Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Dish on Napkins - Size Matters!

I consider myself a city girl, but almost anywhere in West Virginia is country - God's country!  Yesterday my sister M & I took a drive 30 miles north of Charleston for an estate sale.....the home was at the end of a road less traveled....the scenery was gorgeous.....beautiful country fields as far as the eye could see.....wish I had had more than just my phone to take pictures.....
But the real story here is about what I scored.

I picked up some more vintage damask tablecloths to use for my daughter's wedding in October, the kind that are very ordinary - the kind most typical in households of those who married in the late '40's and early '50's.  But there were a couple of other surprises in the linens that I bought in a box lot, for little.  One looks to be a linen bed sheet, with initials faintly cross-stitched at the top, center.  Nice.  And the other surprise was a new, old stock, heavier blend of damask and linen tablecloth.  It looks to be either French or Irish, not the typical, flimsy American rayon blend, and it is a huge 80" x 138"!   That's eleven feet and six inches long!
But get this - the napkins - if you can call them that - are GINOURMOUS!!  They are 29.5" x 34" - about the size of a card table topper!  And I would have guessed that maybe that's what they are, but there were twelve of them!  Now, I've heard of five napkin burgers, right?  But really?  So, I had to research the history of napkins.......

Seems that by the 17th century, standard napkins were 35" x 45" (!), to accommodate people who ate with their fingers.  (Insert West Virginia hillbilly joke here, permission granted).  Each napkin was generally sized to approximately one-third of the breadth of the tablecloth.  It was only later in that (17th) century that royalty accepted the fork, and neatness in dining was emphasized.  By the 18th century, all classes accepted the fork for dining, and the size of napkins was reduced to 30" x 36".  My research indicates that in the late 1700's, a French treatise declared a napkin should start below the collar at the neck and cover the body to the knees.  

Well, okay then - BINGO!  I know my napkins don't date from the 18th century, but they are definitely old-world in style, and date to at least the 1940's or 1950's, maybe earlier.  So, I've got myself a dozen of these to-the-knee napkins.  And here's the million dollar question: why was a napkin that BIG when plate sizes were historically smaller at the time??

Suffice it say, it is generally common knowledge that dinner plate sizes used to be a lot smaller than they are today.  I have some very old Staffordshire plates from the late 1800's which are 7.75" in diameter.  Dinner plates in the 1920's (until sometime in the 1960's) were about the size of our salad plates today, or 9".  And by 2000, our dinner plate size grew to 12", and buffet plates can be 13-14".  Dinner napkins, on the other hand, have shrunk to no larger than a size ranging from 16" - 21".   

Well, maybe these GIGANTIC napkins I have were for the Paul Bunyon kind of guys (American folklore lumberjack usually described as a giant) that would've had Paul Bunyon kind of meals after working in the Paul Bunyon kind of country fields from where I bought them.  Or, maybe these napkins aren't old at all, and were specifically made for West Virginians - we were, after all, top-ranked for obesity in 2012 (we're #3, only outranked by Louisiana & Mississippi), so we would NEED these OVERSIZED napkins.  Or, maybe they aren't napkins at all - maybe they were intended as chair covers, and I could re-cover a dozen chairs with them.  Or make a skirt.  Or a tent.  Or a sail.  

I know one thing I won't be selling these napkins as, or using these napkins for - napkins. Unless I decide to resort to pitchforks, long-handled scythes and shovels as eating utensils.  I think I'll leave those to the Paul Bunyons of the world, and keep my city slicker forks, knives and spoons.
What would you do with a dozen COLOSSAL napkins?