What I (almost) Didn’t Buy – 1950s Brooke Cadwallader scarf

When I’m standing in front of a huge pile of textiles, most of which are less than five years old and were cheap junk to begin with, I can’t stop the heart from beating a little faster when I spot a silk wad like the one above.  It had that unmistakable look of vintage.  I’m not sure if it was the shades of color or the fonts of the letters or the look of the silk itself, but I just knew.

Unfortunately, pulling it out of the bin revealed the awful truth:  this scarf was trashed.

And that’s just one of the holes; there are at least fifteen of varying sizes.  So why did I throw this in the cart anyway?  Because I’m a sucker for an important designer.

Brooke Cadwallader was probably the first great American scarf designer.  He began work in the US in 1940, after three years in Paris studying painting and then opening his own studio.  But when the Germans arrived in 1940, Cadwallader assisted in the evacuation of Americans from France, and then he returned to the States to resume his business.  He opened shop in New York, and became a leader in the scarf trade.  According to a 1946 Life article, Cadwallader scarves sold for $15 to $20 each.  That means they started at about $175 in today’s dollar!

Cadwallader’s work was clean and uncluttered, a style that became so popular in the 1950s.    He used a lot of historical references, and his scarves often had the look of an antique engraving.

Until 1950, all the scarves were produced in Cadwallader’s small Manhattan workshop, so output was relatively small.  Don’t expect to find these scarves in the quanties you might expect from, say, Vera.  In fact, this is the first Cadwallader scarf I’ve ever found.

In 1950, Cadwallader moved himself and his company to Mexico, where he continued to manufactures scarves and ties.   Production ended around 1957, but was resumed in the mid 1960s.  I could not find a definite answer on when it ended.


Filed under I Didn't Buy...

51 responses to “What I (almost) Didn’t Buy – 1950s Brooke Cadwallader scarf

  1. It’s wonderful Lizzie. Shame about the damage but I’d probably have bought it too. There’s nothing like finding a rare item, especially if there’s a name on it. The colours and graphics are fab. Thanks for sharing the information.


    • The damage proves that someone loved this scarf too, too much to ever let go of it. Always think twice when deciding whether to pass something up because of an imperfection. The hole exemplifies Wabi-Sabi love, and you can learn more at the vintage handkerchief site HandkerchiefHeroes.com. The are considered heroes because they survived for decades, despite the onslaught of kleenex and other disposables that tried to replace them.


  2. It’s fabulous, and I learned a lot. Thanks!


  3. I wouldn’t have passed that up either. Hopefully you can wear it with the damage disguised.


  4. Very interesting….you seem to know a lot about those scarves. How did you get interested in them?


  5. I love it! “Tuesday – No meat Same for love”. What do the other days say?


  6. Monday – No meat, but love
    Tuesday – No meat, Same for love
    Wednesday – No meat, love always
    Thursday – No alcohol, but the intoxication of love
    Friday – No cake, but the sweetness of love
    Saturday – Restricted behavior, complete love
    Sunday – Anything goes, Love also


  7. Beautiful I have one of his scarves I will add image later nice story thanks for adding this.


  8. Have 2 scarves one with varied print on different subjects and another with show horses.
    Beautiful large sizes and all silk
    /Users/lucindashankland/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Masters/2012/03/11/20120311-204524/DSCF8563.JPG
    /Users/lucindashankland/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Masters/2012/03/11/20120311-204524/DSCF8579.JPG
    /Users/lucindashankland/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Masters/2012/03/06/20120306-212622/DSCF8373.JPG
    /Users/lucindashankland/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Masters/2012/03/06/20120306-212622/DSCF8363.JPG
    /Users/lucindashankland/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Masters/2012/03/06/20120306-212622/DSCF8361.JPG
    Hope you can see these photos!


  9. Hello and thanks for the info! While researching Brooks Cadwallader I found your blog posting. I can totally relate to your experience of your heart stopping when you find old textiles – I have built and Etsy shop of such finds. I currently have a Brooks Cadwallader that I just found at an antiques shop.
    Here is my ETSY store adress so you can check it out: http://www.etsy.com/shop/ShopHavanaBanana
    Thanks so much for the info and I will be following your blog!


  10. Janis

    Dear Friends – I have a huge collection of Brooke Cadwallader scarves that belonged to my great aunts from NYC. They are both gone now, but apparently they mailed them every year at Christmas to friends and associates. My aunts knew them because their brother, Seymour Grauer was in the rag trade – fabric designer, I believe. Will post photos if any one is interested – i need to pull them out of the stored suitcases they live in. Im a collector of many things as well, and textiles take up a lot of room when one has a lot of them. Best regards to all, Janis at carldeverter@msn.com


  11. Louise

    I have one of his large square scarves, mint condition, a map of NYC with various sites and all the boroughs


  12. Robert Allen

    Brooke Cadwallader was a cousin of mine. My mother was Anne (nee Cadwallader) Allen, I am trying to find more information about him. Do you have anymore information about him or can give me a references to find out more.


  13. Joy Anckner

    Got this partially made skirt from an estate sale jumble box. It was wadded up in a plastic bag. I had been looking for something outrageous for the lining of a raspberry colored velvet jacket I’m going to make. If I found enough of “something”, I was going to make a ruffly blouse to match the lining. This was a great find! Upon further inspection of the fabric, after washing it, I found the mark on a selvage edge. Brooke Cadwallader Hand Print “Bouffant” I believe it is silk. Now I don’t know what to do. Haven’t been able to find much of any information on line at all. Boo! Should almost frame it.


  14. Joy Anckner

    Yes! It’s really groovy. I’d say early to mid sixties.


  15. Thanks for the info, I just found a scarf today for $3 at a women’s league sale outside of Chicago. It is raspberry with Greek imagery printed in black. I am so happy to find it is something historical!


  16. Robin Johnson

    I found a Cadwallader scarf among my mothers things, but I don’t think it’s silk, about 15″ x 15″ of an angel in a boat drawn by 2 doves. It doesn’t look like any of his other designs. It feels more like a synthetic. Is there any catalog of his designs anywhere?


  17. Beth Walker

    I’ve been so curious about Cadwallader scarves and am so happy to find this blog! Years ago at a large outdoor antiques market I got four Cadwallader silk scarves for next to nothing. Three of them are the Christmas greeting ones (one has fancy wrapped gifts around the edges, one has poodles in the windows of a Brownstone and dancing all around outside, and one has Santa in the chimney and reindeer in the windows of (perhaps the same) a Brownstone that shows this address: 120 East 55 Street (home?). The fourth is the orange-y one with doves, but no message. If I can figure out how to add pics, I’ll show you mine!

    I think a catalog would be a super idea!


  18. Pingback: Luck and Brooke Cadwallader | The Vintage Traveler

  19. Lisa

    I was just going through scarves. Old and new. Came across a vintage Brooke Cadwallader and came across your post. Very interesting!


  20. Brittany

    I love Brooke’s work! I have collected roughly 25 scarves! His designs are amazing. I also have not been able to find out much information on him. Thanks for the blog!


  21. Eva Guggenheim

    I was just about to list a scarf on ebay and asked my husband if he could read the signature on one corner. It is a Brooke Cadwallader. Looked up the name and discovered your blog. My first instinct was that the scarf is from the 40’s. It features maroon roses/leaves bordering a solid pale beige or dark ivory background. About 17 x 19″. I have no idea what to charge for the scarf…it is in very good condition and is very pretty. I am a vintage clothes lover and am glad that I stumbled upon your site…


  22. I have this in my possision, and would like to know a little more about it.


  23. Pingback: Brief History of Brooke Cadwallader and One Special Dress » Bloomers and Frocks

  24. Sara Wilder

    This is great! I just found a Cadwallader scarf at Goodwill today for $2.99! It’s clearly vintage and i googled the name i found in the corner. Imagine my suprise to learn what a treasure I’d found! It’s got a much more complex print than alot of these others, and on google I’ve only seen one remotely like it. It looks like a whole scene of peasents farming, and lords hunting, the manor house is there, it’s really fantastic, all in brown tones with a red border with stars. I would love it if anyone could help me pin down a date or something for when it might have been made!


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