Saturday, 8 June 2013

Irish damask linens

This week I have come across a large cache of Irish linen damask - tablecloths and napkins. I have started to list a few on Ebay and wondered (again) at the huge variation in designs that were produced in the past. Now it seems that it is only possible to buy new damask linen with either an Ivy or a Chrysanthemum design and, of course, the Shamrock so synonymous with Irish linen. However the cloths that I have acquired have Roses, Peonies, Scrolls, Acorns, Lily of the Valley, Pineapples, Fruit and more unusual pictoral designs of Birds, Stag and Deer.

                                   Monarch of the Glen to the centre of one cloth

                                         Acorns, oak leaves and ribbons
                                            Lily of the Valley
                                                       Laurel wreaths
                                      Pineapples - quite stylised!

Obviously the pictoral designs were produced for a purpose - Stag and deer or Pheasants for a shooting party lunch. The pineapple design was probably intended to impress your guests with your familiarity with a new exotic fruit. But why the other designs?  Maybe they were very obvious to the Victorian and Edwardian dinner guest as they would have been familiar with the "Language of Flowers"  - Roses indicates Love, Ivy - dependence & endurance, Laurel - ambition & success, Lily of the Valley - sweetness and trustworthy. Or maybe the designers just made up patterns from flowers that they could see! The photos above show mainly late Victorian - 20th century damasks. However, there is a very interesting article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Art Materials and Techniques: Linen Diaper and Damask about how the very early damask linens evolved and the different styles and types of designs. I do have a few collectors of Damask Linens who buy from me and I know (from the high bids that they place!) that some of the early & pre 1800's damask linen is very sought after. Even small pieces such as napkins and towels can be very interesting - so maybe check on your old linen in the cupboard!
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