Antique Huck Towels: what are they and when were they originally produced?

Published May 23, 2015 by AntiqueMystique1

huck towels

“A wha—?” you might ask yourself.

A ‘huck’ towel. I had to scratch my head and re-READ the price tag. Yes, it was a ‘something- something’ towel and it was clearly antique. Just how far back did that piece of linen and others a lot like it date back to?

1800s-1900s and maybe some early 1920s thrown in the mess. And a mess shoppers will make when scrounging for hand-tatted scraps of lace and/ or remnants of tea-soaked dollies to pass off to the unwary customer as an ‘antique’, ‘vintage’ or plucked from some Edwardian/ Victorian woman’s trousseau (wedding chest).

I seem to recall I was just a twelve-year-old kid when dollies turned up in droves appearing really ‘yellowed’ and it wasn’t from the age of the particular yarn or fabric used in most cases. Way back then I seem to remember there was a popularity for antique linens, tea towels, lawn-cotton garments to be given the Nestea plunge back in the 80s, thus ruining the antique fabric while destroying any re-sell value it might have had otherwise in future terms.

If it looks to yellow in appearance and the dollie and/ or lawn cotton garment feels sturdy otherwise, who knows what the seller might have done to it to give it that ‘antique’ look. Thankfully though this didn’t happen with the antique linens and Victorian era guest huck towels I bought one piece at a time. And some were a dollar per linen. That’s more like it.

It wasn’t the price that had me leery, it was their bright white appearance that kind of caught my suspicious eye. They appeared ‘too new’ to be antique, I thought. There was the average pin hole, common rust and/ or regular stains from use, and some snags on the hem, but the damask pattern and Irish knotted frayed ends made me begin to wonder about their legitimacy.

And lastly, I’d never heard of a huck towel, ever. My grandmas never spoke of them although they did have a lot of ‘tea towels’ hanging out in their kitchens. I even have a several vintage tea towels in mine, none I don’t believe were made before the late Twenties/ early Thirties.

I know, I know… [sighs]. I’m not supposed to be adding to a downsizing process, rather omitting it completely. Like so many others out there I’ve collected a LOT of stuff since my childhood. I also had family dump their unwanted belongings on my doorstep even after I have told them politely and repeatedly “I don’t have room!”

There were times I wanted to chuck everything curbside because there was a severe lack of storage room in my place, put a sign on it that stated “free” and be done with it. And several times I have done that very thing.

I asked myself, “Do I really need these huck towels?” and “Will I actually use them?” and if so, then what for?

Going back to the Victorian era (again!… aw, man…) or thereabouts to the Edwardian (the overly-opulent era) just for good measure, ‘huck towels’ and ‘guest towels’ were predominately displayed for guests in the Victorian home (average income likely upper middle class or rich, probably). I’ve read stories where these antique huck towels were there just for looks. Kind of like when your grandmother’s mother would jump all over you for mistaking the tiny rose-scented decorative Avon soaps by the sink to be the ‘only’ bar of soap in sight to wash your hands with. Yeah, it was like that more than likely with these huck towels or pretty close.
Before I returned to purchase anymore huck towels as always I did some research to inform myself (the prospective shopper). Antique huck towels can be simple, ornate, extravagant and embellished with cut-out designs, needle work, etc. They can have knotted fringe on the end or hemmed. They can have inserts of tatted lace, patterns or damask designs. They can also have a splash of ‘red’ color as well and these, I’ve learned probably will date back to the 1800s, at the very least and/ or early 1900s.

Other research I did on the ‘history’ of the antique huck towel let me know I got a darn good deal!

“One-hundred-and-sixty-five dollars for a single huck towel in far worse shape?! Forget that.”

Again, it’s only worth as much as the person is willing to pay for it.

Personally, if anybody can make a living off of their asking prices (I tend to refer to it as price-gouging in some cases), then may they have the very best and quit their day job. Or if they’re a retiree, then may they have much success in their golden years. It’s hard to sell even a lug nut from a Yugo on eBay for fifty dollars yet alone, an antique huck towel with a minor storage flaw for $165. Yet sold they had. That person must be laughing all the way to the bank.

I hopped on over to evilBay thinking I might have a lucrative way to make a sideline business and was wrong. Antique huck towels only sell for $2.50 and up and nothing much beyond $35 with a drastic reduction in price. Why? The economy is so bad off and people are pulling in the reins on their frivolous purchases and just making do with what they have.

To whoever makes huge money outside of eBay with fancy online privately-operated shops, I wish they’d write up some ‘how-to’ tutorials on opening a successful antique huck towel business. The likelihood they’d happily give away their trade secrets is nil. Same goes for the antique lace snippets, fabric pieces, lawn-cotton items, etc.

Oh, well. One can always dream and in the meantime snap pictures. Thanks for reading and keep checking back.

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5 comments on “Antique Huck Towels: what are they and when were they originally produced?

  • I’d never heard of “huck” towels either! Do you know where the nickname originally came from?

    Out of curiosity I just did a quick search on Etsy for “vintage huck towel” and there are 409 results! Some of the results are vintage embrodery patterns for huck towels but most listings are for the towels themselves.

    • History

      “The style we are talking about today is best known as Huck Embroidery or Swedish weaving. The name Huck Embroidery comes from the specialty fabric, huck, which it is stitched on. It was difficult to find the reason why the technique is called Swedish Weaving. Phyllis Maurer from Ethnic Fiber Arts researches ethnic needlework. She says this technique has been found in linens dating back to the 1600’s. Sweden may have gotten the credit because many of the surviving linens and clothes came from this country. Swedish weaving was at its height of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s in the United States where the stitching was done on huck kitchen towels and linens. Phyllis suggests the usage of automatic dishwashers in homes created a decline in the need for dish towels, and therefore, the technique began to die off…” source: http://www.nordicneedle.net/stitching-techniques/huck-swedish-weaving/ additional source cited on their site: http://ethnicfiberart.com/swedish_weaving.htm Hope this helps. I believe though the ‘huck’ towels date back a lot further than the 1930s and 40s here in the US. At least the ones I’ve been turning up are from around the 19th century (1900s or perhaps even the 1880s). 🙂

    • Actually, I’ve also heard it has Swedish origins where the fabric was originally made. I also read another place where the word ‘Huck’ originates from “huckabe” or perhaps even huckster. I think of Nebraska when the word huck comes to mind and that’s probably a wrong guess. I qouted a passage from a website dedicated more for the embroidery work and how to make a huck towel. 🙂

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