Dating your Vintage Tablecloth Collection

Tablecloth design, like any other fashion art form, reflected existing tastes and styles of the period. We can use the records of these fashions and moods to generally determine dates. Although in some cases the tablecloths can be assigned to a general decade, as I have done in my book, or even to a specific group of years, the lack of manufacturing records or other cataloguing of these delightful keepsakes makes assigning any one date extremely difficult. For my book, I researched the history of the dyes, copyright & trademark records and poured over vintage catalogs to come up the a “quick reference summary” to help you date your tablecloths. .

Quick Reference Summary

Victorian: 1840 – 1899

        • Turkey Red
          Dark crimsons, maroons, browns, gold colors
          Felted table covers
          Rich tapestries
          Home spun textiles (uneven weaves, fringes)
          Wavy undulating stripes, “snake like designs”
          Delicate hand worked, drawn work, bobbin lace, or embroidered tablecloths

Art Nouveau: 1900

        • Deep wine color
          Turkey Red damasks
          Crisp Linen damasks
          Dark cheddar yellow
          Green, purple were fugitive dyes
          Good luck symbols
          Hearts, ribbons, bows
          Hand worked designs

World War I: 1910s

        • Colonial early Americana
          Long haired girls
          Stylized floral
          Oriental themes
          Pastel colors
          One directional designs
          Stamped designs one color on linen
          Turkey Red damasks without fringe

Art Deco: 1920s

        • More use of pastel colors
          No “true” greens were possible, but light sage was possible
          Colors in opposites of the color wheel
          Lighter color red
          Increase in number of printed colors (2 or more)
          Designs are larger and usually in the corners
          Cocktail party themes
          Egyptian themes
          Aztec themes
          Oriental themes
          Damask and cotton tablecloths with colored striped borders

The Depression: 1930s

        • Home yard goods fabrics.
          Repeating patterns across the fabric
          Homemade feedsack tablecloths
          Small 31″ squares “breakfast cloths”
          Bright, clear, multi-color prints up to three colors
          Colors opposite the color wheel, i.e., orange/blue, orange/green, purple/yellow
          Red/white floral designs with green leaves. First use of true “color fast” green around 1935
          Florals with flowing ribbon designs
          Lily of the Valley, cottage roses
          Larger “groupings” of florals in corners
          Large areas of grinning/shadowing around motifs
          Linen tablecloths with wide plaid edges
          Increase in “imports” from Japan, Checklosvakia, Ireland
          Vat Dyed,Merchanized terms used

World War II: 1940s

        • Use of terms hand printed, Made in America, Color Fast, Sanfordized
          OPA” Office of Price Administration price sticker (1942-1947)
          ;Florals, specially Roses, Dogwoods, cherry blossoms, Tulips
          Use of the term “Screen printed”
          4+ color combinations
          1946: Delicate shading in designs, more “realistic” three dimensional designs
          <indent>Ethnic themes, Mexican, Black Americana, Indian, Oriental
          Garden, vegetables designs
          Farm themes
          Cute children, people themes
          Western themes
          State souvenir tablecloths in larger sizes with coordinating napkins
          Coordinating dinnerware pattern tablecloths
          Hall “Autumn Leaf” (1937- 1957)
          Blue Willow
          Russell Wright
          Rayon/Cotton “blends”

Prosperity: 1950s

Continuation of 1940s designs but with richer colors and patterns
Use of kitchen themes, dishes, bottles, spices
Food themes
Whimsical funny designs
More use of bold synthetic dyes
Metallic dyes, especially gold and silver
Metallic threads running throughout
Synthetic fabrics
Black outlined designs
“Kitchey” quirky, fun prints
Exaggerated florals and bold geometric designs
Modern, Space age
Heavy Danish/Swedish influence
1958: Tags were sewn in
1958: Percentage of fibers in fabrics labeled, Ex: %20 rayon %80 Cotton.
Circles, squares and other geometric shapes
Designer “signed” tablecloths

Collecting Vintage Souvenir Tablecloths

Souvenir tablecloths
Most of us have cherished memories of family vacations, traveling through the United states by car, stopping at quirky tourist attractions. Today, vintage souvenir linens are very collectible, increasing in value every year as more and more collectors are drawn to the charm of these pieces of our past. Not only are they collectibles you can use, but they also convey a real sense of nostalgia of days gone by. They are a gentle reminders of the United States of our childhood- quaint roadside attractions, and rural small towns that today are rapidly disappearing. Collectors are attracted to the pleasing combination of strong graphics, bright colors and the dizzying array of designs and textures. Many different styles of state and city souvenirs were produced so there are literally hundreds of possibilities to collect. All states at one time sold souvenir tablecloths and tea towels. Although some examples are harder to find than others.

Although State Souvenir tablecloths were produced as early as the 1920s, they rapidly increased in popularity and by the late 1940s the combination of consumer demand and new car production reinvigorated American car culture and more people traveled by car on vacation. Americans were eager to take to the road to discover America, buying souvenir linens from the states they visited. It is easy to find examples of these souvenir linens with their original tags still attached, since they were put away in the linen drawer soon after the family returned from vacation.

By the late 1950’s you could even find a tablecloth featuring the “western states” and one picturing the entire United States on one cloth. The earlier 1920s state tablecloths were smaller, usually 34″ or 38″, and not as detailed as the later ones. Usually just one color and stamped with a simple design. By the late 1940s, state tablecloths were produced in a larger sizes of 52″ and 64″, with coordinating napkins for use at the family kitchen table. They also were printed with bold, multi-colored designs. State Souvenir tablecloths are an example of a “cross collectible”. Both the vintage printed tablecloth collector and the souvenir collector share a love of these pieces of American memorabilia.


The most highly sought after state tablecloths are those that were not as popular as tourist destinations. Souvenir linens from the states of Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee are harder to find and can be valued as high as $575.00. California, Florida, New York, Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii, and Wyoming, as well as the states that route 66 cut through were the most popular destinations. These souvenir state tablecloths are easier for the collector to acquire. Occasionally, you will find a Startex, Hardy Craft or Simtex label on these tablecloths, demonstrating their immense popularity, as the large tablecloth manufacturers responded to the market demand for souvenir linens.

1Souvenir tablecloths and towels were also produced and showcase a specific popular tourist destination or city. You can find tablecloths featuring “Lake Michigan,” “Yellowstone Park” as well as “Washington D.C” and “Los Angeles,” just to name a few. These are a little harder to come by and are a delightful addition to state souvenir tablecloth collections.
We can use the records of the popularity of tourist attractions to generally determine dates for the linens. Trying to date the souvenir linen by the graphics is difficult, as designers used older model cars and graphics of people for 25 years or more. As the tourist industry in each state changed, so did the souvenir linens design

. Dude ranches, auto camps and small tourist venues came and went as the tourist landscape changed in each state. This is a great way to date your vintage souvenir linen. The tourist attractions were updated regularly so a quick check on the history of a specific tourist destination is a more accurate tool to date your souvenir.