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Appraising Antique Lace Tablecloths - What Makes the Best Tablecloths Worth so Much?

By Edited Nov 2, 2016 2 2

Antique Lace Tablecloths for Special Occasions

Handmade antique lace tablecloths can be magnificent.  Some are inherited, others bought at yard sales, others may be bought on the auction block for thousands.  What makes them worth a certain price?

Prices of antique linens and lace tablecloths will always fluctuate with supply and demand, like any market.  The more of something there is, the less competition to buy it and the lower the price. 

There maybe only one chance, ever, to own a particular unique antique lace tablecloth.  So the buyer has to be prepared to pay more when that rare opportunity arises.

Things that Make Antique Linens More Valuable

  1. Type of Lace  - Handmade or machine-made

    Figural Antique Lace Tablecloth with Unicorns and Putti
    lace?  Hand-made lace is more valuable as a rule as it takes longer to make, is unique and is usually older.  Some easily made hand-made lace like knitting or crochet is less valuable than lace that took days to make a few inches of.  Mass produced vintage lace tablecloths are less valuable as there are so many to choose from.  You can usually tell is it is machine-made by the repetitive design.  When a tablelcoth is rare and one of a kind, prices can skyrocket.  Dealers and collectors look at many antique linens over the years, and soon know if they see something over and over, or whether it is truly unique.
  2. Quality and Workmanship - Are the stitches neat and even, or is the lace work untidy and weak?  Most people can spot the difference between a tablecloth sewn by a professional lace maker or embroiders compared to a piece made by a hobbiest.  The neater work made by a professional is often more attractive and durable, and therefore worth more.
  3. Size - Is it over 100" long? Antique tablecloths over 100" are considered Banquet Sized and are more valuable and sought after.  Historically, affluent families had larger tables so the longest lace tablecloths can be  magnificent quality in comparison to shorter plainer ones.  In our day and age, these longer tablecloths will cover a table that will seat more people.  Nowadays, people only buy antique tablecloths for big Christmas Holiday or Thanksgiving type meals, that have extended family at the table.  Everyday type dinners are more likely to have the immediate family only and not require such a large fancy cloth.  Napkins over 30" are called lapkins and highly sought after.  Over 25" antique dinner napkins still rise in value.

  4. Design - Balanced, flowing, and symmetrical?  This is very subjective, but poorly spaced wonky designs to not bring as good a price as a well balanced, ornate but elegant designs that are pleasing to the eye.

  5. Motifs - Figural or Floral?  Figural means that is has figures, people, animals or mythical creatures in the design.  These are more popular with collectors are they are less common and provide interest and charm and sometimes a glimpse into history.  Floral and geometric or stylized designs are commonplace.  Popular figural themes are putti (cherubs), lovers, nudes, heraldic motifs like Unicorns, Lions, Deer and other mythical beasts, birds are less popular though game birds and eagles are most popular of the birds, others just rank higher than flowers.

  6. Proportions and Use - While some antique linens may be rare, if they are an unusual size or shape, maybe very long and thin, there be a smaller market for them compared to something commonly used like a bedspread or tablecloth that any household could use. 

Examine Condition of Antique Linens

What to look for

  1. Damage or wear?  If the items are damaged, how easy are they to fix?  Needing the odd stitch to join a seam is within most people's comfort level.  Making more lace because there is the chunk missing from an antique lace tablecloth, maybe not.  If you pay someone to mend the item, you will certainly pay more for the latter and you will be hiring a specialist.  Location of damage will affect price too.  If there is obvious damage in the middle of a tablecloth, it will lower the price more than damage below the drop of the table.

  2. Missing pieces?  If the antique linens are part of a set, are there napkins missing?  A set may come with a nice even 6 or 8 napkins, but if it isn't enough to give a napkin for each person seated at a table that size, the value will be less.  Over 12 napkins in a set is desirable and if you have 18 or 24 identical serviettes, the value goes up dramatically.  Some tablecloth and napkin sets would have had 2 or more sets of napkins of differing sizes, a luncheon (11-15")  and dinner (20-30") set. 

  3. Soil or stains?  Some stains are easier to remove than others.  Rust is the most difficult as it can put a hole in the lace or linen when removed.  Lipstick and candle wax are also very challenging to remove and will reduce value.  Storage marks are the oxidation of sizing on the fabric, often seen as a brown edging to folds and corners of antique linens when opened out.   Storage marks are the easiest stains to remove.  Soaking will remove them, so they are considered minor when buying antique linens unless you want to be able to use the linens without washing them.  Storage marks are often a sign of unused linens so don't let them put you off a tablecloth.

  4. Unused?  Obviously desirable, meaning the linens will have a long life of use and should have no damage.  Original boxes, tissues, price tags, and labels present means unused.  Napkins still tacked together with threads is another sign a set as never been used.

Most Desirable Antique Lace Tablecloths

Figural Cantu Antique Lace Tablecloth with Cherubs & Unicorns

Figural Cantu Antique Lace Tablecloth with Cherubs & Unicorns

Most desirable antique lace tablecloths are handmade figural lace banquet tablecloths over 100" long!  Like the one above, a 120" long Italian Cantu hand-made lace banquet tablecloth with unicorns and cherubs made in the late 1800's.  Graced by Lace is a wonderful book with lots of pictures like the one above and lots of information on the lace and and values, and is the most helpful book for fine antique lace evaluation.

I hope this has helped shed some light on the mysterious world of antique lace tablecloths.  If you are looking to buy antique linens, finding help choosing the right size tablecloth can be challenging. 

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Comments

Apr 24, 2012 10:42am
footloose
This is awesome info. I have had an antique tablecloth for about 40 years and rarely used it because I wasn't sure how valuable it was - I was told it was over 100 years old when it was given to me. This article has spurned me to do some research on it and get it out of storage! Rated up.
Apr 24, 2012 2:41pm
mommymommymommy
This is a wonderful guide! I have a lace tablecloth from my husband's grandmother. I would never sell it, but now I can see if there is any value other than sentiment!
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