Q: I own an interesting tattered, trimmed and mended scarf about 23 inches square. The design on it is printed in red and white and includes portraits of French government officials. The title in a banner at the top says, “Fourth Year of the French Republic 1795, Dresses of the Representatives of the People.” Another banner at the bottom says, “Members of the Two Councils and of the Executive Directory: also of the Ministers, Judges, Messengers, Ushers and Other Public Officers.” My uncle is supposed to have brought this back from France after World War I. But why is it in English? And was it made for tourists?
A: Your antique textile probably dates from much earlier than World War I. It is copied from a print published in a 1796 book with the same title as your textile. The book was published in France first, but it was soon translated into English and published in London. It shows the proper dress of government officials in the French republic. This was the era of the French Revolution, and people in England were curious about what was going on in France. It is likely the English were amused by some of the clothes shown in the print, too, because many of the officials were expected to wear uniforms that look like Roman togas. If your textile were in tiptop shape, it could be very valuable. As it is, it might be best to donate it to a historical society.