Napkin rings are cylindrical items designed to hold a table napkin or serviette neatly on a dining table.
The original purpose of the napkin ring was for hygiene. Cloth napkins were not washed every day, thus society needed a way to designate particular napkins to individual users. Singular napkin rings were often engraved with numbers to ensure that each person received their own napkin each mealtime.
Etiquette ensured that guests would never be presented with a napkin ring, as this would imply that they were using an unclean, previously used napkin.
Silver napkin rings began to rise in popularity among the European bourgeoisie from as early as 1800. The increased wealth of the middle class increased the use of such pieces throughout Europe and the Western world. References to silver napkin rings in American households can be found dating back to 1865.
Silver napkin rings were typically sold in sets of four or six. As well as being practical, they were also utilised as table decorations. Napkin rings could feature many intricate designs, from stylised engraving to heavy chasing, or applied castings. Family monograms were also not uncommon.
Common materials for napkin rings included silver and silver plate. Ivory was also a popular choice during the 19th century. As the prevalence of napkin rings grew, as did the materials they were crafted from. This range eventually included materials such as wood, glass, porcelain and bone.
Napkin rings are known to be traditional christening gifts. In some cultures they have earned the moniker ‘christening bangle’. The tradition of gifting napkin rings as christening and wedding presents began in the 19th century. This practice continues today, perhaps due to the personal nature of such a gift.