"Home Sweet Home",
"Forget Me Not" , "Thy Will Be Done".... mottoes were an integral
part of Victorian life. Whether printed on greeting cards, iced on
cakes or embroidered on perforated paper and hung on the wall, they
were intended to inspire the reader and promote what were considered
"proper" thoughts and behaviour. The advent of perforated paper gave
easy, inexpensive access to all who wished to proclaim their ideals,
and mottoes were available in sayings to suit any and all tastes.
Whereas the majority of motto texts relate to the Bible, other
sentiments were just as popular.
Many were printed
for mourning purposes ("We Mourn Our Loss", "Sweet Rest In Heaven")
and some were for Fraternal Groups ("Friendship Love and Truth" for
the Oddfellows and "We Meet Upon The Level" for the Masons). The
American Centennial of 1876 was celebrated ("Long May It Wave",
"United We Stand") and the Temperance Society had theirs as well
("Touch Not Taste Not Handle Not"). Quite a number were simple moral
reminders ("Honesty Is The Best Policy", "Live And Let Live") and
some were just hung up for the sake of the season ("Merry
Christmas", "Happy New Year") or to greet friends upon arrival
("Welcome", "With Joy We Greet You").
The most common
motto of all, "Home Sweet Home" was worked uncountable times in a
variety of styles and sizes and is the easiest to find today.
Apparently not just for adults, children worked these mottoes and
bookmarks as well as is evidenced by the surviving examples. "To
Dear Papa", a bookmark lovingly stitched by a child with leftover
wools and "We Mourn Our Loss", a framed motto poorly executed by
inexperienced hands, perhaps in memory of a lost parent or sibling.
Originally available in the 1820's as plain sheets used for the
making of bookmarks, perforated card-board (as it was called then)
gained in favor over the decades to become one of the most popular
craft items of the Victorian age.
Before the 1850's,
most perforated paper projects consisted of bookmarks and small
samplers with texts taken from the Bible or pictures using Berlin
Woolwork patterns. Unlike woolwork, it was not necessary to fill in
the background and no blocking or stretching was needed to finish
the work. With the invention of new printing processes together with
the popularity of the product, mottoes and bookmarks pre-printed on
the perforated paper became all the rage and by the 1870's were
desirable to the point of excess. Sometimes called the "poor woman's
samplers" because they were so inexpensive to create, few homes
escaped their appeal and examples could be found in every room of
Mottoes were printed
in 2 standard sizes, 8 1/2" x 21" and 17" x 21" but it is the former
we most often see, and although the frames styles available were
quite varied, the most often chosen was the rustic frame with the
crossed corners and wood leaves.
Bookmarks were cut
from sheets in any size needed and pre-printed bookmarks came in a
variety of sizes including ones with fancy borders or embossed
heyday, perforated paper was available in dozens of
different colors and embossed patterns and was used for
making a large variety of household items. Godey's Lady's Book, Peterson's
Magazine as well as a host of other periodicals and books of the
day regularly gave patterns for items to be made from this most
innovative product. Needle cases, wall pockets, stamp holders, hair
receivers and complicated ornaments could be fashioned from it along
with the bookmarks and mottoes as it lent itself well to both flat
and 3-dimensional crafts.
LEFT: Hair pin holder
from Godey's Lady's Book from 1878.
attempt to date old mottoes or bookmarks by the number of holes per
inch, assuming that the older the item, the higher the hole count.
This is not an accurate dating method as perforated paper was
available in counts from 10 to 28 holes per inch right from the
Books and magazines
from the 1850s recommended specific sizes depending on the project
at hand stating that the finer papers were good for small projects
to be embroidered with silks
the larger mottoes were better worked with wools. The variety of
flosses and wools that were available for the stitching of mottoes
and bookmarks was vast. Variegated wools, silk flosses, glass beads
and chenille threads were most often used and the mottoes made later
in the century often had metallic threads and bullion added to the
design. Tinfoil was another addition sometimes used to add some
sparkle to the motto; it came in pre-cut sizes and was crinkled
slightly then placed on the back of the motto before framing. The
tinfoil shone through the unworked holes of the paper when hit by
The German motto translated
says: "All Disappears, Only Love Remains" and has a large
Generally speaking, the bulk of the pre-printed
framed mottoes were stitched during the 1870s and 1880s. Not all
mottoes were in English, many different languages were represented
and they can be found in German, French, Welsh, Hebrew and Polish,
among others. As time went on, mottoes became available with
celluloid additions to be sewn on after completion. These were
usually in the form of Jesus or angels that were to be added to the
religious texts. Some celluloid additions were just for added
decoration such as sailing ships. Cameos of famous people were found
as well, such as Queen Victoria and Martin Luther.
work began to die out after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, but
kept a small following in the form of Catholic oriented mottoes,
usually the 17" x 21" size, but these too had essentially
disappeared by the 1920s. Perforated paper mottoes and bookmarks are
not rare and can be easily found in antique shops and online
auctions but can be pricey. The value is generally determined by
what the motto says, many texts are much more desirable than others
but condition is also a factor.
This "Postage Stamps"
perforated paper work piece is a rare postage stamp case
with an inner envelope to hold the stamps and dates from
Since most mottoes were framed with a wooden
backing board, the oils leaching out of the wood into the paper has
left a mark that appears to be a water stain and few mottoes have
completely escaped this disfiguring flaw. If reframing an old motto
with the original wood backing, remember to add some acid free paper
or cardboard to avoid further deterioration. Most bookmarks were
sewn onto a ribbon and kept inside a book so are usually in good
condition, but if they were well used, can show wear of the threads
or breaks in the perforations. Treasure your mottoes, not just for
their value and beauty, but also for the timeless messages they have
left us with.
AUTHOR: Diana Matthews is the author of several books about
antique handicrafts, needlework and punch, punched, and perforated