More monogram musings

Although women could not own property, they did retain the right to own the things they brought with them to their marriage. The girls (they were just young girls) embroidered (or ordered, if they were wealthy enough) their own initials onto their trousseau items. Sometimes they embroidered just their own initials and sometimes they left a space in the center to be embroidered later with the initial of their hoped-for husband.

We see monograms made of a single letter which usually signifies the family name. (what we in the US call the last name.) We also see double initial monograms which would have been the first name and the surname of the woman. Then, there are the triple letter (or more) monogram which signify the first name, the married name and lastly, the maiden name of the woman. Take the example ABC, for a woman named Anne Caldwell Baker.  The A stands for the first name, Anne. The B could be her husband’s last name: Baker. The C would then be her maiden name: Caldwell. OR, perhaps her middle name was Caldwell.

The letter in the center is traditionally the family surname. (This tradition differs in societies where the mother’s surname is inherited. But I am focusing on the patriarchal tradition here!)

Today, we have many different viewpoints considering monograms! A traditionalist would adhere to the above method but many of us fans of handwork and old fashioned quality are happy to tread other monogram paths! The people who want to own only items that have been embroidered with their own exact triple-letter initials will find them hard to find and they may opt to hold out for the rare item that coincidentally does correspond to their own initials or, they may choose to order new items. Since there has been a personalization explosion in recent years, one can order perfectly serviceable monograms on nearly anything. I can pretty much tell you that the quality of even the best and most expensive computer controlled machine embroidery can not even be considered to be in the same category as an item that was made by hand and embroidered by hand.

While the instances of finding an exact match to three letters in the exact order remain improbable, though not impossible, the chances of finding a double letter monogram is sometimes easier. One could choose from the initial letters of one’s first and last names, one’s first name with another family’s first name, last names or any combination that seems to fit one’s family or contains initials of various family members.

Certain letters do appear in monograms more frequently than others and some seem to never show up at all. Just ask my friends with last names that start with a Q, X or Z! This is an economic and regional variance. Certain family names are more common in certain countries and even differ within regions of those countries. More importantly, not every family could afford to own monogrammed items in the quantities that would leave “leftovers!” The amounts required in order to have passed them down intact are staggering. Inventory lists have frequently counted 12 dozen sheets. That’s 144 sheets alone to order, pay for, tend, store and use!

When I purchased a beautiful antique towel from a dealer/friend, she told me that there had been 200 of the exact same-sized guest towel in the linen closet. This gives you an idea of the quantities that were considered to be necessary to run a household!


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