs for reference. Thank you...thank you!

Patricia said...

What a great post. I love that hankie tree--sure hope they're clean hankies. I love the hankies with the crocheted edgings. I used to make those and now you can't find the hemstitched linen hankies. We used to get them at the 5&10's.


gail said...

I am always amazed at everything you come up with on Show and tellMOnday. Its always so fun and exciting. I love hankies. I have quite a few I have wanted to use for other projects, but just cant seem to cut them up. I love your ballet hankies I saw...(()) gail

Inka Smith said...

I really enjoyed your lesson today! I think I might just have to drop my hankie and see who will pick it up!!! LOL

Noelle Garrett Designs said...

I loved your teachings today. I just adore vintage hankies. In fact, I carried my Grandmother's wedding hankie at my own wedding. It has been passed down each generation. What wonderful memories hankies can evoke!
Thanks Susan.

Susie said...

How nice! I have collected hankys for years now and am just going to start releasing them on Pink Friday this week. Thank you for your background. I always knew you were into hanky panky!!
Susie ~ The Polka Dot Rose

Michelle May-The Raspberry Rabbits said...

Yet again my friend a wonderful history lesson. Thank you thank you for this wonderful post each week.


Unknown said...

You are a fount of knowledge. Thank you for bubbling over and spilling out on us, lol. I love the Chubby Nellie look!
Theresa @ Cottage Violets

Marie said...

wow Susan, I actually remember my mother and my aunts giving each other a handkerchief in a card. i think they even gave me a few.
What a terrific collection you have.

Eileen & Karen said...

What an interesting and informative post! I love vintage hankies and have quite a collection just waiting for my next project!
Forget Me Not Dreams

Unknown said...

Hi Susan,

Beautiful Hankies! It's such a pleasure to visit you every week. And thank you for such an informative post!
Janet's Creative Pillows

SoCal Helene said...

Susan the Bubble Queen,
Thank you for the hanky panky history lesson, it is always so fun to read your show n tell…..
Sisters Gift Company

ps. Glad to you liked the little Swedish tour. I will post some pictures of the dress in a little while, it is beautiful and the seamstress that made it did a fantastic job!

hopeless romantic said...

Susan-LOVED your blog on handkerchieves!Nice to meet a real afficionada who appreciates the handkerchief.I have a great collection of mens' and ladies'handkerchieves-would love to send you some pictures by email and swap notes on this wonderful accessory!