TP asked me last week what my thinking was on monograms and where one ought to find them. In truth, my thinking on monograms has been pretty much limited to my family experience. In which, as TP said, towels yes, sheets yes, jewelry yes, personal items like mirrors and brushes, yes, silver yes, needlepoint yes, clothes no, accessories no. But that’s just my family, and I have never paid attention to the wider trend. So I did a little Internet research. I confess, I did not find the academic article on the history and cultural anthropology of monograms in America that I was looking for. It may be out there. Perhaps it is yet to be written.
Here’s what I did find. Almost everyone agrees, although without a lot of supporting data, that monograms were first seen on coins to mark the reign of Greek and Roman rulers. Almost everyone agrees, although again without much supporting data, that the next wave of monograms was caused by the rise of middle class artisans in Europe’s medieval era wanting to mark their work. Other things come randomly to mind. Clearly the family crests, heraldic symbols and tartans of European feudal lords were monograms of a sort, with symbols in place of letters, in an era where literacy was hardly universal.
It appears that, subsequently, the Victorians (1837-1901) went monogram crazy. Monograms were first used so as not to lose linens in the wash, but eventually showed up on decorative and personal items like lockets and silver. And ivory mirrors. It is not coincidental that Louis Vuitton first monogrammed, or logoed, the leather goods of his family firm in 1876. It is possible that Victorian class anxiety contributed to the proliferation of monograms. This is of course pure speculation on my part.
One might say that the monogram and its family symbolism cohorts have at times served to mark power, at times to mark skills, at times to mark ownership, at times to mark status, at times to signal family belonging, and occasionally, as an instance of the human urge to embellish and decorate. We like to make things look pretty. We like to make identities for ourselves. We like to signal who we are. However we got there.
and others, but they all said the same thing:).