Victorians’ Secrets: Handkerchiefs, Napkins, and Silverware

Did you know these everyday objects facilitated communication between enamored couples during the 19th and early 20th century? Next time you watch Downton Abbey or another period drama, see if you can spot any of the signals below.

Euphemia White Van Rensselaer by George Haley (1842)


Right cheek = Yes

Left cheek = No

Across lips = flirting

Twist left = not interested or go away

Twist right = thinking of you

Wind around 3rd finger left hand = married

Forefinger wind = engaged

The Dinner Party by Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882)


Drawing napkin through the hand = I desire to converse by signal with you.

Holding napkin by the corners = Is it agreeable?

Using three fingers to hold napkin = Yes


Playing with fork = I have something to tell you.

Holding up knife and fork (one in each hand) = When can I see you?

Laying both fork and knife to left of plate = After the meal

Clenching fork or knife with right hand on table = Yes


The Mystery of Love, Courtship, and Marriage Explained (1890) by Henry J. Wehman


Victorians’ Secrets: The Love Letter

Victorians’ Secrets: Tussie-Mussies and Sweetheart Flower Clocks

Victorians’ Secrets: Fans

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