Mangle boards are examples of a type of object given by young men to their sweethearts as love tokens. Often, a bride would be presented with one on her wedding day. Many are carved with the initials of the bride or those of both the bride and groom, and perhaps a heart, the date or year of the marriage and decorative motifs. Some may have been carved by the young man himself, others were probably made by a craftsman skilled in wood carving, perhaps to a design requested by the groom.
As well as being gifts, mangle boards were also very useful. Young housewives would use their mangle boards to smooth the linen after it had been laundered and partially dried. The woman would fold the cloth and roll it around a rolling pin. She would then place the pin from left to right on a table in front of her, and then she would place the mangle board at right angles to the pin. With the handle immediately in front of her, she would lean her weight onto the handle and then push the board backwards and forwards across the rolling pin. She would have to lift the board several times and move it across the pin to repeat the process in order to cover the whole cloth.
Mangle boards were made in the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Germany until the 19th century when they were replaced by flat irons. They were made almost invariably of wood, either birch, pine, beech or oak. Centuries ago, the ancient Romans may have used something technically similar, but the earliest known example is from the Netherlands--now in the collection of the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen. It is inscribed with the date 1544.
The Horniman has more than 20 mangle boards in its collections, including three currently on display in the World Gallery. One very unusual example from the Netherlands is made of whale bone, perhaps brought back to Europe by someone serving in the navy (object 4253). Another, from Norway, is carved with the design of a heart, the date 1781 and the initials MBD (object 30.9.65/5a). A third, given to the Museum by Estelle Fuller, who described it as a lover’s gift, is from Iceland (object 30.9.65/7). Of a characteristic Icelandic design with the end raised as if in the gesture of a hand taking an oath, it is covered with carving, including the date 1688.
Quick, Richard, 1904, ‘Norwegian Hang-Mangles’ in 'The Reliquary' Vol. 10, pp.113 - 123.
Raymond, J. 2015. Mangle Boards of Northern Europe. East Stroudsburg|: Streamline Press. ISBN: 9780578158037.