Napkin Holders - How it all started...


Napkin- Nowadays they are a must have item. A basic for any well set dinner table or buffet. However they have a long and winding history that, pardon the pun, unfolds throughout the centuries till the modern day.


Napkins History

Every mom knows the routing, you kid is sitting at the table and picking at his or her food with their cute little hands.

What do you say?

Eat with you fork not with your Hands!

But here’s a little known fact.

Way back when forks were not yet invented, the only way that people ate was in fact with their Hands!

In fact the ancient Greeks were known as especially clean people and they had an extra special dough made called “apomadalie” simply to wipe their hands! Others used leaves of a fig tree to wipe their hands.

Romans way back in the first century used a cloth napkin called a mappa to protect themselves from food spills and wipe their mouths, You know how now-a-days guests will bring a bottle of wine? Well in those days guests brought their own “mappa” with them to carry home leftovers!

Moving along we find that napkin were pretty widely accepted and made of various sized fabrics depending on the occasion which called for their use.

Here’s a brief rundown of some types.

Diaper-The diaper, an English word for napkin, from the Greek word diaspron, was a cotton pattern or white linen woven in a small, repeating pattern, in the shape of a diamond.

Serviette- (kind of like Servette? No)The Serviette was a large napkin that was used at the table, now-adays it’s still the French word for napkin.

Serviette do collation-The servette de collation was a smaller napkin that was used while standing to eat. 

Touaille-A touaille (towel)  was a roller towel draped over a tube of wood or used as a communal towel that hung on the wall

Napkin Disappear

In the early Middle Ages, ( A period of time that historians also refer to as the Dark Ages) the napkin disappeared from the table and hands and mouths wiped with whatever was available, the back of the hand, clothing or a piece of bread.

However with the passage of time napkins made a triumphant return.

At that time table were set with three cloths.

The first was placed for the head of the household and called a couch, the second at the place of honored guests a surnappe and the third was a communal napkin hung from the edge of a table called that was about the size of a bath towel. The table was set with three cloths.

Moving on we reach the seventeenth century.

By that point in time the standard napkin was about 35 inches wide by 45 inches long, a roomy size that was large enough for people that yes-ate with their hands!

But once again a blow was dealt to the humble napkin.


 The use of a  fork was introduced and became widespread. People began to emphasize eating with extreme cleanliness so napkins were no longer needed, Germans in fact rarely had use for a napkin.

With the acceptance of eating with a fork eating became a cleaner affair and the size of napkins were reduced.

In the modern day the napkin is manufactured in various sizes depending on it’s usage.

In our next part in the series of Napkins we’ll explore paper napkins.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published