Marking on 18th Century Garments and Bedlinens

Last updated: March 31, 2024

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.

The 1795 Rules and Regulations for the Cavalry, in a section on the Inspection and Care of Necessaries, likewise insists “the ſhirts are marked with the initials of the man’s name. The men muſt ſhew every individual article of their neceſſaries; and if a man has diſpoſed of any thing, the utmoſt pains muſt be taken to diſcover the buyer, as he is liable to a ſevere penalty according to the Articles of War, which muſt always be levied in order to prevent ſuch pernicious practices.”

Men’s Shirts

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked shirts in the trials of John Haselgrove 1764, William Bond & William Ellis 1764, Mary Pittaway 1774, Mary Wellbrand 1774, George Duffey 1780, William Horton 1784, John Edwards & William Edsell 1787, James Wilkinson 1788, Mary Vernon 1789, and Robert Wallis & Thomas Kirk 1792.

Men’s Stocks


The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked handkerchiefs in the trials of George Morley & Richard Handby 1774, John Dowdy 1775, William Davis & Richard Oldgate 1777, Michael White 1780, John Knowles & John May 1782, William Jones 1787, Robert Attrill 1788, George Bowyer 1790, Mary Ann Osborne 1794.


The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked stockings in the trials of Ann Thomas et al. 1758, John Booker 1780, Benjamin Bowsey 1780, John Jones 1781, Anthony Eokart 1782, Elizabeth Pudding 1789, and Mary Davis 1793.

Women’s Shifts

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked shifts in the trials of Elizabeth Mason & Mary Robinson, 1696, Richard Marshall et al. 1732, Ann Davis 1745, Elizabeth Taylor 1747, Ann Burger 1756, Sarah Metyard & Sarah Morgan Metyard 1762, John Taylor & Mary Ayres 1766, Joseph Smith 1773 and Anthony Eokart 1782, William Horton 1784, John Weatherhead & Michael Shields 1789.

Women’s Aprons

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked aprons in the trials of Elizabeth Taylor 1747

Women’s Pockets

Bed sheets

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked sheets in the trials of Thomas Stapleton et al. 1768 and William Burke & Sarah Burke 1797.


The Proceedings of the Old Bailey describes marked pillowcases in the trials of Anthony Coleman 1787 and Elizabeth Bates 1792.

Bed quilts


(The trials of William Horton 1784 and Elizabeth Allen & Frances Smith 1794 describe marks on tablecloths.)


Other stuff

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