Embroidered Watch Paper

Late 18th century embroidered watch paper. Late 18th century embroidered watch paper. © Trustees of the British Museum, acc. no. 1958,1006.2549.

In mid-eighteenth century Northern Europe and North America, it was not uncommon for a small, circular shape of cloth (c. five cm in diameter), sometimes mounted on a piece of card, to be placed between a watch case and a pocket watch in order to protect the watch glass.

At some point these cloth circles were embroidered. This was perhaps initially done by (female) members of the watch owner's family, and later by professional embroiderers.

There is a folded page at the beginning of the Lady’s Magazine (London; November 1780 issue), in which it is stated “This Number is embellished with the Copper-Plates, viz. – No. 1 Neat and elegant Patterns for Watch-Papers.” There are six patterns of lacy flower designs, some with scalloped edges.

Dorothea Spear (1951, p. 300) in her article about American watch papers, refers to a valentine watch paper dating to the 1790's, which was crocheted in very fine linen thread. By the end of the eighteenth century, printed watch papers, with mottos, advertisements, dates when a watch had been repaired, and so forth, became widely used and the embroidered watch papers gradually vanished. It is worth noting that Barbara Morris in her detailed study of Victorian Needlework (1962) refers to watch pockets (for storing a watch), but not to watch papers. It would appear that embroidered watch papers were simply no longer popular in the nineteenth century.

The British Museum, London, has a large collection of clocks, prints and related items, including over two thousand watch papers, of which twelve are embroidered. The collection original belonged to Courtenay Adrian Ilbert (1888-1956) and was acquired, via Gilbert H. Edgar, CBE, by the British Museum in 1958. The example shown here is made of linen with silk embroidery. It has the inscription “Love the Giver” worked inside a simple wreath of flowers and leaves. It is worked in buttonhole stitch, chain stitch and satin stitch. The cloth is about five cm in diameter and mounted on card. The embroidered centre was first worked, then the ground material was attached to the card. The next stage was to embroider the edge of the circle with buttonhole stitch, making sure the stitches went through both the ground material and the card.

Many embroidered watch papers, like this one, have scalloped edges. Other embroidered papers in the British Museum collection have birds, flowers of various types, initials, inscriptions (such as “An orphans gift”), as well as scenes of a woman standing next to a Classical style funeral urn and ruins with willow trees.

The use of watch papers with hand written mottos is a sub-theme in The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge (1989).


British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 17 June 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 12 August 2020 10:19