A token of love

Before Valentine’s Day cards, a simple piece of linen or lace was often given as a symbol of love.

This simple cloth is known as a handkerchief, or hankie. It has been said that during wartime, a hankie was given to the soldier by the woman he loved to carry when going off to war.

Most handkerchiefs are described as a cloth to wipe your nose or eyes. They are usually made of cotton, linen or silk. Trimmed with lace, appliqued or embroidered, they can look like small, square quilt tops.

It’s the patterns and decorations that makes a collector love and want more handkerchiefs. Some handkerchief collectors look for a certain floral pattern or color, children’s hankies, souvenir hankies from various states or countries and holiday-themed hankies, such as Christmas or Valentine's Day hankies.

Today, handkerchiefs can also be a fashion statement.


Janis Mineart, owner of Just Precious Vintage in Decorah, Iowa, has about 100 hankies in her personal collection, ranging from solid colors with tatted or crocheted edges, floral designs, and polka dots.

"Some have straight edges, some are scalloped, and a few are round," she says. "Some have a holiday theme such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Easter. I find that they are an inexpensive, small and lightweight item to collect."

Many collectors start their collections at a young age; Mineart was no exception.

"My first favorite hankie was one in my Barbie doll case when I was a little girl that I would use to wrap around my Barbie as a shawl or skirt," Mineart says. "About 20 years ago, my aunt gave me some hankies that were my grandmother’s. I used those along with my original hankie that was in my Barbie case to make my handkerchief quilt. The process of making that quilt sparked my interest in beginning to collect more hankies."

Like any lace, linens or needlework, hankies are assessed by their condition, age and the individual stitching, design or technique used on the hankie.

"I like to find hankies that have not faded too much and have not been over used," Mineart says. "If it has yellowed and looks dull, sometimes a soak for several days in sodium perborate will brighten it back up."

Round hankies may be difficult to find. Embroidered hankies are probably the most valuable, though, because they are generally are least 100 years old and are delicately stitched, crocheted, or tatted by hand.

Like most vintage items, hankies can be found online or at yard or estate sales from 25 cents to a few dollars. Exceptionally nice or rare hankies, on the other hand, can sell for hundreds of dollars, according to Schroeder’s 2012 collectors guide.


Mineart says she enjoys finding handkerchiefs at antique malls or shops because "there is usually a variety to choose from and you can touch and inspect them before purchasing," she says.

What To Read Next
Get Local