Napkin rings first appeared in France about 1800 and their use soon spread to other countries. In a proper middle-class family, cloth napkins were used for an entire week between washdays, with each family member keeping their same napkin. Each ring had a different mark or design to identify whose napkin it held.

Soon napkin rings became more ornate and included decorative figures. These figural napkin rings were at the height of popularity from about 1870 to 1900. Hundreds of different designs were made before the custom faded. Most 19th-century examples were silver plate and hundreds of shapes were made. Popular figures included dogs, cats, squirrels, rabbits, cupids, children, wild animals, birds and others. Original Victorian-era silver napkin rings are hard to find but bring good prices (hundreds to even thousands of dollars). Rare sterling silver rings are the most expensive.

Experienced collectors can spot the differences between originals and reproductions. Most figural silver plate napkin ring reproductions are not as well made as Victorian originals and are heavier than old rings. But it can be tricky to tell the difference.

Savvy collectors watch for a few other clues:

  • There are almost no sports-related original rings. We have seen fakes with people playing golf, tennis or other sports. A few originals show hoop rolling and fishing.
  • Original ring bases are geometric or feature realistic leaf designs. Fake bases are usually odd shapes and have an allover line pattern.­
  • Original napkin rings that show a child driving a cart or wagon have no base. Some could be pushed across the dining table on their working wheels.
  • Fake rings have solid bases and may have blurred company marks because the marks are die-stamped, not cast. Some fake marks are copies or simply made up. Some reproductions have impressed designs on the bottom of the base.
  • Marks from 19th century manufacturers like Meriden, the Middletown Plate Co. and Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co. have been copied on fakes.
  • Reputable reproductions are clearly marked as such and are inexpensive. Extremely accurate reproductions of original Victorian rings have been recently produced by silversmiths like James Mackie and are now affordable collectibles. Enjoy the hunt for figural napkin rings, either for their intended use — holding your eco-friendly cloth napkins! — or as fun tabletop decorations. Just don’t pay more than you have to.

The silver-plated figural napkin rings pictured here are reproductions of Victorian originals.

repro napkin ring, golfer


repro napkin ring


repro napkin ring



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