The Point-Lace Handkerchief: 1871

A reporter, who witnessed the re-opening of a great dry goods establishment in Chicago, which had been burned out on the 8th  of October—mentions that he saw a point-lace handkerchief sold to a lady for $59. This little commercial transaction has been much and severely commented on, and we are told that it is even a disgusting incident. We can’t see it, the exceeding sinfulness of the conduct of the lady who bought the handkerchief. All depends upon circumstances, whether she was right or wrong in investing so liberally in a “wiper.” If the money she gave for the handkerchief was honestly hers, she committed no sin whatever in exchanging it for point-lace, unless we are prepared to say that all expenditure save for the absolute necessaries of life is sinful. Is it more sinful to give $59 for a handkerchief than it is to give $10,000 for a horse? Yet there are men who spend thousands, yearly, on horses—and whose rings are many, and rich. Is it a greater offence to lay out money for lace than it is to lay it out in keeping a yacht? A veteran smoker, who consumes many cigars, and those of the best brands, expends every month more for tobacco than the Chicago lady expended once for a handkerchief—and her handkerchief may last for years, and even decades—perhaps for generations, and become the property of her granddaughter—whereas the man’s cigars must vanish in fumo, or they are worthless. In some old European families they have lace that was made and bought, and originally worn, hundreds of years ago. Lace, if it be really rich is an investment that endures, keeping its worth for ages, and growing more valuable as it gains in time. Cigars burn up, horses die, and yachts are lost, but lace lasts. Who knows but that the fair Chicagoan is a prudent, sensible woman, who was only making a sound investment of some of her floating capital? But, we are told, she should have given the $59 to relieve some suffers by the great fire. How do you know that she had not given liberally in aid of the sufferers in her city? It is going rather far to assume that she had given nothing for that purpose. If it be said that she should have given all she had to the sufferers, the obvious answer is, that she was no more bound to do so than were the men who gave something to relieve the persons who were burned out, but who did not give all their possessions. They have many articles in their possession quite as superfluous as her lace handkerchief, and yet they do not think of parting with those articles, because many persons want food or clothing, or both. Why should she not have her luxuries as well as they? It is not fair to censure her while extravagant men are allowed to pass uncensored.

Boston [MA] Traveller 16 December 1871: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Lace, although enduring enough to be heritable by another generation, is still more ephemeral than the poor and the suffering, who are always with us. It would have taken more than the cost of a point-lace handkerchief to restore the losses of victims of the Great Chicago Fire, although a gentleman’s outlay for his yacht might have aided a significant number of the displaced.

Mrs Daffodil considers that the lady in the example above was quite thrifty compared to  these titled and royal personages who paid sinful prices for their lace-edged handkerchiefs.

It took seven years to make a handkerchief for which the Empress of Russia paid $5,000.

New York American 20 October 1898: p. 8

and

The late Marquess of Angelsey owned three dozen handkerchiefs for evening dress wear. They were of the purest white linen, with his crest worked in human hair in the corners. They were made in Switzerland at a cost of $6 apiece. The late Duc d’Albe, Spanish grandee and uncle to ex-Empress Eugenie, was in the habit of ordering twelve dozen handkerchiefs at a time, for which he paid $120 a dozen. But the most expensive handkerchief is in the possession of the Queen Mother of Italy. It took three women five years to make it, and it is valued at $30,000.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 27 November 1913: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Point-Lace Handkerchief: 1871

  1. floodmouse

    “They were of the purest white linen, with his crest worked in human hair in the corners.” – Stop right there. Whose hair? How was this hair obtained? And more importantly, who would want to wear a handkerchief embroidered with someone else’s hair? (I think you might forward this over to that person who is doing the series on haunted objects this month. There is some DEFINITE potential for a haunting there.)

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  2. Ann

    Though the article doesn’t say, it’s not impossible that the handkerchief was being sold in aid of charity. Even these days, I’ve been involved in charity auctions where items go for more than their intrinsic value to support the cause.

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