Often referred to as “show towels” by collectors, these long, narrow pieces of cloth were originally known as “hand towels” to their makers. Most were made by Mennonite and Schwenkfelder women in Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Montgomery Counties from about 1800 to 1880. Meant for display rather than for actual use, such towels were typically hung on the door between the door of the Stube (parlor) and the Kammer (bed chamber) in a Pennsylvania German home. The example pictured here, marked “M. B. 1840” is one of several attractive examples which we have found during inventory of the Berk’s History Center’s textile collections.
While some items were strictly for show, other items intended for daily use were no less in quality and craftsmanship. During our inventory of the Textile Collection we also found a somewhat worn potholder with a date of 1855. Despite its condition, it is a significant discovery which reminds us that the Pennsylvania Germans of Berks County had a propensity for decorating very common, utilitarian items which they intended to use. The artifact was donated by Dora Wanner of Shillington (1877-1967). We believe it was made by her aunt, Lydia Wanner, (1834-1883).
Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith