Vera Neumann, Telling New from Old

It always saddens me to find out that the old archives of some of our most famous clothing and textiles companies just disappeared or were thrown out then a company was sold or closed operations.  In some cases, like White Stag, the families have kept things they felt were historically or nostalgically important, and some companies, like Sills Leathers (who made some of the best Bonnie Cashin things) donated their archives to museums.  In so many cases though, everything went to the landfill.

But a success story in the archives department is the Vera Companies.  Vera Neumann sold her company to Manhattan Industries after her husband’s death in the late 1960s, and in 1999 the company was bought by The Tog Shop, a company located in Georgia.  With the purchase came the original paintings, drawings and collages by Vera Neumann that were adapted for the designs of Vera products.  The Tog Shop company stored the archives in a warehouse, where they were “discovered” by a prospective employee, Susan Seid.  She took the job at The Tog Shop with the understanding that she could relaunch the Vera line once the company’s finances improves.  As luck would have it, Susan actually bought the Vera Company in 2005, and since then has worked to get the designs of Vera back onto products.

And she has done a good job of it.  Clothing sporting Vera art are made and marketed through the Anthropologie stores.  They also sell rugs and upholstered furniture that have Vera fabrics.   Seid has also been successful in getting many of Vera’s designs for linens reproduced.  Bardwill Linens has been making tablecloths, placemats, napkins  and kitchen towels.  Some of the designs appear to be adaptations of famous Vera artwork, like the butterfly scarf, but others are the original design as it was first manufactured by the Vera Company in the 1960s or 70s.

And that brings me to today’s topic:  How can one be sure they are buying vintage Vera, and not new?  It’s a problem I’d had in the back of my mind since someone (Becca??) mentioned she saw Vera linens at one of the close-out stores.  I have nothing at all against the new items, it’s just I don’t want to be paying vintage prices for something I can pick up at TJ Maxx for $4.

Last week I did something I rarely do – I went shopping in a non-resale store.  We were in a dire need of bath towels, one of the things I feel must be bought new.  My search for towels made in the USA took me to several stores, and I ended up in Tuesday Morning, where I found not made in the USA towels, but a nice selection of the new Vera products.  Though they are made in China, I bought several tea towels for research purposes.

The towel on the left was bought because I have the vintage  version of it, and so I could make a very good study of the differences.  The watermelon one (well, to be completely truthful, I bought two of these) I got because they will go so well with the vintage watermelon cocktail napkins I have.

Above I have the old and the new side by side, and the differences in size and color are pretty obvious.  The Vera Company often made their items in more than one colorway, but I’m thinking that the new towel, on the right, is just an up-dated color scheme.  Not only is the green brightened up, but the orange is toned down, as is the yellow.   And the light orange is now a red.

The new towels are wider than the old.  The new ones are about 20 inches wide, where as the vintage ones are closer to 16 inches.  The designs are exactly the same, size-wise.

There is a pretty big difference in the fabric.  The vintage towels are 100% linen, and the new ones are a 55% cotton, 45% linen blend.  Note also the difference in the texture, with the older towel being woven with larger, thicker threads.  The vintage towel is quite soft, but even after washing, the new one is quite stiff due to the paint used  in the printing process.

Here are the labels and the signatures.  The vintage towel does not have a ladybug, though I do have vintage Vera towels with a bug.  And the label in the new towel is very shiny and new looking, whereas the vintage towel has a small cotton tag (not shown).

Here is a close-up with the vintage towel on the left and the new one on the right.  As you can see, some of the detailing is omitted.  Also, I’m sure this will lessen with repeated washings, but the new towels are slightly shiny.

They also had this set of cocktail napkins.  Yes, I was tempted, but I decided to wait and see if I could find the vintage version.  Since these are sneaky in-store  snaps, I don’t show the details like I should have.   These are 100% cotton, whereas my pink vintage ones are linen.  The big difference that I noticed was in the overcast hemming.  On the new napkins, the stitching seemed to be made with a shiny synthetic thread, whereas the vintage thread is matte, and is not as thick.  The vintage edging:

Still, $10 is a great price if you don’t mind that these are new.  I really do love them! Still,  I am concerned that these will find their way into the vintage market.  Hopefully we won’t get fooled!

And I never did find any towels that are USA made.  Are there any companies still making towels and linens in the USA?  I had to settle for the luxury towels, made in Portugal.

35 Comments

Filed under Collecting

35 responses to “Vera Neumann, Telling New from Old

  1. Lizzie- I recently saw the new Vera tea towels in Homegoods here in PA and picked up a set for myself as well as my sister, at $1.99 ea I could not pass them up! Thank you for the side by side comparison, I know from folding these new ones and placing them in the drawer along with my vintage dish towels that I use every day that they are much stiffer and at this moment less absorbent than the older versions. Hopefully with washing and use they’ll be handy.

    Now I just might have to swing by our local Tuesday Morning for some cocktail napkins as well. I’ll see if they have anything else in stock as well. And I know what you mean about the non-resale shopping – I only do it by necessity, and always feel like I’m entering a strange world when I walk into a shore filled with new things 🙂

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  2. Em

    Ha, ha, ha, I feel the same way when I walk into a store with new things–when I do though, I like the TJMaxx type because it feels like a more familiar odds & ends, never know what you might find, rather than a department stores filled with multiple sizes of the same, bland 3 outfits. Thank you so much for this informative post–as always I learned so much. I think any time things are reissued, some sneakies either through not knowing or overt deceit put new things as vintage. It happened quite a bit with green jadite a few years back. Don’t mind new if it’s artfully crafted using the original molds and methods, but don’t want to pay vintage prices for something you can get cheaper and often on sale.

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    • You know, a lot of the reproductions I see being sold as the real deal are from people who just do not know the difference. I know I’m easily fooled unless it is something I really know, like textiles or vintage Christmas decorations.

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  3. Informative post- thanks so much for the comments on your research and the history. I have had a few original Vera items pass through my shop and have an apron listed at the moment. Great info!

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  4. Diane Gibson

    Check out the prices on e-bay – and called “vintage” with no mention they are new-ish.

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  5. Sheri

    I have some Vera placemats and napkins with matching apron in a cherry print-does anyone know the name of this print? I can’t find anything on the internet.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your research. I still have a Vera scarf that was a Christmas gift to me in the early 70s, so I can vouch for its authencity. I didn’t realize Vera was a sought after collectible when I came across 4 linen Vera napkins at a thrift shop this week! I just recognized thenlogonfrom my scarf. I grabbed them up for a cool $2 just because i thought they were cool. They appear vintage, but unused; they are boldly floral of course and the colors and two shades of blue, medium brown with dark brown and black outlines. Upon closer inspection Im thinking they are indeed vintage. They have what seem to be “old” and perhaps original fold lines. The logo has the ladybug and copyright. For $2, I am OK regardless, I just wish I could be certain. It is the color palette that gives me pause.

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  7. Chances are they are vintage. Look closely at the edging. In a vintage napkin the thread will not be shiny. They sound like beautiful napkins!

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  8. Pingback: Little Vera Neumann Cocktail Book | The Vintage Traveler

  9. Lindy Navin

    I am so glad to see this! I want new towels for my bathroom and I would love to find some by Vera. When I started college in Sep 72, I had picked out Vera towels and sheets. They were a beautiful blue with big butterflies. I wish I could find some but have been unsuccessful.

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    • Lindy, Check out Macy’s online for your big blue butterfly towels: Vera Bath Towels, Flights of Fancy 27″ x 50″ Bath Towels. They are on closeout for $14.97. I just found them while I was looking for tablecloths.

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  10. Lindy, Check out Macy’s online for your big blue butterfly towels: Vera Bath Towels, Flights of Fancy 27″ x 50″ Bath Towels. They are on closeout
    for $14.97. I just found them while I was looking for tablecloths.

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  11. Jacquie Y

    I just found this towel you were comparing today at Goodwill! I believe I have the original from your post and pics. I am soo happy, I think I will frame it …you don’t see these much… I even looked around for more..no luck, but I feel blessed to find this one. The colors are bright and beautiful!

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  12. Gloria Dorsch

    I recently found what I believe to be a vintage Vera round tablecloth which is done in brown and white trees. There are what I think are two or three Veras written in the trees. I love this tablecloth whether it is new or vintage and would buy more if I could find them in my size 58 or 60 inch round

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  13. Janie

    Very helpful post. I deal in vintage linens and don’t want to misrepresent anything. I took notes. Thanks.

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  14. cindy

    I was going through my grandmothers attic and found a box of scarves of vera that date back to the sixties,along with some other names. you just never know

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  15. I believe the new stuff has a registered trademark symbol, while the vintage has a copyright symbol.

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  16. Mae Mccomb

    My mother in law came across a vintage Vera tablecloth and I was wondering if you had any advice about how to figure out it’s price value??

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  17. Dale

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve recently gotten obsessed with vintage tea towels and am so glad to have run across your post. It was extremely informative! I too prefer vintage but am not opposed to reproduction as long as I KNOW what the differences are and I choose to get reproduction. I would not want to be duped. I’m going to remember the tips you offered, especially the size thing as that would be a dead giveaway! Now I think I’ll run up to my local Tuesday Morning just to see what they’ve got! 🙂

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  18. I know that it’s way late .. since the last post was made here in 2015, but I was just googling for the VERA brand and found this site.

    I used to collect Vera women’s tops in the 70s. Mine were mostly black and white, long sleeved and they hung below the hips (to wear over skirts or pants).

    I also collected her bath towels and sheet sets .. these were white background with daisies outlined in soft gray, with yellow centers, green stems and a few leaves. They were splashed all over the white background. Just stunning.

    Still kicking myself for giving all of the blouses away when I was tired of them. Gave the king-sized sheets away when I went back to a double bed. Silly me?

    Love this site! — Janet

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  19. Sun~Rose

    I, too, an very late to this conversation. What got me going on vintage Vera and Jay Yang was not wanting to have anyone sleeping and wearing gmo cotton perhaps sprayed by roundup ready. Nor do I want to support an industry that has devastated farmers and their families in what we think of as third-world countries.

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  20. Angel

    Way late to the conversation, but I found it very helpful. Thank you! What do you think about the use of the copyright symbol after Vera’s signature? Was that common on the original pieces? Or is that only on the reproductions? Thanks!

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  21. Melody

    I found a Vera tablecloth, but it didn’t have the 🐞 next to her name. What does that mean?

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  22. I’m not sure it means anything in particular. Most tablecloths I’ve seen do have the ladybug.

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  23. Donna Gill

    Thank u ,I enjoyed reading this article. I really love vintage linens. I do have one Vera tablecloth from my childhood .

    Like

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