Thursday, October 10, 2019

History of the Handkerchief

No one knows quite when people began carrying squares of cloth for use in drying sweating foreheads or wiping runny noses. Writings from Roman times and accounts of Richard II of England (1377-1389) mention their use.  Renaissance paintings show people carrying white cloths. At first it was mainly the upper classes who used handkerchiefs for expressing approval or for flirting in addition to their utilitarian purposes. As textile production industrialized, more and more people could afford a handkerchief.

Men's handkerchiefs are typically rather plain squares of cotton, linen or silk with perhaps a simple border or an initial.
Men's linen handkerchief with initial
Women's handkerchiefs were often more elaborate, with embroidery, lace edging or cut work.
Women's handkerchief
Women's handkerchief
Printed handkerchiefs, sometimes made to commemorate certain events or places became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This one was a souvenir of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.
1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition Commemorative Hankie
As in so many other things, the use of handkerchiefs began to change during the circa 1920 period.  The reason was the Kimberly Clark Company's introduction of paper tissues ( Kleenex) in 1924.  A  package of 100 sheets cost 65cents. Pop-up cartons were introduced in 1928. This dispenser is a wall-mounted unit from a doctor's office.
Metal Kleenex box cover
Originally the company marketed them as a substitute towel for removing cold cream ad makeup.  But consumer surveys found that people were actually using them as disposable handkerchiefs. They company changed its marketing to emphasize this use, saying “Don't carry a cold in your pocket,” and sales doubled in a year. 

 By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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