How to collect vintage handkerchiefs

Written by dawn r. levesque
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Vintage handkerchiefs are one of the most inexpensive and effortless collectables to find. Back in the day, women and gentlemen would not step outside without a hat and handkerchief. Collectors today display them in frames, incorporate them in crafts such as quilting, or use them as a decorative accessory. Care for these vintage articles like other heirloom and antique textiles and linens. Connect with other hobbyists in the grand hunt for heirloom and vintage handkerchiefs.

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Things you need

  • "Handkerchiefs: A Collector's Guide" by Helene Guarnaccia, Barbara Guggenheim
  • "Printed and Lace Handkerchiefs" by Betty Wilson

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  1. 1

    Decide on the handkerchief theme you wish to collect. Options are numerous and include appliquéd and lace, holiday and souvenir or commemorative, floral, animals and designer. Also consider children's themed handkerchiefs, monogrammed, wedding and novelty ones.

  2. 2

    Join other hobbyists on craft and decoration or vintage forums such as Garden Web or Vintage Village to exchange ideas and get insight. Once you have done some research, settle on which handkerchief theme you will collect. Next, determine if the themed handkerchiefs will be from specific materials such as cotton, linen or silk or if you prefer more updated versions in rayon and nylon.

  3. 3

    Explore flea markets, garage and estate sales, or shop in thrift or second hand stores. Vintage handkerchiefs are usually found in bulk, along with other vintage linen and lace. Look at the fabric's condition. Pay attention to rips and tears, frayed ends and old repairs.

  4. 4

    Acquire vintage handkerchiefs from antique stores that specialise in antique textiles. Expect to pay more for these items but note that they will be in better condition. Usually, they will be pressed and starched and sometimes stored in original packaging. Be aware that ones with finer design detail and material or with a rare theme will be more expensive.

  5. 5

    Rummage through older relatives' attics and basements in your search for handkerchiefs. Look in chest of drawers and trunks. Handkerchiefs were often given as gifts and you may run across an unopened box tucked away.

  6. 6

    Bid on vintage handkerchiefs at auction houses both live and online. They are a notable resource in pursuing your collection. Look for lots that reference vintage fabric, textile, linen and/or handkerchiefs when searching through auction catalogues. Online sites worth exploring are Shop Goodwill or Bonhams Auction House. Online forms, catalogues and buying information are on both websites' home pages.

Tips and warnings

  • Preserve your handkerchief collection. Soak in hot water, then hand wash in a gentle fabric detergent. Allow the fabric to air dry and then spray on starch and iron at a low setting.
  • Set handkerchiefs in archival frames for display or store in archival boxes.
  • Handkerchiefs that have been folded are most fragile along the creases and should be opened with care.

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