How to Date Vintage Tablecloths

Written by alex burke
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How to Date Vintage Tablecloths
(Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Vintage tablecloths are a link to the past. They represent the mood of the U.S. during several world wars, the climb of the middle class and the changes in socialising and manufacturing that occurred along the way. Knowing textile history will assist a collector in dating a vintage tablecloth. Although the history of the tablecloth dates into the 19th century, vintage items will be found during the last 100 years, 1910 to the present.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Digital camera
  • Notebook
  • Access to a library and bookstores

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  1. 1

    Examine the tablecloth for a manufacturer's mark or signature. Identify the fabric used, the way it was constructed (screen printed, woven) and its overall condition.

  2. 2

    Measure the tablecloth, and take a photo of the tablecloth (particularly its pattern) to refer to when doing research. Make note of the colours used and the theme of the pattern.

  3. 3

    Keep track of all collected information in a small notebook or on the computer for future reference if you collect tablecloths.

  1. 1

    Investigate the date of the fabric armed with the information gathered from section 1 of this article. Investigate items with manufacturer's marks via manufacturer name.

  2. 2

    Research the theme of the cloth for further clues as to the era the tablecloth was made in. For example, WWI tablecloths (1914 to 1920) produced unstable dyes that faded easily and what are referred to as "sweetheart" themes---fairies, peacocks, flowers, moons and stars. The 1920s produced many floral patterns and an interest in the Middle East and The Orient. The 1950s were about prosperity, and the tablecloths became entertaining and reflect quirky, witty themes filled with fanciful cartoon figures and bold geometric patterns designed for use during neighbourhood barbecues, cocktail parties and social events.

  3. 3

    Identify the dye and colours of the fabric to reveal a tablecloth before or after a certain point in time. Green dyes are not produced as colour fast until the 1930s, which means if the colours were used in earlier eras they will be faint and ghostlike in appearance while the other colours in the cloth will be strong in colour.

  4. 4

    Look for “grinning” to date a 1930s tablecloth. Grinning is the use of the white cloth to separate colours and designs in the pattern of the cloth, which kept colours from running or overlapping during the printing process.

  5. 5

    Consider the quality of the fabric. WWII tablecloths are usually of an inferior quality due too wartime shortages. Plastic tablecloths did not appear until the 1960s.

Tips and warnings

  • Learn about the history of tablecloth design by studying textiles and reference books like “The Collector's Guide To Vintage Tablecloths” by Pamela Glasell, or delve into the history of textiles if the tablecloth appears to be older than vintage.
  • Join a vintage tablecloth forum to ask questions and share information.

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