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A display of five historic handkerchiefs in the Museum's second-floor atrium display case.

While people in the 1700s and 1800s used handkerchiefs to blow their noses, they also used them to learn about political viewpoints and to share those views with others. Worn or carried by men and women alike, the handkerchief had both practical and information-sharing functions in the decades after the Revolutionary War.

The use of newspapers, pamphlets, and books to convey information, debate issues, and stay connected is explored in the Museum's galleries. Similar technology of the time — engraved copper plates, presses, and type — were used to print other paper items used for practical purposes, as well as textiles and ceramics. The images used on one type of item were often copied and used on other types of items, like these handkerchiefs.

That these have survived is nothing to sneeze at. Textiles are fragile, susceptible to light damage and insects, as well as frequent use, which decrease their life span. See examples below — and on display at the Museum through mid-August in the second-floor atrium case thanks to the Color Guard of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution — of early, rare printed handkerchiefs.

Anti-Stamp Act Handkerchief, 1765-1770

A white handkerchief with red detailsfeaturing Englishmen who opposed the Stamp Act tax.
On loan from Mark and Rosalind Shenkman

The appearance of this handkerchief and the following example is similar, and both present political content related to the Revolutionary War. This one depicts Englishmen who opposed the Stamp Act, which taxed many types of documents in the American colonies. King George III is shown in the center.

Revolutionary Heroes Handkerchief, 1770-1800

A white handkerchief with red details features heroes of the Revolution such as Franklin and Adams with Washington at the center.
Museum of the American Revolution, conservation funded through a grant approved by the Americana Corner Preserving America Grant Program

This example features a central portrait of General George Washington and portraits in the corners featuring other leaders of the campaign to secure independence, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, General Nathanael Greene, and General Benjamin Lincoln.

George Washington Mourning Handkerchief, 1800

A handkerchief mourning Washington's death with his image at the center and words from his eulogy above.
On loan from Offit Capital

Americans greeted the news of George Washington's death on Dec. 14, 1799, with an outpouring of grief. Many people made or purchased mementoes with Washington's likeness, like this silk handkerchief. Above Washington's portrait in the center are words from his funeral, "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen." The warships firing in the border may have been intended to honor Washington, given the close ties between the United States and France.

Declaration of Independence Handkerchief, 1821

A handkerchief with red detail features the words of the Declaration of Independence.
On loan from Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, Inc.

One of the earliest-known depictions of the Declaration of Independence on cloth, this handkerchief includes patriotic symbols, portraits, and scenes. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams appear at the top. Scenes at the bottom show "the patriotic Bostonians discharging the British ships in Boston Harbor" and General Burgoyne's surrender to General Gates at Saratoga. The wreath around the text of the Declaration includes the seals of the 13 states, similar to the chain of states motif made popular during the Revolutionary War and used on Continental currency.

The Effect of Principle Handkerchief, 1806

This handkerchief features images of Washington, an American eagle, a British lion, and a commercial ship, perhaps all meant to promote trade between the two countries.
On loan from Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, Inc.

This American-made handkerchief shows George Washington, based on Gilbert Stuart's Lansdowne portrait of the first president. Washington is flanked by an excerpt from his farewell address to his troops and some sentences from his eulogy. The images along the bottom — an American eagle, a British lion, and a tall ship with the words "Commercial Union" — suggest the maker may have intended to promote trade between the United States and England.

Plaque, probably 20th century

This plaque features a portrait of Benjamin Franklin wearing a bear fur cap and glasses.
Museum of the American Revolution

The portrait of Benjamin Franklin on this reproduction decorative plaque comes from the same source as the portrait of Franklin on the "Revolutionary Heroes" handkerchief above. In it, Franklin wears a fur hat. Artist John Trumbull painted a miniature of Franklin in a fur cap in 1778. Similar, or even the same, images were often used on different types of items during the 1700s and 1800s.

Continental Currency, 1776

Continental currency featuring the chain of states at the center.
Museum of the American Revolution

This 2/3 of a dollar note shows the "chain of states" motif, symbolizing unity among the colonies. The motif became popular during the late 1700s. In this version, the name of each state is inside one of the links.