Cocktail (Napkins), Anyone?

cock tailIf I were going to start a new collection of vintage linens (and I’m not!), it would be cocktail napkins.

They are so small, easy to store, and utterly, utterly perfect. They speak of attention to detail and elegance of a time gone by.

Because a cocktail party is a special, showy occasion, cocktail napkins tend to be special and showy as well. And just as cocktail parties can take different tones, so can the napkins. Some are arch and clever, some are a little naughty, some are self-consciously elegant.

All of the napkins are designed to be noticed and to communicate about the party-giver.

Many, many of the napkins reference the point of the party—drinking. Roosters are extremely popular on cocktail napkins, presumably because of the connection with the “cock’s tail.”


Elegant “cocks” on super-fine fabric, with handmade lace

red blue roosters

Jaunty printed “cocks”

Other cocktail napkins depict all aspects of drinking. You’ll find designs of glasses and liquor bottles.

Madeira linen glasses, with tiny red cherries

Hand embroidered on linen, with tiny red cherries

Madeira bar accessories!

Madeira bar accessories!

You’ll also find pink elephants

pink elephant

A pink elephant, hugging his cocktail

and fish that are drinking like fish!


Partying goldfish!

A whole subset of cocktail napkins is the risqué or naughty category. These turn up on eBay and Etsy pretty regularly and can be very expensive.

One napkin, two views

One napkin, two views

Four girls with padding

Four girls with padding

A woman in a bottle

A woman in a bottle

Another direction in cocktail napkins is that of sheer elegance and opulence. These napkins were used as a way to demonstrate taste and refinement.

pastel F mono naps-5

The tiny “F” monogram is created by hand-pulling threads

These napkins are the finest-quality and most perfect I’ve had my hands on. The linen is like gossamer and the monogram “F” has been added, not with embroidery, but by drawing and tying those tiny threads.

The napkins pictured in this post were all wrought by handl. This work is not “hands at home” but, rather, done by experts and highly prized.


Madeira hand applique on organdy

Because of their appeal and craftsmanship, cocktail napkins can sell for pretty crazy prices, especially the very detailed ones that are cheeky and whimsical. But you can also get lucky and find wonderful surprises at tag sales and thrift shops. These superb napkins with embroidered champagne glasses came from an estate sale in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

my champagne

Tiny stitches form the champagne glasses and bubbles!

And the F monogrammed napkins shown above were thrown into a mixed lot in an eBay auction.

So, keep your eyes open and see if you can add some fabulous cocktail napkins to your life! Or, if you just like looking and enjoying the glimpse into a bygone era, feast your eyes on this specialty shop, as well as this one!


40 thoughts on “Cocktail (Napkins), Anyone?

  1. I have have a goodly stash of linens I’ve collected over the years. And am always adding more. My motto ‘You can never have too many linens’, or maybe it’s ‘too much of a good thing is a collection’. Ok, maybe my motto is ‘more is more’! Well any way. Your new additions to your shop are divine. And there’s no such thing as ‘enough’!

    • Now, see, I spent years in that “more is more” mode and that’s why I’m selling linens on Etsy now! When we moved two houses into one a few years ago I was actually kind of shocked and horrified at what I had! Now, some of those pretty items have new loving homes!

  2. What an amazing grouping of cocktail napkins in this post! Small, easy to store and utterly perfect… It makes me think of the silverplate Victorian nut picks that I love to collect. They, too, are small and easy to store. They average about 4 1/2 inches in length and the design detail on many of them is amazing.

    I use them as olive picks for martinis so they would go hand in hand with these cocktail napkins.

  3. Thank you for the education on cocktail napkins, they are an utter delight I didn’t know I wanted some until now 😀

    • I think these are from the 1930s and ’40s so the world was different then. I wonder if Prohibition might’ve had something to do with making it extra trendy and scandalous to go over the top with bar-related items.

  4. Ohlala, I love a good cocktail (party) and the lovely vintage cocktail dresses but I never realized there were these cocktail napkins. Thank you for the interesting post and beautiful photos! The monograms are indeed beautiful and I love the ones with the roosters!

    • The ones I showed are the tip of a beautiful iceberg. I look at eBay all the time and am SO tempted to buy but, really, how many perfect little scraps of fabric does one person need? Not many cocktail parties in my rural life!

  5. Using napkins makes me feel so grown up and there are some really lovely ones here. The pink elephant one is my favourite! If you had a cocktail napkin collection that would be a good excuse to have a lot of cocktail parties…


  6. Love these. I really like the one with cherry’s on and the one’s with the ladies on are such fun! Been on the look out for some since you talked about them the other month. x

  7. Pingback: Little Bitty Pretty Ones: Vintage Risque Towels | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  8. I have many of these, but I truly don’t understand how they were used? were they used to wrap around your cocktail glass? or for an appetizer? I can’t picture how to use these at a party. Thanks.

    • I don’t know that I can give a definitive answer but I use them as you describe–hand a visitor a cocktail and a small napkin that can be used as a coaster or as a way to wipe fingers after an appetizer. Like so many aspects of entertaining, I think some of the napkins were just meant to send a message about class and wealth and taste!

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