Handkerchief History

Stories of hope, heartache and happiness hiding in the humble handkerchief -

Who could imagine that a simple square of cotton or silk could hold memories of sadness, loss, joy, hope, happiness and love in their evanescent folds? But they do.  I know because over the years, I’ve heard countless stories from people about a handkerchief they treasure. Some hankies have been saved for decades. Personally, I have handkerchiefs in my collection dating back to 1893. True collectors have hankies that stretch much farther back in time, for these keepsakes were special to someone, and were thus saved, and survived for us to savor.

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The Accidental Collector

“You collect what?” a colleague once asked.   He couldn’t imagine what on earth could interest me about “someone’s old handkerchief.”   The reasons for collecting are as varied as the collectors themselves. Some folks are accidental collectors – they inherited Aunt Ruthie’s depression glass or Uncle Bill’s antique pen collection.  For others, a hobby becomes a passion.


I know an executive with a museum quality collection of toy soldiers. “My collecting” he explained, “was accidental. I was sick as a child, and had to entertain myself while spending months in bed.”

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Wabi-Sabi Love

I’ve endured more than one sidelong glance when someone has heard I collect old handkerchiefs. It was almost as though I said I collect tin cans.(Hmmm.  Come to think of it, I do have a couple of tin cans, but more on that later.)

I guess you could say my love of handkerchiefs is Wabi-sabi love.  Wabi-sabi is the Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in things that are imperfect, impermanent or incomplete.  The two separate words have related but different meanings.

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