Dating vintage bandanas accurately is NOT easy. I’ve been collecting, using & selling bandanas for years but am still a newbie compared to other collectors. There are no guides or consistent clues to their age that I’ve been able to figure out. If you’re lucky enough to find an Elephant brand bandana, you can make guesses about it’s age depending on the trunk being up or down but otherwise you’re on your own.
I’ll start with the most important bit of info. If you’re in a hurry this is all you really need to read. photo of both next to each other in the same pix.
WPL = 1940-1959, RN means the bandana CAN’T be older than 1959
WPL- 1941-1959- A WPL number doesn’t mean the bandana itself is that old; it means that the company registered a number with the USPTO before 1959. WPL numbers began at #00101 and ended with #13669. I think Levis is the only company that could still be using WPLs on modern bandanas but don’t quote me, lol.
RN- all RN’s or registered numbers are from 1959 or later. It’s a simple fact… the first RN issued in 1959 was 13670- so any RN from 13670 and larger means that THE BANDANA ITSELF can’t be older than 1959. The company may be older but that number system didn’t yet exist.
To search the FTC records yourself, go to — https://rn.ftc.gov/Account/BasicSearch
If you notice, most vintage Elephant brand bandanas don’t have RN’s or WPL numbers. But while doing research on this brand I discovered a RN on an Elephant brand paper label online… looks like either 19360 or 19380. That may mean the company that owned rights to the original Elephant brand had finally obtained a RN from the USPTO and was now marking the number on their products.
WPL 423 is the Levi’s code, registered under the Wool Products Labeling act.
WPL 9939- registered to Victor Handal & Bros- the tan bandana several photos back shows this. I’ll add a better picture when I have one.
Double selvedge bandanas
A 2 or double selvedge bandana is generally either VERY old OR is not from the USA. The fabric itself was woven on an very narrow loom. Actually most true vintage/antique fabric in general is narrower than what’s available today. Widths of 36” or less for cotton, rayon and silk was the norm well into the late 50s-early 60s. US mills went to wider looms in the 60s, selling their narrow looms overseas or destroying them.
Bandanas that have narrow turned hems are usually (but not always) older than ones with machine overcast edges. Overcast or serged edges were being done on bandanas, scarves and handkerchiefs as early as the 1950s.
Turkey red bandana
Turkey red (from my sold bandanas) refers to the country, not the bird. 🙂 A true turkey red color (you know it if you see it) usually means the bandana is from the 20s or earlier.
Color fast, fast color, etc
Fast Color, Color Fast, Colorfast or Wash Fast refers to the stability of the dye. Many early dyes weren’t ‘stable’ and could bleed or run, turning a load of wash either pink or baby blue. That must have been a common problem and the reason it’s a selling point when they perfected new dyes that stayed on the fabric as intended.
The cotton fabric used on authentic vintage bandanas has a different ‘hand’ or feel than modern replicas. Original bandana cotton fabric was Cambric or another even-weave cotton. Some bandanas or scarves are marked as 100% baumwolle. That a European word for cotton. Bandanas began being a mix of polyester and cotton in the 80s when they began to be sold as craft items.
Dye or print techniques
Vintage or antique 2 color blue/white and red/white designs are often referred to as ‘discharge prints’. This meant that instead of printing or applying a design motif with ink onto the surface of the fabric, the bandana or fabric would be dyed the finished color and then screen printed with a color-removing agent that removed (bleached) the original dye leaving a white design.
White dots along edges
The white dots seen along the edge near the sewn hems on some vintage bandanas were printed as cutting lines. Originally weaving looms were quite narrow. I once sold a piece of antique calico cotton (pre-1900) that measured a mere 18”- 22” wide. That’s why some antique bandanas or scarves have 2 woven edges or selvedges. So an antique bandana or handkerchief. could easily be 22” wide with just 2 sewn hems. Remember that these were originally meant as handkerchiefs and not expected to be worn on a person’s head.
Eventually wider looms were built, weaving fabric from 32” to 36” wide and later from 44” to 48”. This would still allow for 2 handkerchiefs to be cut side by side from one length of fabric, each with a one selvedge or woven edge. The white dots were an easy way to see cutting lines to separate each bandana without measuring first. Two bandanas would fit onto one width of fabric. Some fabric like this was sold to home consumers to sew their own bandanas at home. (I had a piece like this and made my husband some dandy bandana handkerchiefs. Narrow hems are a pain to sew with a regular machine!)
Link to blue & white fabric roller printed in 1910 by the American Printing company- public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roller_printing_on_textiles#/media/File:Apc-cloth-indigo-bw.jpg
Finally, Elephant brand bandanas
Elephant bandanas- Davis & Catterall Elephant brand bandanas are said to have begun production in the 1920s continuing into the 1970s. The elephant’s trunk faced downwards until sometime in the 1950s when the trunk switched and pointed upward. I’ve heard that it was to make the brand easier to identify; the trunk down was sorta hard to make out amongst the legs sometimes but it was still obviously an elephant. Whatever; it’s interesting lore, right?
I haven’t owned an elephant bandana with a RN yet. I found an image of a Elephant brand paper bandana wrapper with a RN but I can’t read the actual numbers. What’s sorta interesting is the contemporary bandannas found on the Walmart & Amazon websites claiming to be THE Elephant brand bandana makers since the late 1800s. It clearly shows RN 13962… I’d be curious to hear how this makes sense. Maybe they own the licensing but that still doesn’t make their new bandanas vintage. Damn, I’m on my soapbox again, lol!
Various bandana brand info
Tiger brand, Camel, other makers marks? I know there’s a pot leaf version but haven’t seen it in person.
Ironweave bandanas were sold at Sears & Roebuck Co. (I found them listed for sale in a 1930s Sears catalog)
Tuside (or Duplex?) This refers to roller printing technique where the textile ink is applied to BOTH sides of the fabric. One of the machines is called the Duplex or Reversible machine.
Tower- 13960 I have NO IDEA where these were sold these but since companies are notorious copycats I assume that at least 2 of the mystery RNs are Montgomery Wards and Penneys. Don’t quote me on that- it’s just a theory. There’s no brand mentioned for the bandanas shown in my 1940s Wards catalog or my 1955 ?? mail order catalog.
Hercules- I just found this nifty Hercules bandana in my stash. Hercules was a brand of mens work wear so it makes sense they had their own bandanas as well.
Key bandana- same as the Hercules except the brand is still active.
Osh Kosh b’ Gosh; a classic polka dotted bandana in either red or blue. Here’s my previous blog post about 3 Osh Kosh bandanas. At some point they stopped saying ‘union made’.
This is a WIP or work in progress; I’ve been waiting until it was perfectly finished before hitting the ‘publish’ button but decided almost done was okay. I’ll add more info and pictures when I have more to say. Thanks for reading!