In today's world we buy napkin rings as an adornment. We roll them, we fan them, we make fancy with these rings with the focus being on presentation of the dinner table. Oh, how times have changed.
Napkin rings were originally not sold in sets. Each one was unique and in fact, people owned their own. According to an article by Anita Gold from the Chicago Tribune, in 1987, in the Ocala Star Banner, relates that the napkin ring was a personal item for keeping napkins separated from the rest.
Each member of the household had their own napkin ring with each being unique. The napkin was rolled up and placed in the ring after each meal and then washed with the weekly wash. It was more of a ‘sanitary device to save each person’s napkin so it could be used several times’.
The napkin ring was originally known as a Serviette Ring, its origins are thought to be in France in the early 1800s.
According to the 1885 Housewife’s Library, by George A Pelth, unless ‘the washing would thereby become crushingly heavy, the better way is to wash every napkin after one using. Dispense with the napkin-ring. It does guarantee to a man his own soiled linen; but it is far better to give him clean linen'.
In other words, the rule of thumb was - don’t use the napkin ring unless it would make ‘wash day’ crushingly heavy. What a total different perspective than today!