Marking on 18th Century Garments and Bedlinens

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Certain garments and linens were marked – often embroidered with cross-stitched initials, numbers, and/or symbols, generally in silk. There were a few different styles of alphabets in use; a charted alphabet appears in The Instructor: or, The Young Man's Beſt Companion.

While this would have simplified large-scale household management and organization considerably, helping ensure that the right linens went to the right person, marking was also useful in a military context. According to Cuthbertson's System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry:

To prevent as much as poſſible, the leaſt embezzlement of the neceſſaries, with which a Soldier is provided, and to give a greater chance for the diſcovery of thefts, all their linen articles should have the name of the owner, with the number of the Regiment and Company he belongs to, marked with a mixture of vermilion and nut-oil, which when perfectly dried can never be waſhed out: under the ſlit of the boſom of the shirt, will be found the moſt convenient place, as at the weekly inſpection of neceſſaries, an Officer can eaſily examine, if the ſhirts at that time worn by the Soldiers are their own: ſome mark ſhould alſo be fixed upon the woolen Stockings and the Shoes, otherwiſe an officer will find himſelf expoſed to numberlſs impoſitions, from the irregularity of particular Soldiers, and their unconquerable deſire for drink, which tempts them frequently to exchange and pledge their neceſſaries, if not prevented, by every precaution in the power of an Officer to invent.

Men’s Shirts

Men’s Stocks



Women’s Shifts

Women’s Aprons

Women’s Handkerchiefs

Women’s Pockets

Bed sheets

Bed quilts



Other stuff

  • MFA 45.642, a large drawstring bag, American, late 18th century to early 19th century