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Paper handkerchiefs
Japanese hankachi (ハ ン カ チ) made from terry cloth

A handkerchief is a piece of cloth or paper that is primarily used to clean the nose of nasal secretions . Handkerchiefs are available as washable cloth handkerchiefs or as paper handkerchiefs that are disposed of after use. A handkerchief is not used to blow one's nose in every culture, and this was not common in Europe until modern times.

A special form of the handkerchief is the handkerchief often, the men on festive occasions in the breast pocket of the jacket wear; it is only used for decoration and has no practical function.

History and Development


Painting The Confession of James Tissot , around 1880

In Roman antiquity there were sweat towels and mouth towels, which historians refer to as label towels . They weren't used to blow your nose. The poet Catullus first mentioned welding cloths with the name Sudarium ( Latin sudor , sweat). They were made of Egyptian linen and tucked into a fold of the toga . A century later, the so-called orarium ( Latin oris , mouth) appeared. In addition, there was already in antiquity napkins that Mappa welcomed. Under Emperor Aurelian it became the custom to greet high-ranking personalities and popular actors in the theater by waving colored cloths. Mappa and Orarium are as liturgical preserved symbols in the Christian ceremony measurement.

Since the 11th century, scarves have played a role as a secret pledge of love in the ministry . As a pledge of loyalty, knights took it with them into the fight and gave it back to the beloved, usually soaked in sweat and blood. Sometimes such cloths were attached to the lance openly when the owner was not married to someone else.

The weaver Baptiste Chambray from Cambrai ( Flanders ) allegedly made the first handkerchiefs from fabric around 1300. Under the Italian name Drapesello panetto di naso (simple cloths made of fabric for blowing your nose) it was only used occasionally. It was kept in a pocket on the belt.

Luxury items of the nobility

Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, painting by Diego Velàzquez , c. 1652

Around 1447 the handkerchief gradually became a luxury item. Various cloths are mentioned in Italian clothing inventories from the 15th century:

  • sudarioli (sweat towels)
  • paneti and drapeselli (handkerchiefs)
  • paneti da naso (nasal cloths)
  • paneti da copa (scarves)
  • fazzoletto (decorative towels)

Ornamental scarves played the greatest role, often richly embroidered and carried openly in the hand. The most valuable cloths of this kind were made in Venice and exported, especially to France.

Catherine de Medici introduced the toilet towel to the French court in the 16th century . It was called a mouchoir and was mainly used for representative purposes. At that time, the nobility generally still used their fingers to blow their nose. Erasmus von Rotterdam , who, according to an inventory, had 39 handkerchiefs, is an exception. The decorative cloths were soaked in perfume by the women and given away to men as a pledge of love; the name for it is mouchoir de Vénus . King Henry III of France presented it to his favorites, who were called Mignons .

In Germany, the decorative scarf was known to the nobility as Fazinetel or Fazittlein since the beginning of the 16th century . Because of the usual perfuming, they were referred to in the dress codes as sniffing cloths, which were reserved for the higher classes.

With the advent of snuff and the use of decorative cloths to clean the nose, the cloths lost their character as luxury items. In the 18th century, the handkerchief gradually became an item of everyday use in the upper class for men. But still at the time of the French Revolution , it is considered a symbol of the nobility. “'What, he's not blowing his nose through his fingers? He's got a handkerchief - he must be an aristocrat. Hang him up! ' shouts a revolutionary in Büchner's Dantons death . "

General distribution

With the inventions of the flying boat by John Kay in 1733 and the Spinning Jenny by James Hargreaves in 1764, the manufacture of fabric became increasingly cheaper. As a result, the handkerchiefs could be produced more cheaply and were increasingly becoming an everyday item from luxury items. At the time of the Biedermeier period it became a romantic symbol of love in bourgeois circles. Women often held it coquettishly so that the embroidery on it could be seen. Young men carried the handkerchief of the loved one visibly in a buttonhole of their jacket. This custom is said to have first appeared in London around 1800 and was possibly the forerunner of the men's pocket square, which is only documented from 1830. In the second half of the 19th century, women tucked their perfumed handkerchiefs into the cleavage or the sleeves of their dress so that they were within easy reach.

Paper handkerchiefs

Paper handkerchief
Tempo tissue
pack from SCA

The 20th century changed the use of the handkerchief in many ways. The decisive factor was the imperial patent in Germany for a "handkerchief made of paper" soaked in glycerine , which G. Krum, the owner of a Göppingen paper factory, was granted on August 14, 1894 ( patent number : 81094). The invention was a very thin, almost normal paper that was soaked in glycerine to achieve a certain softness.

About 35 years later, on January 29, 1929, the United Paper Works in Nuremberg registered a trademark for the first paper handkerchief made from pure cellulose with the Reich Patent Office (trademark number: 407752). This handkerchief was given the name Tempo , which is still known today . The idea for this is attributed to the then co-owner of the United Paper Works, Oskar Rosenfelder. The patent was based on a cellulose paper that was coated with a thin layer of glycerine in order to achieve softness - as was the case with G. Krum in 1894.

The Kimberly-Clark company had been marketing handkerchiefs in the USA since 1924 under the brand name Kleenex , which consisted of the cotton substitute Cellucotton (cellulose wadding). Cellucotton was mainly used as a dressing material during the First World War because it was characterized by its absorbency and tear resistance. The two major manufacturers of cellulose handkerchiefs began to conquer the world market. While Tempo spread on the European market, Kleenex appeared mainly on the American and Asian markets. An attempt was made to increase sales through constant new developments. So in 1929 Kleenex developed a "pop-up" box. This construction, in which by removing one handkerchief, the next one was half pulled out and was within reach, had great success. The sales figures and the consumption of paper handkerchiefs rose steadily.

Since the 1960s, a few smaller handkerchief producers entered the market. The market leaders are still Tempo , Softis and Kleenex . In Germany, from 1935 to 1994, the Schickedanz Group (known from the mail order company "Quelle") owned the United Paper Works (VP) Nuremberg with its Tempo brand. During this time, VP was the market leader and the most important manufacturer of paper handkerchiefs with Tempo - before the Mannheim paper works with its handkerchief brand Softis . In 1994, the American company Procter & Gamble took over the VP and sold it to SCA in 2007 . Since SCA had acquired the Waldhof-Aschaffenburg paper mills in 1995 , including the handkerchief brand Softis, it had to give it up to avoid a dominant position in the market. At the end of 2007, the Italian tissue manufacturer Sofidel acquired the handkerchief brand Softis as well as the associated licenses, patents and production facilities. In the German-speaking world, Tempo is not only used as a brand name, but also as a synonym (especially eponym ) for tissue.

Cellulose consists of chains of sugar molecules (horizontal in the picture) which in turn are connected with hydrogen bonds (vertical in the picture)

Manufacture of paper handkerchiefs

Cellulose or recycled fibers obtained from waste paper are used in the manufacture of paper handkerchiefs . Wood is used as a raw material for pulp production. There are mainly two pulp making processes worldwide, the sulfite process and the sulfate process .



The decorative handkerchiefs were partially embroidered with gold thread and provided with diamonds . At around 60 × 50 cm, they were much larger than today's fabric handkerchiefs.

The monotony was counteracted after the possibility of industrially manufacturing handkerchiefs. As a first measure, the handkerchiefs were embroidered with monograms . The artistically decorated abbreviations of the owners not only look great on the outside, but also contributed to the individuality of the handkerchief, as none were alike.

1785 invented Thomas Bell , the roller printing - or roll printing process. With this, the handkerchiefs could be printed with color. In this process, pressure rollers, which are engraved with patterns , transfer ink to the fabric. Up to 16 rollers can be used at the same time. These are located on spindles and are pressed against the printing surface. The printing inks are applied to the rollers from ink troughs. Each roller corresponds to one color. However, this printing option could only be used economically where larger batches had to be printed, since changing the printing rollers required long set-up times. The method was characterized by its high performance. This meant that up to 5000 meters of fabric could be printed per hour. The economical and effective roller blind printing is being used more and more.

Not only printing processes were used. As early as 1809, John Heathcoat developed the technique of producing lace industrially. Soon, printed handkerchiefs were being used like newspapers . Political events such as the French Revolution , world maps and caricatures were among the popular motifs of consumers. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough , had his military successes printed on handkerchiefs in 1702 and his speech in Parliament in 1710. In the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, handkerchiefs with instructions for using the rifle and maps were distributed to soldiers . The size of paper tissues is left to the manufacturer. It is not subject to any DIN standard. Paper handkerchiefs from the Tempo brand are almost square and white at 21 cm × 20.5 cm.

Cultural history

Woman at the fireplace with handkerchief. Painting by James Tissot, around 1870

Blowing your nose in public

In the European Middle Ages , all layers of people blew their nose with their fingers and then wiped them off on clothing, from the lower to the nobility. That was not a violation of morality, handkerchiefs were not yet in use. Since the Middle Ages, a more refined way of blowing your nose became common. While the "lower" people used the right hand to eat, people from high circles - at least during a meal - only blew their nose with their left hand, preferably only with two fingers.

The use of the handkerchief for blowing one's nose was first introduced in Italy and from there spread to aristocratic circles. Elegant ladies wore the shawl, which was considered precious, openly on their belts. But even rulers initially only owned a few copies. Henry IV of France only had five handkerchiefs at the end of the 16th century. Only Louis XIV had a larger number.

It is clear from Erasmus von Rotterdam's etiquette of etiquette , published in 1529 , that the handkerchief was well known in its time, but not very widespread among the upper classes. 200 years later, it is considered a bad habit not to use a handkerchief. Blowing one's nose in public is increasingly considered improper. As a luxury item, handkerchiefs were primarily used as objects of prestige and decorative purposes before the 18th century and were only used to wipe sweat off one's face. With the emerging fashion of sniffing tobacco , scarves increasingly became an object of daily use, especially for men.

From the 18th century onwards, the feelings of embarrassment became more pronounced, so that any use of handkerchiefs should be avoided at the table in order not to annoy the guests present. However, if it was imperative to stop the “body flow”, the process should be hidden with a napkin or turned away from the board. The term embarrassment gained a new position in society, so the use of the word “blowing your nose” should be avoided.

In other cultural regions, such as Japan , Korea , but also Mexico , blowing your nose in public is a taboo. Like flatulence in public, it is perceived as very impolite. On the other hand, pulling up the nasal mucus is considered body control and can easily be done in public.

Development of hygiene ideas

For a long time it was frowned upon and a shame to blow your nose in public. It was only with the emergence of hygiene awareness in modern times that attitudes changed. Illness was believed to be caused by stinking air; This assumption was based on the fact that in the Middle Ages the great epidemics had broken out mainly in the slums and the nobility blamed the prevailing air there. Between 1760 and 1780 the theory emerged that the air consisted of so-called "phlogistic air" ( N 2 ), "fixed air" ( CO 2 ) and " living air " ( O 2 ). Chemistry began to redefine and understand air. For the first time, smells in particular were given descriptions and names.

In 1794, the first chair for public hygiene at the Société royale de médecine was created in Paris . Contagion through pathogens became an issue. Miasms were a focus here . At that time, suspected contagious substances that are formed outside the body were referred to as “ miasma ”. This idea stayed until the discovery of bacteria by Louis Pasteur .

Displacement of the handkerchief

Since the invention of the cellulose handkerchief, the number of tissue handkerchief users has decreased significantly. New quality demands were made on the piece of (cellulose) material. The uncertainty was no longer tolerated that the supposed “piece of fabric” might have been poorly cleaned during the previous wash and that pathogens might therefore be present. It was increasingly considered unhygienic to carry a used tissue handkerchief in your pocket or in your handbag and use it repeatedly. Therefore, paper handkerchiefs gradually prevailed over the traditional handkerchief.

Art history

Handkerchiefs in literature

Othello and Desdemona by Josiah Baydell , 18th century

There are examples in the literature where a handkerchief plays a role. This is the title of a novel by Brigitte Kronauer called Das Taschentuch . The fourth edition of the six-part horror novel The Blackstone Chronicles by John Saul has the same title .

In the comedy Tartuffe by Molière a handkerchief in the Third Elevator, SCENE occurs. In this scene, Tartuffe hands Dorine a handkerchief with the words: “O God! I ask you not to put this handkerchief in front of you until you have something to say to me! "After Dorine asks:" What for? " sinful thoughts. "

In Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma , Fabrizzio had a sonnet of Petrarch printed on a silk handkerchief and sent it to Clelia from Lake Maggiore . In the 26th chapter he reads her two verses from the sonnet: “How happy I was back then when the world imagined me to be in misery! Oh, how did My Lot turn! ” A handkerchief plays an important role in William Shakespeare's Othello and in the operas of the same name by Rossini and Verdi . Desdemona loses a handkerchief that Othello gave her. The handkerchief becomes an indication of Desdemona's infidelity for Othello when he finds it with Cassio. He had unwittingly slipped it from Iago. Othello strangles and then stabs Desdemona.

In Christian Morgenstern's Galgenliedern there is the poem There is a ghost that eats handkerchiefs , which in the first version ends with the lines: With 18 cloths, / proud sailor, / you go out / the stranger sea, / between eight and seven when you come back, the housewife's grief.

Handkerchiefs in the movie

In the 1978 film Préparez vos mouchoirs by Bertrand Blier , a handkerchief is used to dab away tears and gives the film its name (handkerchief in French, mouchoir ).

In the final key scene at the end of the film Stolen Kisses by François Truffaut from 1968, the heroes Antoine ( Jean-Pierre Léaud ) and Christine ( Claude Jade ) sit on a park bench. Antoine sniffs and says he forgot his handkerchief and whether Christine could give him hers. When she offers him a Kleenex: "Moi j'ai que des Kleenex, tu eu veux un?", Declines with thanks: "  Ah non! … Je ne me mouche jamais dans du papier.  »(German:“ No, no, I don't like paper handkerchiefs. ”) Truffaut repeated this scene between Jean-Pierre Léaud and Claude Jade in 1979 when he was fleeing .

Cholet handkerchief

A red handkerchief is the symbol of the city of Cholet in the French department of Maine-et-Loire . The poet Théodore Botrel sang his chanson The Red Handkerchief of Cholet for the first time in 1900 (original title: Le Mouchoir rouge de Cholet ). It is about the victory of the Battle of Cholet in October 1793 during the uprising of the Vendée . The local industrialist Léon Maret took up the theme of the song and designed a red handkerchief on a white background. The color red is supposed to symbolize the blood of the Vendée residents, the color white to remind us of the royalists. The handkerchief became known in Cholet and throughout France.

Handkerchiefs in music and dances

Peruvian Marinera, by Ronald Huamani Garcia

The song Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando goes back to an American legend from the 19th century. A Georgia soldier wrote to his wife during the Civil War to tie a yellow handkerchief to the oak tree in the center of the village if her love for him was still there. When he returned to his home in Georgia after a long imprisonment, a yellow handkerchief was hanging on that tree. This story was picked up by American songwriters in the 1970s, and the song sung by Tony Orlando tells this story. The original yellow handkerchief was replaced by a yellow bow. In 2003, numerous Americans tied yellow ribbons on windows and doors as a sign of support for the US soldiers in the Iraq war and in memory of the missing.

Handkerchiefs are used in various dances. In the Peruvian dance Marinera , both dancers hold a white handkerchief in their hands, which are moved to the rhythm. This is also a custom in the Bolivian dance Cueca . In the Greek dances Syrtos and Mantilatos , the dancers hold handkerchiefs in their hands to reinforce the expression of the dance. In addition to fans and stilts, the Han Chinese use handkerchiefs for the Yangge , a Chinese dance.


Flowers of the handkerchief tree
  • The handkerchief is the namesake for the handkerchief tree, as the white flowers lie like handkerchiefs in the branches.
  • One of the manifestations of sexual fetishism described by Krafft-Ebing in Psychopathia sexualis is handkerchief fetishism .
  • The “ Hanky ​​Code ” (from the English “hanky” short for handkerchief) was probably the first to exist in the gay scene. It is now used by the BDSM scene and others. A handkerchief is visibly worn in the back pocket, for example, and indicates the wearer's sexual preferences via color, type and pocket in which it is being carried.
  • Mostly historical or colloquial names for the handkerchief are: sackcloth (Austria and southern Germany, by Wilhelm Busch ), snuff (→  snuff ), snout cloth or snout square (in Austria and old Bavaria), snot cloth, snot flag, Schnuderlumpen (in Switzerland).
  • In the duel there is the extreme case of the proverbial "shooting yourself over the sackcloth". The duelists held a handkerchief at the diagonally opposite ends and shot at the same time, with only one pistol loaded.
  • The handkerchief has emerged from the handkerchief. It is put into the outer breast pocket of the suit or jacket and only has a visual function as an accessory.
  • Contrary to what is usually assumed, hygiene articles, and thus paper tissues, belong in the residual waste with most waste disposal companies and not in the paper bin.


  • Author collective: waste paper . VEB Fachbuchverlag, Leipzig 1979.
  • Collective of authors: Zellstoff - Papier . VEB Fachbuchverlag, Leipzig 1974.
  • Gabriele Donder-Langer, Herbert A. and Harry Michael Zwergel: People, noses, handkerchiefs . Self-published, Kassel 1998 ( alltagskultur.de - exhibition catalog with contributions by: Martin Beutelspacher, Eckhard Bolenz, Alfred Doerig, Claudia Gottfried, Kerstin Kraft, Markus Kuchler, Ingrid Riedmeier, Ben Witter).
  • German Institute for Standardization V. (Ed.): Paper, cardboard and cellulose . Beuth Verlag, Berlin 1991.
  • Margarethe Braun-Ronsdorf: The history of the handkerchief . F. Lewis, Leigh-on-Sea 1967.

Web links

Commons : Handkerchiefs  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: handkerchief  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g Ingrid Loschek : Accessories. Symbolism and history . Munich 1993, ISBN 3-7654-2629-6 , pp. 269 ff .
  2. ^ Ingrid Loschek: Accessories. Symbolism and history . Munich 1993, ISBN 3-7654-2629-6 , pp. 276 .
  3. ^ Sabine Rochlitz (Red.): Göppingen stories. About people, events and buildings . Archives and museums of the city of Göppingen, Göppingen 2005, ISBN 3-933844-47-9 , p. 170.
  4. ^ Softis becomes Italian , oe24.at, December 4, 2007.
  5. a b c Norbert Elias: About the process of civilization . 3. Edition. tape 1 , 1977, ISBN 2-253-01729-9 , pp. 201 ff .
  6. ^ Martin Beutelspacher from People, Noses, Handkerchiefs .
  7. Brigitte Kronauer : The handkerchief . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-608-93220-8 .
  8. John Saul : The handkerchief. The Blackstone Chronicles Part 4 . Bastei Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1998, ISBN 3-404-13990-9 .
  9. ^ Text Molières Tartuffe last accessed: May 15, 2007 9:34 am
  10. Préparez vos mouchoirs (German women to be given away) in the Internet Movie Database , accessed on May 22, 2015
  11. Paragraph five, accessed May 15, 2007 11:54 am
  12. Olivia Schoeller: The bond of sympathy. In: Berliner Zeitung . April 7, 2003, accessed June 8, 2015 .