Collecting | Antique Napkin Rings

Collecting Antique Napkin Rings





Avidly collected, antique napkin rings are little gems of silversmith’s art. Today, nothing says “special dinner” more than cloth napkins at each place setting with an antique napkin ring.





Antique napkin rings are gorgeous, each one is a purely decorative piece of tabletop jewelry. Napkin rings, also called serviette rings, were originally used for practicality, not just beauty. Since most households washed all linens only once  a week {on Monday wash day!}, a napkin ring would indicate “personal” napkins at the table.


Necessary to identify which napkin had been used by which family member so that they could continue using the exact same one until it was washed. {The use of the identifying rings was also way to keep colds and flu at bay.}

Originally thought to be an invention of the European bourgeoisie, the serviette “rings” first appeared in France in the 1800’s. Since the upper middle classes gained more wealth, the use of napkin rings spread rapidly throughout Europe.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known appearance of the term “napkin ring” in literature was in the book Workwomen’s Guide, which was published in London in 1838. A handbook of needlework and knitting patterns, it contained directions for knitting napkin rings that were stiffened with wire.

Mr. E. A. Lane, Keeper of the Department of Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, writes: “The earliest reference to napkin-rings given in the New English Dictionary is 1839, and our Metalwork Department say that they can find no record of metal rings having been made before that date. It seems likely therefore that napkin rings were introduced in this country [England] in about the 1830s.”


Historical references first identify napkin rings in America as late as 1865. The first patent for a napkin ring was issued in 1869.

Almost every silversmith in Europe and here in the US made sterling silver and plated napkin rings. Figural napkin rings, especially, were a great favorite with American customers, special rings made for children with little chicks, dogs, and cats were a favorite gift for christenings and Christmas. But beautifully designed rings with floral motifs, monograms and other design elements were just as popular.


These days, collectors gather a wide range of napkin rings, some collect only figural rings, others gather a table full of different monograms. Whatever catches your heart, look for authentic napkin rings, most were marked with the silver company who produced them.


This is a quick phone shot I took of my own collection at home. I have my grandparents napkin rings, and the one my husband’s grandmother used daily. As a little girl in Europe, we had our own napkin rings with our name, that one isn’t in this little case, but I still have mine and love all the memories it brings!


The figural napkin rings are so beloved, that reproductions were made of the most collectable ones, made after illustrations from the children’s books by Kate Greenaway. The little girl, above, is a reproduction, no where near as costly or valuable as her original “sister” {think hundreds} but just as charming to use for a special little person in your life.


I love that some of my clients actually use the rings they buy from FrenchGardenHouse, a glorious mix and match of rings on their tables for special occasions! The ring above, while not in mint condition, is a fun addition to your table settings at home. She has all the patina and grace that only time can give a useful antique!


My friend Karen Lindner {read about her here} takes stunning antique French and English sterling napkin rings and transforms them {with the help of a master silversmith} into amazing, personal one-of-a-kind cuff bracelets. You may or may not set a table with these silver luxury rings from long ago, but wearing one can express your own, personal style off the table too!


The convenience of paper napkins are thought to be the main reason that the production of individual napkin rings has declined. But I think we are coming full circle, these days we’re all trying to conserve our earth’s resources, and more and more of us are using cloth napkins.


What do you think? Will you re-instate the use of personal napkin rings with cloth napkins? Or are you just thrilled to collect silver napkin rings and display them with joy at home?

Shop the latest “finds” in Antique Silver Napkin Rings and Karen Lindner Sterling Cuff Bracelets.

Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours. Visit our shop


8 thoughts on “Collecting | Antique Napkin Rings”

  1. Lidy, I LOVE antique and vintage silver, silverplate napkin rings! I have a fairly large collection, and boy, do I love how you’ve displayed yours! I displayed mine under a glass cloche with a string of tiny lights for Christmas, and actually use them when I host family dinners. They’re always fun to find when antiquing or at estate sales. I especially love the monogrammed ones and, of course, figurals (though I only have 1 of those). Great, informative history behind this table jewelry. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Cynthia

    Oh my gosh! I love the examples you show here, and YES! I do collect napkin rings. Even if they’re not in great shape, I still LOVE and collect them. I can’t believe you have this one here with “Gordon” inscribed. That was my Father’s name, and I would so much love to buy this. . .but I’m maxed out on my spending for the month. Maybe if it’s still there in a few weeks, I’ll snatch it up. What a beautiful display you make of them in the framed box.

  3. Lorrie Denning

    In addition to my collection of napkins, some of which are family heirlooms, I also collect sterling silver napkin clips. These were used to indicate who was using which soiled napkin between laundering.

  4. The history portion of your post was very interesting! And your collection—I’m swooning. I love silver napkin rings and get really annoyed with the cheap and cheesy varieties we see here and there for every event, holiday and season. I didn’t know you had them in your shop. Off to have a look!


  5. Hi, have any of you collectors ever seen a napkin ring that is totally made of tiny glass beads with the initials of the owner also in beadwork? It is flexible and is quite old.

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