A Game of Stealing Spoons: 1892

THE LATEST FAD.

The Way Some Boston Girls Are Amusing Themselves

The Spoon Question at the Tremont Theatre, and Its Explanation—Pretty Girls and an Unpretty Game—How One Girl Plays It—Dilemma for the Hotel Men.

To the Editor of the Herald: It chanced one day not so very long ago that I saw the nervous and energetic business manager of the Tremont Theatre in a more nervous and energetic mood than usual. It was hot; the board of health, he thought, was not doing everything it might to make Boston a model city in summer, and he was suffering from both causes. On this occasion neither cause was, however, the mainspring of his complaint. It was not his own grievances that were weighting upon him as heavy as Atlas’ burden; it was righteous indignation against a public’s ingratitude.

“Think of it,” he ejaculated hoarsely, thrusting his chin forward, and emphasizing his words with his thin, nervous hand, “we give them the best kind of a summer show; we give them mighty good music out here between the acts; we give them ice cream, gratis—and good ice cream, too—and what do they do in return? I’ll tell you just what they do; some of them carry off the spoons; that’s what they do.”
The idea was so deliciously ludicrous that one could not help laughing. What in the world they could do with such useful spoons, perfectly appropriate to their purpose, but hardly desirable for private establishments or domestic pride, puzzled me.

It puzzles me no longer.

The explanation came in the oddest way, but it was absolutely convincing.

A few evenings later I was calling on some stay-in-town people. There were several young people in the room—pretty girls most of them. A popular actress was of the party, and in a very amusing way she was relating

What She Called her Cheek

In taking a party of four down to see “Puritania” one evening and telling with much laughter how the entire party marched out between the acts and partook of free ice cream. “We were determined,” she said, “to take in the entire show, but I must confess that it was not unalloyed pleasure to me. I for one felt that it was a rather large ‘deadhead’ contingent to eat at the courtesy of the house. You ought to have seen the way I bolted the cream. I was in mortal agony for fear Mr. Childs would come along and see the performance. I suppose we were welcome enough, but it did seem to me like ‘crowding the mourners’ a bit.”

Just as the laugh went round the young hostess spoke up: “I say, dear, there was only one thing needed to make that affair simply magnificent. You ought to have stolen the spoons. That would have completed the thing in great shape.”

Supposing that they had heard the statement of “spoon lifting,” just as I had, I mentioned the fact and my inability to account for such appropriating of valueless things. A shout of laughter greeted my seriousness. The young girl of the house rose from her low seat, dropped me a curtsey, and pirouetting across the room, took from a table in plain sight a tray of filigree silver, and with a laugh and another low curtsey presented it to me. On it reposed nearly two dozen indifferent looking spoons, mostly after dinner coffees. I looked from the tray to my hostess. In answer to my amazed glance—for the spoons were not to be confounded with the souvenir fad—she began telling the spoons off in her hands. “Parker House, “ “Tremont House,” “Young’s,” “The Victoria,” “Grand Hotel,” “Langham,” and so on, until I had seen stamped on the back of a series of plated spoons the name of almost every hotel and restaurant in town.

“That,” she cried in triumph, with a wave of her hand, “is my collection of hotel spoons, and I flatter myself that it would be hard to beat it.”

So this is the latest “fad” of the collector. Society girls are making collections of hotel spoons, and the most remarkable feature of the fad is that the spoons are collected surreptitiously, and the collectors take the greatest possible pride in the number they can exhibit. The modus operandi seems to be to get a young man to do the collecting. Of course, it costs more to get the spoons in this way than it would to buy them, but they are only valuable because they are secured irregularly. Usually two or three young people go in for a lunch, which always ends with coffee. Then the sport begins, and much of the maneuvering to “collect’ the spoon and get away before the waiter notes or suspects its loss is said to be very funny. Up to date it is thought that the waiters have

Not Got on to the Game.

There is said to be as much excitement in it as if it were a game of chance, as so many of the girls find much difficulty in avoiding an attack of hysterical giggling, and spoiling the whole thing.

There is one Boston girl who will have no spoon in her collection which she has not collected herself, and she has one of the largest exhibits of her success of any one in her set. Her method is all her own. It is warm weather. She wears her summer gowns cut V-shaped in front. During the coffee drinking she casually drops her spoon her lap, and as carelessly covers it with her napkin. When she wipes her mouth she manages to drop the spoon down her neck, if you please. Why she does not put it in her pocket is a mystery. It would be simpler, but I suppose it would not be so exciting, certainly not so startling, so bizarre—or, possibly, she does not have a pocket.

This new “fad”—that is exactly what these girls call it—admits of strange possibilities, if it should become an epidemic, as fads are always liable to do. I found myself on my way home that night calculating—if I know five girls who are collecting (let us be gentle for the moment and avoid the real verb), there are liable to be 50 who have taken it up. If 50, why not 500? If 500 take to making such collections, what will the hotel man do then, poor thing? Who can say where this collecting will stop? Why not collect china, too? From ages there have been jokes about the men who jauntily carried off the napkins in their pockets, and women who helped themselves to hotel towels. It may be that the jibes at them were all unjust. May not they, too have been “collecting.” May not the discredit that has fallen on the man who helps himself to overcoats in front halls be unfair? Why should not a man make collections of overcoats whose sole value should lie in the fact that they do not belong to him? Why not make collections of furniture? Smuggling it out of hotels by private messengers would, it seems to me, make a very exciting game, and tax the ingenuity of the collector; it would require as much calculation as playing chess or cracking a crib. So much the better.

Seriously, the lack of moral conscience shown by young people today is in too many instances startling. It is dangerous to generalize, of course, but such facts as these are far from amusing. Doubtless this new fad originated with some young collegian whose animal spirits got away with him, and a deed which of itself is absolutely a crime—for wrong is a matter of quality, not quantity—loses on a safe acquaintance its real status. This was proved to my satisfaction on the evening in question. A girl, who when she was first told of this latest fad was shocked, became so infatuated before the evening was over that she was prepared to start a collection of her own.

Now these girls were well brought up. I doubt, if they were hungry, if it would occur to them to steal food, or if it did occur to them if they would have the nerve to do it. Yet with full pockets they make a

Game of Stealing Spoons.

Whose only value arises from the dishonest manner in which they have been acquired. Not one of them thought of the wrong in the deed. They thought only of the fun.

If a poor girl in  the South Cove, having nothing except desires for a possession she might never hope to secure, were to steal a 25-cent trinket, she would get marched off to the station house. The case may not look exactly parallel. It is not. All the excuses are on the side of South Cove.

It would be very entertaining to know what the waiters think of the little society game. Perhaps they have not got on to it yet; perhaps they are still rated for the loss of the spoons; perhaps they are charged with them. When admirers of women assert that the feminine nature is singularly lacking in moral sense, it is customary for gallantry to loudly deny the impeachment, but do not the times give proof of their lack of principle?

What would happen if some irate hotel keeper, totally lacking in a sense of humor—and there be such men keeping public houses right here in Boston—were to make an example of a collector?

What would happen?

Well, probably the judge would look upon it as a good joke, and if the court room was in a good humor the laugh would go round. For all that the notoriety would not be desirable.

Perhaps the business manager of the Tremont may feel differently when he knows that the public that eats ice cream is not stealing the spoons, but “collecting” them. It may comfort his indignation to know that nothing so vulgar as stealing is going on in that fashionable playhouse, but that a new game of help yourself is being played by self-considered respectable people. And then, again, perhaps he won’t see the joke.

In the meantime it may not be without its compensations. I heard one woman remark to another in the horse cars: “I am going to ‘Puritania’ again Monday. I want to see them steal the ice cream spoons.”

Boston [MA] Herald 31 July 1892: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes to make it clear that she is merely reporting on a shocking moral trend; not advocating it. Such light-hearted theft should not go unchecked. Giggling amateurs do not realise that they make it more difficult for hard-working, professional criminals to ply their trade.

It is Mrs Daffodil’s understanding that hotels have much the same problem with towels, robes, ash-trays, and other amenities that find their way into guests’ suit-cases. Some shrug and accept the losses. Others post notices that pilfered items will be added to the bill.  Still others, resourcefully, have taken to selling souvenir amenities. As the young ladies might say, “Where’s the fun in that?” To paraphrase a well-known axiom: “Stolen fruit tastes the sweetest.”  (Or perhaps “Ice cream tastes sweetest when eaten from a stolen spoon.”)

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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