“Nothing to Sneeze At” Souvenir Hankies

by Planks of Interest Along Road #236

Consider the Handkerchief: Tear dabber; Distress flag; Brow mop; Sun shield; Perfume snifter; Wound binder; Flirt signal; Secret wrapper; Heirloom keepsake; Vacation Souvenir. For centuries, such a small piece of cloth from a special trip has held personal histories, emotions, dreams, memories and hopes. During World War I, soldiers bought silk hankies as mementos of their travels to share with their mothers, wives and sweethearts.

They were inexpensive, compact, light weight and easily mailed with a letter or carried home in a pocket. The growth of the United States highway system and the advent of the family automobile vacation gave rise to the popularity of souvenir hankies following World War II. Travelers collected colorful hankies printed with states, cities, and other tourist destinations as remembrances of their journeys. For less than a dollar, a colorful reminder of a road trip could be purchased at any Woolworth, S.S. Kresge or Ben Franklin five and dime in every small town or large city across the United States. The largest sales of hankies were California and Florida; extremely popular destinations along Route 66, the Lincoln Highway and the Orange Coastal Highway, where souvenir stands abounded with numerous styles and prices.

American and foreign companies established characteristic patterns as consumers sought particular brand name hankies. The Swiss Klauber brand featured delicate embroidered state maps with small pictures on sheer cotton fabric. Kimball, another Swiss company, created artist signed printed linen hankies depicting points of interest in major cities. Foard print hankies highlighted hand rolled linen edges with detailed elaborate prints in pointillist or impressionistic style. American manufacturer, Burmel, offered the handkerchief of the month as popularized in Harper’s Magazine and also branched out to supply avid souvenir hounds. Smaller than the Franshaw hanky, the Burmel hanky also sported the printed state image with scallop border. The iconic Franshaw handkerchief held the highest popularity among tourists. With its large script font, vivid colors and meticulous maps, the Franshaw hankie was bold, distinctive and immediately recognized.

The Quester quilt, fundraiser for the 2014 International Convention, illustrates the beauty and elaborate Franshaw designs of the 50 states. The quilt also is a testament to the re-purposing of cherished mementos.

In the early 1960’s public health stressed the use of the more hygienic disposable facial tissues and thus the popularity of the handkerchief waned and eventually fell to obsolescence. Many of these treasures, tucked away and never used, are great finds for today’s Questers who still cherish them as lasting mementos of earlier adventures.

Suzanne Skwarski
Plank Road #236
Pictures from the collection of Suzanne Skwarski