Napkin rings first appeared in France about 1800 and their use soon spread to other countries. In a proper middle-class family, cloth napkins were used for an entire week between washdays, with each family member keeping their same napkin. Each ring had a different mark or design to identify whose napkin it held.
Soon napkin rings became more ornate and included decorative figures. These figural napkin rings were at the height of popularity from about 1870 to 1900. Hundreds of different designs were made before the custom faded. Most 19th-century examples were silver plate and hundreds of shapes were made. Popular figures included dogs, cats, squirrels, rabbits, cupids, children, wild animals, birds and others. Original Victorian-era silver napkin rings are hard to find but bring good prices (hundreds to even thousands of dollars). Rare sterling silver rings are the most expensive.
Experienced collectors can spot the differences between originals and reproductions. Most figural silver plate napkin ring reproductions are not as well made as Victorian originals and are heavier than old rings. But it can be tricky to tell the difference.
Savvy collectors watch for a few other clues:
The silver-plated figural napkin rings pictured here are reproductions of Victorian originals.