By Julie Ann Madden
Not one of the 60 hankies displayed at the Akron Public Library this month is a use found on an Akron Historical Society’s artifact, a poster entitled “34 Ways to Use a Farmer’s Hanky.”
Dotty Zales of Westfield’s collection of handkerchiefs is mainly for display. She has used them for creating curtain valances and as a decorative accessory to an outfit or two.
“I don’t use them for blowing my nose,” laughed Dotty, who began collecting handkerchiefs with a “garage sale shopping” friend when she lived in Illinois in the 1980s.
“We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on collecting things so we collected cheaper things,” said Dotty explaining how she came to own so many hankies. “Hankies were 25 cents, 50 cents, maybe a dollar.”
“The most I ever paid was $2,” she said.
“We realized we couldn’t collect every handkerchief we found so I limited it to hankies with leaf patterns,” said Dotty.
The former children’s librarian chose leaves because of her interest in botany — her husband, Bill, is a retired botanist.
“You wouldn’t think you could find so many with leaves on them,” said Dotty, who still looks for interesting handkerchiefs as she travels but rarely buys any. “The fun was we kept doing it and we found new ones — no duplicates. That’s amazing.”
Although I have little time for garage sale shopping now that I’m retired, my friend still sends me hankies as birthday or Christmas gifts, she said.
Most of her collection is from the 1940s, Dotty explained, noting some have the original label stickers on them and others have people’s names on them such as Ceil Chapman who was an American fashion designer who worked in New York City from the 1940s to the 1960s. She was noted for creating glamorous cocktail and party dresses and for working with celebrity clients including television and movie actresses such as Marilyn Monroe.
Some of the handkerchiefs’ label stickers say “created in” countries such as Japan, Ireland and Spain.
Some labels also include the fabric such as “all linen” or “40 percent cotton.”
“It’s an inexpensive collection but it was fun,” said Dotty.