Antique Napkin Rings.
This time of year always makes me nostalgic. You too? And my goodness – what a year this has been!
I was recently interviewed for an article about silver napkin rings by the English magazine Homes & Antiques for the February issue coming up, and I can’t wait to see it! I’ll share a little bit about my interview answers in this post, because this is the time of year I remember most fondly our family meals in Europe, the linen napkins in their beautiful silver rings by each plate.
Napkin rings, also called serviette rings, were originally used for practicality, more than beauty. Since most household linens were washed just once a week, napkin rings enclosed “personal” napkins at the family table. Each ring, personalized with either a name or often just a number, would identify which napkin had been used by which family member so that they could continue using the exact same one until the next laundry day.
Interestingly, a table laid for guests would never include napkin rings, as that was seen to indicate the napkins were not just washed and ironed and pristine.
Originally thought to be an invention of the European bourgeoisie, the serviette “rings” first appeared in France in the early 1800’s. As the upper middle classes became more wealthy, the use of napkin rings spread rapidly throughout Europe.
I have my grandparents napkin rings, and the one my husband’s grandmother used daily. They have their names engraved in them, and I love having this little piece of history from them in my home. As a little girl growing up in Europe, we all had our own napkin rings with our name, too, and I cherish the memories that these rings hold.
As an antique dealer, my collection tends to change a bit each time I find more of the antique rings. The rings I collect have romantic motifs such as cherubs and repousse floral designs. The photo above is (a bad one!) of my little collection in its antique case on our living room wall.
One of the questions the interviewer asked me was which napkin rings I personally collect?
I answered that the napkin rings that are made with great skill and care are ones that I gravitate to. I mostly collect rings that capture my eye and heart. I’m not a purist about my small collection, amongst the sterling “fancy” rings, one or two rings reside that are worn and scratched. Some of my favorite quite worn napkin rings with monograms, some are those that have ivy leaves all around and are inscribed “from a friend.”
My best tips for collecting antique napkin rings:
Like all other antiques, I always advise collectors to buy what they love. The joy of collecting antique napkin rings is to revel in their beauty and workmanship.
- Buy the highest quality you can afford.
- Look for hallmarks, but don’t rule out a particularly charming napkin ring because it doesn’t have one.
- Buy rings that tug at your heart, that perhaps have a personal meaning to you or to someone you love.
Napkin rings were a useful thing, loved and used daily by families long ago, so many of them are not pristine. That is what we love about them, they have history and stories!
Some of our clients collect quadruple plated Victorian napkin rings, and don’t mind if the silver has aged to a pewter like glow.
No matter what kind of rings you collect, I hope that you display them, and use them at your table. I say use the beautiful things you have!
Every day is another day to enjoy the beauty and history that antiques bring to the table, and our homes. If nothing else, I think that what this pandemic has taught all of us is that things can change in an instant, so don’t wait for the “perfect” occasion to enjoy your antiques.
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