Tuesday, June 14, 2005

READERS' FEEDBACK: Antimacassars

From: Cloago@aol.com

By now, you may have gotten the answer but here's my answer for you. -- antimacassar --
n: a piece of ornamented cloth that protects the back of the chair from hair oils.
Macassar, a brand of hair oil

[From the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.]

In your reminiscences of yesteryear, canning etc., remember the curtain stretchers that had long pins all around the area where you wanted to stretch the curtains. You struggled to fit those wet fine net curtains, called glass curtains, over the pins and made sure the size you had set when you put the contraption together would be the correct size. They dried in the sunshine in a short amount of time and then you moved on to another pair of curtains.

Also the carpets were taken up and hung over the clothes line and beaten with your energy and a wire beater.
Thanks for the memories.
Clara Obern

PS. If any of your readers had ancestors struggling in the war in 1776 they should read David McCullough's book "1776." It's fantastic!

From: SusanE1113@aol.com

Greatly enjoy your communications. The doily things over the chair backs and arms are called antimacassars. The dictionary says there was an oily hair preparation imported from Macassar, hence anti-macassar, to protect the chair from the Macassar stuff. Huh! Brings to mind the commercials I remember from childhood about some hair preparation being better than "greasy kid stuff" or something. Must have been about the vintage of the Burma-Shave signs.

From: MamaBank@aol.com

If you want to protect your furniture from everyday use, this fabric headrest is just perfect. The olden day name for them is 'antimacassar', and they are machine washable & available in a choice of colours. As well as protecting your furniture, they can instantly give your room a face lift.
I think this is the word you want.
From: Roy T. Beck
The word you are thinking of is "antimacassar". These were cloth pieces (knitted, woven, etc) placed on chair arms and backs. The term macassar refers to hair oil of that name which would soil the chair backs. Macassar oil was said to have been made from ingredients obtained from Macassar, a seaport on SW Celebes, in central Indonesia. (I call them doilies.)
Keep up the good work.

From: gloriamlh@juno.com
Subject: antimacassar

Macassar was a brilliantine that men used in their hair in Victorian days. It got all over the high-backed horsehair sofas and chairs leaving a shiny greasy mark, so 'antimacassars' were used, the doilies mentioned. As you see I am not sure of the spelling but i am sure of the facts... love your columns... Trivia buff, Gloria.

From: Christine Bauman

They were named antimacassars, after a hair oil for men. Here's an article: Oddly Named Home Furnishings by LC Van Savage

From: Christine A Barnes genealogy@meovoto.co.uk

In answer to your question about the lace doilies that protect the back and arms of chairs and sofas, the word you are looking for is "antimacassar." My parents still use them and you can still buy them – at least in England! (Although not called antimacassars anymore.) I am one of your overseas readers from England and always enjoy your column. I can only picture some of the stories but love hearing readers recollections. -- Best regards, Christine.

From Bjsgen@aol.com

They have several sets of antimacassars on sale at

Those hand-crochet lace things were called antimacassars because they protected the headrest from the macassar oil that men used to put in their hair. Phyllis, too young to remember, but old enough to investigate)

From: Shirley

I finally found it in the 1917 Webster's Dictionary:
"antimacassar n. A cover to protect the back or arms of a chair, sofa, etc., from Macasser oil or other oil from the hair."

From: MzPanzie@aol.com

Macassar oil was an imported hair oil for men, way back in the day.
Macassar is a region of the island of Celebes.
When the men sat in a chair, it would leave an oily residue. No housekeeper worth her salt would allow that, the doily called anti-macassar, was invented. It kept the oil off the furniture and Mrs. Housewife happy.
PS - Never a canner, only a canner's helper.

A BIG thank-you also to Gail, Margaret, Shirley, Dunkhart@aol.com, Joleen, Cheryl, Elaine, Judy, Eugenia, Jean, Lois, Dolly, Patt, Barb, Caroline, Lupian, Judy, and 2 others whose email I deleted by mistake. It's especially wonderful to have definitions provided that included:
-- personal recollections
-- source citations (as good genealogists must practice!)
-- links to articles about amtimacassars
-- llinks to pictures of the antimacassars

You all are wonderful.
Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

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