Category Archives: etiquette

The Rival Undertakers: 1900

undertaker benjamin lopez and hearse key west 1900

Undertaker Benjamin Lopez and hearse, c. 1900 https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/36152

THE RIVAL UNDERTAKERS.

In the doorway of his office stood old Job Graves. A funeral procession passed. It was a funeral of Job’s; not “Job’s funeral,” mark you, but A funeral of Job’s;” one of many which had fallen to his charge; for Job was an undertaker. Over the doorway was his weather-beaten sign, in dingy white paint; on the large front window was inscribed “Coffin Warerooms;” and within the window lay a funeral wreath of wax flowers, a silver coffin-plate, and a little white coffin, — Hope and Despair in one pathetic group.

Job stood in the doorway, and his thin body scarcely filled his threadbare coat. He leaned against the door-post, absently took off his rusty silk hat, and slowly wiped, first, his thin white face, and then his bald shiny head, with his red handkerchief. The face was worn, bleak, with tufts of white beard scattered among the hollows and under the shrunken jaw, like patches of snow among the hollows of a wind-swept wintry hillside.

stereoview hearse

Job’s gaze rested upon the old hearse,— his hearse, and the black horses, — his horses, and the black-garbed driver, — his assistant; the whole equipment, so to speak, the work of his hands; it seemed good in his sight; and a feeble sense of joy in its ownership struggled faintly with the habitual melancholy of the undertaker’s heart.

A slight elevation of the hearse-driver’s eyebrows asked of Job,  “Is all as it should be?” And the master’s answering nod returned approval. Then Job’s thin frame straightened a little, his right hand paused with red handkerchief in air, and a slight frown gathered on his pale face; for he beheld, across the street, through the gaps in the passing carriages, two other men standing in a doorway. They also were viewing the procession, and critically; over that doorway was the sign, in bright gold letters, “Daver, Funeral Director;” on the half drawn olive shade of the broad window was the same legend, adorned with many scrolls and flutings. Within the window rested a large silver plate, reading, in delicate script, “C. A. Daver & Co., Funeral Directors.” Nothing more; no suggestive signs of the craft, no symbols of mortality. Rather a scrupulous simplicity; almost an admonitory simplicity; as one should say, “Look over there, at those barbaric emblems of woe, and then behold the refined taste, the chaste quality, of this ‘establishment.'”

That is what Daver & Co. maintained, an “Establishment;” old Job Graves was only a plain “Undertaker,” and had “Coffin Warerooms;” Daver and Co. were “Funeral Directors,” and maintained an “Establishment for Funeral Furnishings.”

There stood Daver, himself, in the doorway, with his assistant beside him. A short stout man he was, with round ruddy face, thin grayish hair and beard, his red good-natured face beaming through the hairy haze like the sun’s disk through a dissolving fog.

Daver’s glance always rested lightly, soothingly on all objects; yet few interesting things escaped his notice; his critical eye now passed over the procession, and over Job Graves; and he said, in a low tone, with a skillful suppression of facial muscles acquired by long experience, and amounting almost to ventriloquism, “That hearse, Jim! What an ark!”

Then the assistant, sharply, “It ought to be burned. I wouldn’t be seen in it for all I’m worth.” As he spoke thus enigmatically, he winked in a facetious way at the driver of the hearse, and the greeting was reciprocated; evidently there were underground sympathies existent, between the two, while outer rivalries were maintained.

“Strange,” continued Daver, reflectively, “how little self-respect and pride people have about such things. It’s hard to elevate the popular taste. Ten years we’ve tried it, here; not much improvement.” Then he yawned, and returned a politic salute to the one timidly offered by a driver on the third carriage. The man had driven for him scores of times, and often for Job Graves, his rival. Daver’s disapproval was limited to the hearse; not an intense antagonism, but a pained disapproval. Daver never antagonized anybody, took the world’s blows on a slanting buckler; but he was very clear as to which prizes he sought.

funeral procession with hearse 1870

His answering salute to the driver could hardly have been sworn to, as such, in a court of law; a slight corrugation of the forehead, passing down into a brief closing of the eyes, and ending in an almost imperceptible sinking of the chin, and it was done, and no outsider the wiser. Then Daver yawned again, and retired, with his assistant, into the office; and Job Graves, with the slightest possible sigh of relief, put on his rusty hat, adjusted the striped cotton neckerchief around his old-fashioned high stock, climbed stiffly into his old chaise at the curbstone, and took up his position at the rear of the procession.

That was Job’s custom, to ride alone, at the end of the line. He had maintained this custom through the funerals of forty years; having inherited it with other customs from his father, undertaker before him. Whereas Daver, with his other “progressive” ideas, had introduced the custom of leading the line; which he did, very grandly, in a luxurious coupe, with gold lettering. This innovation was accomplished gradually, discreetly. The first year the new “Funeral Director” moved up behind the clergyman’s carriage; the next year he pushed up past the clergyman, and followed the hearse; the third year he pushed past the hearse, and led the line, in a very impressive way. This position he had ever since maintained, despite the concerted attempt, in the fourth year, of seven clergymen — one a Doctor of Divinity — to retire him.

It was the ages-long struggle between the New and the Old, this rivalry across the street. Elsewhere it is “hand-work versus steam,” or “Puritan against Cavalier,” or “stratified rock at war with the leaf of a book;” here it was caskets against coffins,” with all that these implied. Always, however, the iron rule is — with occasional exceptions — New conquers, modified by Old. So it was here; and Job saw the evil day afar off — as many a conservative sees it — but held, with might, and largely with conscience, to the old methods, to the accustomed ways.

Job knew nothing of “caskets;” he made “coffins;” made them in that back-shop; his father had made them there, and was buried in one of his own fashioning. So would Job be buried. “Am I better than my fathers?” Many a time, as a child, Job had taken his afternoon nap in a coffin in the back-shop, and nobody harmed, no human life the shorter for it. Years afterward, when his wife died, Job knew that life’s noon had passed. After that day the cemetery seemed different to him; seemed more personally related to him; even attractive. He understood now why people lingered there, after a burial, and resorted there at other times. He bought an iron settee and placed it on his lot, close by his wife’s grave; he might feel like using it.

Then the two boys went; one to lie beside his mother; a boy of ten; diphtheria; Job had a “case” of it, and might have slighted his dread duties; but Job never shirked his “work;” and the boy at home died. The other, a wild lad of eighteen, wandered into the “far country,” to be swallowed up in distance and degradation, and perhaps despair. Then Job selected cedar, and made his own coffin; twilight was about him; darkness would follow; then the coffin would be needed; coffins and darkness come together; best to have all things ready; Job was a “fore-handed” man, the people said.

The two undertakers differed widely, in many ways. They met death weekly, daily; but they met it differently. In Daver’s bluff abounding presence, death seemed minimized–he reduced it to an incident; but mourners found it loom crushingly, after his departure. Whereas Job knew it as a visitation, and his presence counselled patience, submission.

Therefore people who desired “cheerful funerals” — those chimeras — sought Daver’s tactful offices; but sensitive people and those whose fathers and mothers had been buried by Job’s father, turned to Job’s father’s son, in their hour of need, and their hearts’ wounds were touched most gently.

As Job and Daver differed in their attitudes toward the dead, so also they differed in their relations with the living. When coarse careless people made stupid jests about death and the duties of his vocation, Job listened in silence and passed on in pity. Stupidity is piteous. But Daver always laughed louder than the jester, — and hated him in his heart, and grimly wondered when he might be privileged to look at him through a casket-lid.

fancy coffin 1893

Elaborately-trimmed casket, 1893

Daver & Co., Funeral Directors, knew nothing of coffins. They had, however, “A choice line of caskets.” “This way, please,” with bows and smiles, and eager hands rubbed over each other; and you followed master or assistant into the mysterious rear-room, and you chose from “A fine stock, sir! A high grade, madame!” Occasionally, after careful scrutiny of the buyer, and skillful measuring of the degree of his grief, it was — “Extra quality, sir! Anybody using one of these never will use any other as long as he lives.” But that facetious sentence was venturesome; it was forbidden to the assistant, and was rarely indulged in by Daver himself. The main object was that some selection should be made, from the “caskets in plain black, brown, magenta or white;” or from “caskets in plush, black, brown, magenta or white.”

Daver & Co. sold many, of both kinds. Job likewise sold many, of the one simple unvarying pattern which he had learned to make, taught by his father. Before Daver & Co. appeared, Job, by working hard, met the entire demand; after the “Funeral Director’s” coming, trade fell off. Then Job Graves waited patiently; “This is not a business that you can push,” he said. But in a year or two custom increased, up to the old amount, and Job was fairly busy; his products were soon taken; “Supply creates demand;” (an economic law, we are told; — of almost suicidal application, here).

The two undertakers differed widely, in their conduct of funeral services. Job did as his father had done; not because that way was best, but because it was his father’s way. This rule of conduct became more absolute with him each year. Now that wife and sons were gone, he had no future; he had “the imagination of regret, having lost the imagination of hope.” The star of success, before him beckoned no longer; the star of experience, from behind, illumined his sad path. Job had given up the idealism of purpose for his sons; he lived by the idealism of example, from his father. Often he brooded anxiously about that absent lad, but his anxiety was not suspected by others; an undertaker is not supposed to have griefs of his own.

mr sowerberry undertaker

Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker in Oliver Twist J. Clayton Clarke (“Kyd”) c. 1900 Original watercolour Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/kyd/83.html

In the house of mourning Job came and went silently, unnoticed. At the funeral service he effaced himself, coming forward, at the close, with resolute step and squeaky boots, from some retreat, to state, in a plain sturdy sentence, “There will now be a chance for every one to look at the body.” After this old-fashioned invitation had been accepted, and the general farewell had been taken, the company separated, like a chemical solution, into liquids and solids; liquids, — casual friends, — flowing off homeward; solids, — mourning friends, — remaining. Then Job, reading laboriously through heavy gold-bowed spectacles, like a clerk casting up accounts, called, in a firm tone, the mourners, in fours, from the residuary group, in the order of their grief.

Here there were nice shades of distinction, as in arranging guests at a court-dinner; but Job was not only an undertaker of experience, he was an old resident; he knew all the circles within circles; knew not only how deep each person’s sorrow should be, but about how deep it really was. And he always spoke with such quiet confidence, that even if he sometimes gave a “second cousin on the maternal side” precedence over a “nephew on the paternal side,” he was so convincing, that a listener might sometimes forget his own identity, or even become a trifle confused regarding his own sex.

Daver & Co. discarded many of these “old-fashioned ideas.” They did away with the sombre bunch of crape on the door-bell; and placed there, instead, “floral emblems.” By these, skilfully graduated, were expressed more distinctions than the “seven ages” of Shakespeare. A cluster of white buds, or one of full-blown flowers, — white or yellow, or white and red mixed, — these, tied with ribbons, — white, violet or black, — could become a language of flowers so plain that he who ran might read; (though, of course, he would not run, in passing a house adorned with such a symbol). In addition to the flowers, a few brown autumn leaves were considered significant; or a wisp of brown grass was added; this last symbolized the “bearded grain” of the poet.

During the funeral service itself Daver & Co. were very much in evidence, either master or assistant; on important occasions, — great crises of the profession, so to speak, — both were present; very much so; active, cheerful, inspiring all with confidence. And whereas Job Graves humbly wore around his stock a kerchief with a little “color,” in deference to the “parson,” Daver & Co. boldly wore immaculate white ties; and, with their faultless black clothes, might be easily mistaken for clergymen; thus the service often took on the high quality of a solemn festival.

But Daver and his assistant were not clergymen; Daver had no foolish deference for “the cloth.” During a funeral service he tried, visibly, even conspicuously, to be patient with the readings and prayers; it was customary to have these; therefore he must acquiesce; and, always smiling, he utilized the time in scanning the faces of the people present, to detect signs of physical weakening, and, possibly, of mortal disease. Such people, — or, better, their near relatives, — he afterward spoke to with especial consideration.

After “the church” had been tolerated for a half-hour, the great moment arrived; the moment which — Daver knew — alone justified this coming together; and the skilful man’s heart beat high with pride as he stood by the casket and offered for inspection the unequalled quality of his “work,” a triumph of funereal art.

Sometimes a family was strangely unappreciative; gave orders to keep the casket closed. Then you should have seen the “Funeral Director.” Then, only, did his unvarying “immortelle” smile vanish. “Do I understand, my dear sir,” (in a measured, circumflex tone), “that the casket is to remain closed?”

“Yes.”

“Very good, sir! It shall so be, sir.” And no human ear, however keen, could detect that pity and scorn in his voice, which the Omniscient One knew was in his heart.

Thus Daver & Co., zealous, in season and out of season, grew and prospered. They had now become the “City Undertakers;” and their doings were often chronicled in the papers. “How did they become the City Undertakers?” Who knows? This is an age of wires; both “overhead” and “underground.” However, everybody now knew of their existence, — half the problem of financial success solved — and, in the haste of sudden affliction, recalled the name.

Then, too, there were the little gifts — bookmarks, paper-cutters, paper-weights — which many of the physicians found on their desks; Christmas presents, New Year’s Greetings, with “compliments of Daver & Co.”

“Capital fellow, Daver!” And the doctor “remembered” Daver — “the next time.” “People do lean so on the family doctor.”

So Daver & Co. increased in favor and prospered; and still sturdy old Job Graves said, again and again, as he drove his plane, or plied his sandpaper, or wielded his shears, “A business that you can’t push! You can’t push it, as you can other kinds of business.”

Everybody knows that undertakers are hard-hearted, soulless. Just how everybody knows this is another question. It is a portion of that general fund of knowledge which is born with many people. Therefore Job was rarely asked for charity; beggars paused not at his office; tramps glanced at his sign and passed on. Even the children looked askance at him, when they learned his occupation.

Yes, it is a part of the Public’s innate axiomatic knowledge, that undertakers have no feelings; machines merely; necessary evils. Job felt his alienation deeply; felt it the more, since wife and children had gone away. The old-fashioned, sad-faced, silent man, in his rusty coat and high stock, went in and out among the homes of sorrow; he heard sighs and moans, saw bitter tears trickling, dropping; but always for others, never a breath of sympathy for him. He moved, a white shadow, in darkened rooms, yet a shadow with a heart. Oh, his heart was hungry, often, for pity, for affection. He even envied, sometimes, the silent form in the coffin; it at least had love rained upon it. Voices, which spoke to him in stern command, sobbed there; faces, which turned to him in critical inquiry, grew distorted with anguish as they bent over that other face, scarcely whiter than his own.

Thus Job lived, and hungered, and was “in the world but not of the world.” His impassive worn old face told little of the need of his desolate heart. He accepted his destiny, which was, — “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

One early morning a drunken, dishevelled tramp found rear entrance to the “Coffin Warerooms,” and lay, in a stupor, under a bench. Job’s assistant discovered him there. Perhaps this degraded human remnant, seeking such hospitality, lacked the knowledge regarding undertakers so fully bestowed on men and women in general. The assistant pushed a bag of plush trimmings under his head. Job entered hastily, preparing to journey to a distant city, to bring back a body” for burial. He glanced at the heavy besotted face, partly hidden by an unkempt beard, and said, “Let him sleep it off, here! Afterward give him food, and my old coat on that nail, there!” Then he hurried stiffly down the street, to his train.

The tramp did not “sleep it off.” He had “slept off” too many such states before. He was a shattered wreck. There are two exits from stupor. One is back into this visible world, the other is forward into the Unseen. The latter was the shorter exit for the stertorous tramp, and tramps prefer short routes. So he took it.

“Poor devil!” said Job’s assistant, and summoned the doctor and coroner; they tried pulse, opened eyelid, felt heart, voted the beast dead. Chuckled over his wisdom in selecting his lodging-house. Affirmed that he had chosen his own undertaker; “the wishes of the dead should be respected;” then a loud laugh, and they departed. So “Daver, City Undertaker,” lost this case.

Here was the ambitious assistant’s opportunity. An assistant, may not be trusted by a careful master to prepare “regular cases,” but a tramp — It was a rare opportunity; the assistant washed, shaved, clothed, — in short, “laid out” the body.

dead coffin shaving mug

Undertaker’s occupational shaving mug http://www.oldshavingmugs.com/coffin-shaving-mug-2/

When Job returned, that evening, the assistant met him at the door, told him the unexpected, and with pride led the way into the back-shop, to a painted pine coffin beside the bench. And Job Graves, undertaker, looked, then stared, then gasped, and then recognized — the dead face of his wayward son. Death had done its purifying work, as assistant or even master could never have done it; the coarse tramp-face had dissolved, vanished; the fine features of innocent, hopeful, eager youth lay there revealed. And as patient, wounded old Job felt this awful blow upon his tired heart, he looked about him appealingly; looked for some one to lean upon. There was nobody but the assistant and his hastily-offered arm. Not what the anguished man sought, but he accepted it; then sank, drooping, upon a box; and cold drops beaded his brow.

There he sat in silence, and the tall old-fashioned clock in the corner counted out the seconds, as a physician counts out the drops from a vial, at a bedside. Job heard them, and they seemed like years; — his own weary years coming back to him out of the past. He realized now that he had been desperately holding a hope and a purpose in his heart; realized now, by its absence, that it had been there, unnamed, unrecognized. He put his hand unconsciously to his side; something seemed to be going; the assistant saw that his lips were parted wide, and that he breathed in gasps; but Job uttered no word, told nothing of the desolation that had come to him. Who was there to tell? Who cared about an undertaker’s grief? That face! O, that poor white face of his boy!

angel of grief

The Angel of Grief, William Wetmore Story, 1894 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_of_Grief

There was a sermon, to which the old undertaker had listened, years before, which had many a time recurred to his thought; it was a sermon on the prodigal son’s return; and in whatever way he had looked at the hard facts and faced the dark probabilities, that picture of a home-coming and forgiveness had pushed its way to the front. Often he had read the beautiful parable, going away alone and unperceived to do it; and at those words “fell on his neck and kissed him,” he always stopped, and repeated them slowly and softly, and a look of hungry longing came over his face, and the good book was slowly closed and laid away. There would be no more reading of that old story. Yesterday it held a gleam of light in its depths; to-day the words were like loose formless ashes; gray like his own face; and he seemed to shrink and wither, as he sat tottering, one hand pressing his side, the other weakly supporting himself.

The next day Job did not appear at the office; he was ill, in bed…

A week later a physician stood by Job’s bedside and told him that he had no ailment, and would be “out” in a few days. For answer Job looked calmly at him and said, “On your way to your office, call at my attorney’s! Send him here! I wish to make my will!”

“But, my good man, there is really not the slightest —”

Job raised his white thin hand deprecatingly, closed his eyes, hesitated, then said, with an effort, “Please also send Daver to me! You know Daver? Does good work; has some new-fangled notions, but does good work.”

Then Job turned his face to the wall. He knew his own condition. He was dying. We all begin to die at our birth; that is normal dying. Nature does it skillfully, inexorably, gently. Job Graves had been dying with abnormal rapidity for twenty years; dying of hunger, and solitary imprisonment for life; hunger for affection; solitary imprisonment within the gloomy walls of his strange vocation. Was this also Nature’s doing? If not, whose?

Daver, mystified but smiling, prompt but constrained, came the next day. Job’s lips moved a salutation, but no sound came. Daver waited. He was ill at ease. He was in an unaccustomed position. He often was called to dark rooms and sheeted beds, but with the conditions different. This summons was premature; Daver was restless; cleared his throat loudly, fingered his hat. “To be called here! To this house, of all houses! To this man, of all men!” Daver’s ruling principle was to please; always to gloss the painful stubborn fact; but ruling principles may be suspended; hearts, like states, may experience rebellion; souls, like nations, may suffer revolution; the governing power may be unseated.

So it was with Daver. In his accustomed groove, a “Funeral Director;” outside that groove, a man; and strange rills opened in his heart, unwonted vibrations tingled along his nerves. His round red face grew anxious, sad. A man’s pity, tenderness, looked out through a “Funeral Director’s ” eyes, as they rested on that sick wan face.

The old undertaker’s eyes opened slowly; his gaze wandered restlessly about the bare room, then paused upon a crude crayon portrait of an old man, near the foot of the bed. The face resembled his own. Job’s gaze clung to it tenderly, trustfully. Then his gaze wandered, rested on the man beside his bed; he started as if with surprise, but recollected. “Daver, I have sent for you, — you know why.” He spoke feebly; the other nodded, looking constrainedly into his filmy eyes.

“I wish I could take — this — old body— with me, or see to its burying, myself; but I can’t. We all have to ask help at last, Daver.”

The plain direct appeal of the old man moved Daver strangely. He wondered at himself, as he sat there.

“We must depend on — on somebody else, Daver, when — when we are finally the ‘case,’ ourselves; and assistants are not to be trusted,— not to be trusted.” He raised his eyes, with inquiry, toward the crayon portrait; then added, “Father never slighted his work.” And a faint smile of content flickered over the dying man’s face, saying what the humble man’s lips would not utter, that he too had never slighted his work.

“Daver, neighbor,” he murmured, putting out his thin hand, seeking, in his last hours, after what he had vainly sought, for many lonely years, — a grasp of understanding and sympathy — “Daver, you — do — good— work; but you — know — what — I would wish done. My way, this time, Daver? That —is —all.”

And the “Funeral Director’s” strong red hand closed over the “Undertaker’s” wasted white one, and the grasp was a pledge. A long silence. Then Daver departed, and Job rested peacefully.

Exactly when his last breath came, nobody in the house could say; but it was about dawn, the next morning; the weary spirit slipped away. Job Graves left earth, — an undertaker; he entered heaven, — a man.

funeral procession Highgate Cemetery 1902

A few days later, a funeral procession passed along the street, between the two offices. It was “A funeral of Daver’s,” but it was “Job Graves’s funeral.” Throughout all the arrangements, the Old and the New in funereal art were strangely blended; and a discerning Public felt injured, as it felt baffled in its attempt at explanation. The door-knob of the “Coffin Warerooms” was hung with a knot of black crape, yet the hearse was from the establishment of Daver & Co., City Undertakers,” whose assistant acted as driver; the assistant from the “Coffin Warerooms” rode in the mourners’ carriage; and, — strange to tell, — inexplicable to the wise, all-knowing Public, quite contrary to his custom, Daver, in his luxurious coupe, followed the few carriages, came last in the line.

The Parsonage Porch: Seven Stories from a Clergyman’s Note-book, Bradley Gilman, 1900: pp. 221-248

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A fine epitaph for all who serve: “He Never Slighted His Work.”

Mrs Daffodil would like to take this opportunity (as she has been prodded with a hearse plume by that subfusc person over at Haunted Ohio) to announce that a new Victorian Book of the Dead blog has made its debut. The blog will provide unique, primary source material on Victorian death and mourning as well as collecting all posts on mourning, which have  previously appeared on this blog and on the Haunted Ohio site blog.

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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The Song of the Hammer: 1903

gossips patchwork picture

“Gossips” Patchwork picture redrawn by Carmel Wilson c. 1938 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/patchwork-picture-gossips/8QFUFJIsR64J3Q

The Song of the Hammer.

At the home of a dame devout,

Who in mission work always led,

The sewing society sat about,

Plying their needles and thread;

And in a melodious key,

Without hesitation or stammer,

Incessantly and relentlessly,

They sang the “Song of the Hammer “:

Knock, knock, knock,

With never a halt or pause;

Knock, knock, knock,

Without provocation or cause.

Characters white as snow

Are daubed with spots of black,

While these righteous, merciful sisters sew

To cover the heathen’s back.

 

Knock, knock, knock,

None whom they know is spared;

Knock, knock, knock,

How their neighbor’s faults are aired!

The absent members, too,

Come in for their share of abuse,

While these worthy dames, with much ado,

Sew shirts for the heathen’s use.

 

“Now, there’s that girl of Clark’s,

Her conduct is really a shame,

With her tomboy capers and larks,

I just know her mother’s to blame!

And, although her mother’s my friend,

I’m sure that the giddy young flirt

Is bound to come to some bad end

As sure as I’m hemming this shirt!

 

“And that giddy young Mrs. Wright,

I’m sure you’ll all agree

That her conduct was simply a fright

At Mrs. DeLong’s last tea;

I’d not be a bit surprised,

But would think it a matter of course

If some day I should be advised

That her husband had sued for divorce.”

 

Knock, knock, knock,

While the hours are dragging slow:

Knock, knock, knock,

Till they all get up to go.

Their work for the day is o’er,

Their duty done with zest,

And when each is at home alone once more,

She’ll trim up all the rest!

 

Oh men with sisters dear,

With wives and sweethearts glad!

Did you ever happen to hear

Them giving their friends the gad?

If not, sneak home some day

And list to the sewing club’s clamor,

As they sing that old, familiar lay

Entitled “The Song of the Hammer.”

The Cleveland [OH] Leader 21 December 1903: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To be Relentlessly Informative, this is, of course, a parody of Thomas Hood’s poem “The Song of the Shirt.”

Indiscreet gossip might have embarrassing consequences, as one finds in these two little anecdotes:

Over the Fence.

Mrs. Slingonin put her head over the fence and thus addressed her neighbor, who was hanging out her week’s washing; “A family has moved in the empty house across the way,

Mrs. Clothes line.” “Yes, I know.”

“Did you notice their furniture?”

“Not particularly.”

“Two loads, and I wouldn’t give a dollar a load for it. Carpets! I wouldn’t put them down in my kitchen, And the children! I won’t allow mine to associate with them. And the mother! She looks as though she had never known a day’s happiness. The father drinks, I expect, Too bad that such people should come into this neighborhood. I wonder who they are.”

“I know them.”

“Do you? Well, l declare. Who are they?”

“The mother is my sister, and the father is superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school.”

A painful pause ensues.

The St Johnsbury [VT[ Index 29 May 1884: p. 3

CAUGHT IN THE ACT.

Two Ladles Discover How They Had Made Themselves Disagreeable.

Two ladies were standing on the doorstep of a house in Georgetown, where but a moment before they had rung the bell and were waiting to be admitted. One was talking along very intently, when the taller woman interrupted her. “Be careful,” she said, “somebody may hear you.”

“I’m very particular,” responded the other. “I looked all around before I said anything and there was nobody in sight.”

“That’s what I thought once, too, and I made a serious mistake. I was calling once, just as we now are, and was with a woman who could and did say the meanest things about people I ever heard talk. I’m not given to that kind of thing usually, but I do love a bit of gossip, and sometimes I am led into saying things I shouldn’t. On this occasion the lady we were to call on was not a favorite of mine, and when the other woman said something sarcastic I chimed right in and said I thought she was the silliest and most extravagant and homeliest and dowdiest and stupidest woman of my entire acquaintance, and that I only called from a sense of duty anyhow. And a few other things, like that, I said.

“Well, we were let in after a long wait and the reception we got was the chilliest I ever met with. I couldn’t understand it, for we were really on very good terms, as those things go, and we got out as soon as we could. That night I told my husband about it when he came home, and he wondered at it too. Next evening he came in smiling, and told me that the next time I had anything to say about my neighbors on their own doorsteps I bad better first see if there were any speaking tubes to tell on me. That explained it all in a second. A doctor used to live in that same house and he had a speaking tube at the door, as physicians do. The lady we were calling on had never changed it, and as I found out afterward, the moan thing, she used to sit close to the other end of that tube and listen to what people might be saying at the door.

“She didn’t make much by listening to me, and she didn’t dare to tell me that she knew what I thought of her, and I didn’t care if she did know, only since that time I have been more careful. There’s a tube up there, see?” and the tall lady pointed to an innocent looking monthpiece pouting out of the door frame. However, there was no response to their ring, and as they met the lady coming in just as they started away they felt perfectly safe and had a nice call.

The Scranton [PA] Republican 16 October 1897: p. 4

To be fair, not removing the rubber tube was not quite playing the game, although Mrs Daffodil admits that she would not hesitate to deploy such a device to her advantage.

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.

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

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.

Thirteen at Table: 1876

Thirteen at Table.

The Wistarias give the nicest dinner in the Empire City. Their cook is a cordon bleu, a person whose soul lies in her art, who sends up a hot dinner, not one of those greasy, half-cold, unwholesome meals, that sour the temper and the stomach at one and the same moment.

The wines are of the rarest vintages, and always in good condition, the champagne being iced to a delicate coolness, refreshing to the palate after the highly spiced entree, and the claret at that mild warmth which the knowing ones irreverently term “the Sabbath calm.”

The table, too, is always laid to caress the eye; the light coming from wax-candles, with a mild radiance, while the silver and Dresden and flowers bespeak refinement, taste, aestheticism.

Wistaria was a large man, with a melancholy visage and a melancholy manner. He had a habit of looking out into the future with dreamy eyes, as if he was perpetually engaged in watching for the coming of some person or other, like Sister Anne in “Bluebeard.”

Mrs. Wistaria is a very elegant woman, well-read, gracious, and just that class of hostess who makes her house feel to her guests as though it was their own and not hers. By a graceful witchery she reverses things, acting as the guest, while in reality, the chatelaine.

There is one daughter of the house, and one son. Wynnie Wistaria is a bright girl of eighteen, with a murderous pair of black eyes, and lips ruddier than a cherry. Her teeth flash like diamonds, and her figure is one that Rossi would like to drape his luminous colored garments upon.

The son, Geoffrey, is a “swell,” a member of the Megatherium Club, a curled darling, who does Paris in Spring and Newport in the Fall. He is not a bad young fellow, but requires a lot of sitting upon.

Mr. Wistaria is a banker, lives in a palatial residence on Fifth Avenue, and is muchly trusted and respected.

I, James Hartopp, of the firm of Hartopp, Price & Hartopp, brokers, am twenty-eight years of age, tall, not bad-looking, wear my beard, and my share in the firm averages twenty thousand a year.

I met the Wistarias in Italy, in the Spring of ’76. We did Rome, Naples, and Venice together, and before we reached the Mount Cenis Tunnel on our return to Paris I found my heart had deserted to the colors of the piquant, fascinating, winsome Wynnie.

Why should I bore the reader with a physiological analysis of the condition of my feelings up to or subsequent to this palpitating period. Forbid it, ye gods! Olympus knows what I suffered and how I suffered, it is past now—the hopes, fears, agonies, distractions and—but I must not anticipate.

I received an invitation to dinner at No. — Filth Avenue for the 13th of April, 1876. The date is well engraven upon my memory.

At half-past seven o’clock I found myself in the superb drawing-room, and the first arrival.

I had a good minute to caress my beard to a point, to arrange the bow of my white choker, to adjust the pin of the bunch of flowers in my buttonhole, to wipe a speck of dust from my varnished boots, ere Wynnie appeared.

Didn’t she look lovely in diaphanous muslin, in a thousand rills and frills, and fringes and rosettes, and had she not, à deux mains, the bouquet that I had sent her during the day—a bouquet the size of a plum-pudding!

A few moments of delicious dalliance, and her mother rustled in, attired in all the finery of brocaded satin and rose-point and flashing diamonds.

“Ah, Mr. Hartopp. it’s so nice of you to be early— ‘on time,’ as the railway officials say. Punctuality is the soul of—dinner. By-the-way,” she added. ” a word in your ear,” taking me into a bay-window and letting down the lace curtains.

I did not know what was coming. She looked grave. My position toward Wynnie was doubtful. That I was an aspirant to her hand was true, but as yet I had not played my last stake, and there was another player at the same game—a Mr. Horace Upton.

This Upton was an Englishman and a snob. He could see nothing in America; Niagara was “an awfully jolly” jet of water; the Rocky Mountains were beastly; the country was uncivilized, and the cities were nothing but shanties and lager-beer saloons.

The fellow was born with a sneer, and his civility was an impertinence.

The Wistarias tolerated him on account of his great wealth, his father being the possessor of immense coal-mines in Westmoreland, and on account of the letter of introduction which he brought—an earnest recommendation from Lord Dacres.

Wynnie, on occasions, was singularly gracious to him, at others icy. I hated him “all along the line.”

“We shall be thirteen at dinner to-day, Mr. Hartopp; please do not take any notice of it, as Mr. Wistaria is singularly superstitious about this number. Little Bertie Marcy may come in to set us all right, but at this hour I have only just discovered the fact. I could ask no one.”

“Permit me to drop out, Mrs. Wistaria.”

“By no means, you, indeed! We could not possibly get on without you. You talk better across a table than any gentleman of my acquaintance. So you see I could not possibly spare you.”

This was intensely gratifying. There is no oil like subtle flattery—no incense so delicately pungent.

“l mean to mention the fact to my guests as they come in.”

“Would it not be better to trust to chance?”

“I do not care, in Mr. Wistaria’s present state of health, to trust anything to chance.”

The guests came floating and rustling in, and I observed Mrs. Wistaria imparting a word of caution to each.

Mr. Horace Upton arrived. He was the last comer, having the audacity to come at eight o’clock, being invited for half-past seven.

“I can do anything but be punctual,” he observed. “It’s a sort of institution that’s fit for you commercial people. We don’t recognize it in Belgravia.”

“I presume there is some punctuality in the coal pits,” I cut in, red-hot with anger.

Screwing his glass into the corner of his eye, he regarded me from head to foot as if I were some stuffed arrival of an extinct species.

“Ah!” he said.

I had the glorious triumph of taking Wynnie in to dinner. Oh, what an ecstatic thrill vibrated through me as, leaning—yea, leaning, not placing the tips of her fingers upon my coat-sleeve, but pressing her dainty little hand softly downward, and drawing close to me, until l became enveloped in the magic folds of her piquant toilet.

The soup was delicious. It was bisque a l’ecrevisse. When a man arrives at five and twenty he takes to his dinner. It is the budding of the flower that at fifty will give perfume to his life. The salmon cutlets were a study in their pinks and browns and creamy whites, while the Steinberger Cabinet wherewith they were washed down was fit for the table of Kaiser Wilhelm himself. At the entrees, the conversation becomes well turned on; all ice thaws upon the appearance of the cutlets, sweetbreads, and those poems in culinary art that appeal to the senses at this particular period of the ceremony. The accompanying champagne, too, set the tongue a-wagging, and the “whole machine” commences to “go.”

Mrs. Wistaria kept somewhat anxiously gazing at her husband, who sat at the foot of the table, silent, save when spoken to by Mrs. Spype Bodaby, who was on his right, or Mr. Duplex Sincote on his left. Mrs. Bodaby kept chatting to him in a chirpy but colorless manner, and his look was straight out through the windows, on to the avenue, or, for that matter, over to the North River or Jersey.

There was a silence—one of these strange lulls which seems to descend with the softness of snow.

No person seemed inclined to break it. Wynnie was trifling with a petal from one of the flowers of her bouquet. I was gazing rapturously at her shapely hand with its rosebud nails. The remainder of the company seemed more or less absorbed. I shall never forget that silence. I have been to the great Derby race, and felt the hush at the start.

I have been in the Corrida del Toros at Madrid, and have held my breath as the bull rushed forth to his doom.

And I have been at No. __ Fifth avenue, and have known the silence that for one brief moment held us on that I3th day of April, 1876.

Mr. Horace Upton broke it.

“By Jove,” he drawled, “we are thirteen at dinner.”

Mrs. Wistaria had omitted to warn him.

A dull, dead, ashen color seized the host’s face as if in a closing grip, stretching over it like the shadow of death.

Clinching his hands together, and with set teeth, he murmured:

“Thirteen! Can this be true?”

Mrs. Wistaria started to her feet, as did also her sister, Mrs. Penrose Gibbs.

“Certainly not,” cried Mrs. Wistaria, boldly flinging herself between Mr. Gibbs, a very small, inoffensive little man, whose wife rolled him bodily off his chair and beneath the table, “we are but twelve.”

Mr. Wistaria, still in the same attitude, counted, with glowing eves, the number of the guests.

“Twelve!” he muttered, a ray of relief flashing across his face, to be dispelled as quickly, as he hoarsely demanded, “Where is Gibbs?”

“Here,” uttered that unconscious personage, emerging from beneath the table, at the other side, though.

“Gad! I see it all now,” and, plunging his face in his hands, his fingers through his hair, our host seemed shaken by some terrible convulsion.

“George, dearest George, this is folly!” cried Mrs. Wistaria. “Madness! No person attaches the slightest feeling to dining thirteen.”

“I wish I could dine thirteen every day with such a dinner as this,” said Gibbs.

“We dined thirteen at the Stubbs’ several time last year as their ten married daughters with their husbands were stopping there, and we are all alive and well,” chirped Mrs. Spype Bodaby.

“I dined with thirteen fellows at the Star and Garter at Richmond, last year, and, by Jove, I’m the only one alive to-day

This speech came from Mr. Horace Upton, and a savage joy vibrated through me. He was nailing the coffin lid on his hopes.

Wynnie sprang to her father’s side, gently placing her arm around his neck. Mr. Wistaria’s hands were still closed upon his face, his fingers clutching his hair. Wynnie caressingly endeavored to remove them, but the grip was as firm as steel. The livid cheeks immediately beneath the ears were visible, as was also the ashen-hued chin.

A tremulous shudder passed over the man. We were all now dazed, helpless, confused.

Suddenly Mrs. Wistaria uttered a piercing shriek.

“Fly for Doctor Bribston! Help! Help!” she cried, in frenzied accents.

I was horrified to find a great stream of blood pouring down Mr. Wistaria’s chin—pouring in a bright, red rivulet.

I assisted in placing him upon the sofa, in a recumbent position, but in vain did we endeavor to remove his hands from his face.

When Doctor Bribston arrived, he cast one rapid glance at the prostrate form, grasped the pulse, laid his hand upon the heart, and shook his head.

Mr. Wistaria was dead.

He had died of heart disease.

During one of his sojourns in England, be had had his fortune told by a gypsy. This woman, after having examined his line of life, suddenly cast his palm from her, covering her face with her hands.

“Never!” she exclaimed, with a fierce solemnity— “never dine thirteen at table if you can avoid it, for you will die at the table.”

This strange prophecy sank into his very soul, and never would he sit at the table with this doomed number.

It was a strange coincidence. Very strange.

* * * *

I am married to Wynnie.

My wife and I dine out a good deal, and we entertain in proportion, but never shall I make one of thirteen

l have lost several good dinners through this superstition, call it what you will, but the ghastly recollection of that 13th of April, 1876, with all its other dark history can never be erased from my mind.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Volume 25

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  And a very happy Friday the 13th to all of you!

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.

A Solo Bridal Tour: 1875

 

honeymoon couple on moon

A Kentucky Bridal Tour.

[From the Courier-Journal.]

There came one day to a little inland town in Kentucky a young rural couple who had just been bound by the “silken bonds.” Their destination was the depot, and the bridegroom was evidently quite impatient for fear the train should arrive before he could reach the office. Buying one ticket, they stood on the platform until the train had stopped. When they entered the car the bridegroom found his bride a seat, kissed her most affectionately, and bade her “good-bye,” and going out, seated himself on a box and commenced whittling most vigorously. He watched the train out of sight, regret depicted on his face, when a bystander, thinking the whole proceeding rather strange, resolved to interview him. Approaching him carelessly, and chewing a straw to keep up his courage, he said:

“Been getting’ married lately?”

“Yes,” said he, “me and Sallie got spliced this mornin’.”

“Was that her you put on the train?”

“Yes,” with a sigh.

“A likely lookin’ gal,” said our questioner. “Anybody sick, that she had to go away?”

“No;” but here he grew confidential. “You see me and Sallie had heard that everybody when they got married took a bridal tour. So I told Sallie I hadn’t money enough for both of us to go, but she shouldn’t be knocked out of hern. So I jist brought her down here, bought her ticket, and sent her on a visit to some of her folks, and thought I might get some work harvestin’ till she got back.”

That afternoon found him busily at work, and when in a day or two after Sallie got back, he welcomed her cordially and affectionately, and hand in hand they started down the dusty road to their new home and duties.

Reading [PA] Times 19 August 1875: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before about perfect and problematic honeymoons, but never about a solitary bridal tour.

A most considerate bride-groom, not to “knock” his wife out of a honeymoon treat, which suggests that we may feel quite sanguine about the future happiness of the union.

 

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.

A Plain Man on His Honeymoon: 1713

A wedding banyan (or “silk night-gown”) c. 1729, of the sort the bridegroom complained of. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1140120.1

No. 113. Tuesday, July 21, 1713

___Amphora coepit

Institui, currente rota, cur urceus exit?

Hor. Ars Poet. Ver. 21

[Why dwindle to a cruet from a tun?   Simple be all you execute, and one!]

When you begin with so much pomp and show,

Why is the end so little and so low?

Roscommon

I last night received a letter from an honest citizen, who, it seems, is in his honeymoon. It is written by a plain man, on a plain subject, but has an air of good sense and natural honesty in it, which may perhaps please the public as much as myself. I shall not, therefore, scruple the giving it a place in my paper, which is designed for common use, and for the benefit of the poor as well as rich.

Cheapside, July 18.

“Good MR. IRONSIDE,—I have lately married a very pretty body, who, being something younger and richer than myself, I was advised to go a wooing to her in a finer suit of clothes than I ever wore in my life; for I love to dress plain, and suitable to a man of my rank. However, I gained her heart by it. Upon the wedding-day, I put myself, according to custom, in another suit, fire-new, with silver buttons to it. I am so out of countenance among my neighbours, upon being so fine, that I heartily wish my clothes well worn out. I fancy every body observes me as I walk the street, and long to be in my old plain gear again. Besides, forsooth, they have put me in a silk nightgown and a gaudy fool’s cap, and make me now and then stand in the window with it. I am ashamed to be dandied thus, and cannot look in the glass without blushing to see myself turned into such a pretty little master. They tell me I must appear in my wedding suit for the first month, at least; after which I am resolved to come again to my every day’s clothes, for at present every day is Sunday with me. Now, in my mind, Mr. Ironside, this is the wrongest way of proceeding in the world. When a man’s person is new and unaccustomed to a young body, he does not want any thing else to set him off. The novelty of the lover has more charms than a wedding-suit. I should think, therefore, that a man should keep his finery for the latter seasons of marriage, and not begin to dress till the honey-moon is over. I have observed, at a lord-mayor’s feast, that the sweet-meats do not make their appearance until people are cloyed with beef and mutton, and begin to lose their stomachs. But, instead of this, we serve up delicacies and coarse diet when their bellies are full. As bad as I hate my silver-buttoned coat and silk night-gown, I am afraid of leaving them off, not knowing whether my wife won’t repent of her marriage, when she sees what a plain man she has to her husband. Pray, Mr. Ironside, write something to prepare her for it, and let me know whether you think she can ever love me in a hair button.

“I am, &c.

“P. S. I forgot to tell you of my white gloves, which, they say, too, I must wear all the first month.”

An embroidered gentleman’s cap, worn with undress, c. 1700-25 Perhaps the “gaudy fool’s cap,” the bridegroom referenced above. http://collections.lacma.org/node/214537

My correspondent’s observations are very just, and may be useful in low life; but to turn them to the advantage of people in higher stations, I shall raise the moral, and observe something parallel to the wooing and wedding suit, in the behaviour of persons of figure. After long experience in the world, and reflections upon mankind, I find one particular occasion of unhappy marriages, which, though very common, is not much attended to. What I mean is this: every man in the time of courtship, and in the first entrance of marriage, puts on a behaviour like my correspondent’s holiday suit, which is to last no longer than till he is settled in the possession of his mistress. He resigns his inclinations and understanding to her humour and opinion. He neither loves, nor hates, nor talks, nor thinks in contradiction to her. He is controlled by a nod, mortified by a frown, and transported by a smile. The poor young lady falls in love with this supple creature, and expects of him the same behaviour for life. In a little time she finds that he has a will of his own, that he pretends to dislike what she approves, and that, instead of treating her like a goddess, he uses her like a woman. What still makes this misfortune worse, we find the most abject flatterers degenerate into the greatest tyrants. This naturally fills the spouse with sullenness and discontent, spleen, and vapour, which, with a little discreet management, make a very comfortable marriage. I very much approve of my friend Tom Truelove in this particular. Tom made love to a woman of sense, and always treated her as such during the whole time of courtship. His natural temper and good breeding hindered him from doing any thing disagreeable, as his sincerity and frankness of behaviour made him converse with her, before marriage, in the same manner he intended to continue to do afterwards. Tom would often tell her, “Madam, you see what sort of man I am. If you will take me with all my faults about me, I promise to mend rather than grow worse.” I remember Tom was once hinting his dislike of some little trifle his mistress had said or done; upon which she asked him how he would talk to her after marriage, if he talked at this rate before? “No, Madam,” says Tom “I mention this now, because you are at your own disposal; were you at mine, I should be too generous to do it.” In short, Tom succeeded, and has ever since been better than his word. The lady has been disappointed on the right side, and has found nothing more disagreeable in the husband than she discovered in the lover.

The Works of Joseph Addison: 1868 p. 127

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Tom Truelove has the correct view: Begin as you mean to go on. One young bride found herself (mercifully, perhaps) disabused almost immediately:

What is the whole duty of a bridegroom when, after the wedding and the breakfast, he finds himself alone with his bride in an empty railway compartment? One would imagine that a few terms of endearment, and possibly an occasional caress, would not be considered quite out of place. This seems to have been the opinion of a young lady who was married at Accrington, the other day, to a Mr. John Smith. The blushing bride had not been married before, but she was naturally surprised and distressed by the proceedings of her husband. They had scarcely left Accrington, when Mr. Smith settled himself in a corner, yawned once or twice and fell into a deep slumber. It is possible that Mr. Smith in repose is not a pleasing spectacle. It is possible that Mrs. Smith was merely hurt by the stolidity of his demeanour under conditions favourable to cheerfulness, not to say enthusiasm. But it is certain that, for one or both of these reasons, the maiden slipped, quietly out of the carriage at the first station, leaving behind her only a slip of paper attached to Mr. Smith’s coat tail, and bearing these words: “Tired of matrimony. Had enough of it and gone home to my ma. Mary.”  Evening Gazette [Pittston, PA] 2 January 1888: p. 1

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.

 

 

What to Do with Duplicate Wedding Gifts: 1895-1899

elizabeth-phillip-jewels--a wedding gifts 1947

Some of the wedding gifts for Princess Elizabeth and Lt. Philip Mountbatten, 1947 http://royalweddings.hellomagazine.com/prince-william-and-kate-middleton/galeria/20110203477/william-kate/wedding/gifts/1/

BRIDE AND HER GIFTS

Trade in Duplicate Presents Is Growing Year by Year.

RICH PEOPLE SELL THEM

Interesting Incidents Related by the First Dealer.

Wife of a Millionaire Disposes of Three Costly Solid Silver Salad Bowls.

When buying a wedding gift, look well to it that you have not given that identical article to some other bride. The extent to which duplicate presents are made is something to be wondered at, but the extent to which they are got rid of would probably cause their donors to wonder still more. When the bride writes to you on delicately tinted, daintily scented paper that your gift to her was gloriously gorgeous and the thing of all things that she most longed for, don’t pat yourself on the back and compliment yourself on your rare powers of selection and excellent taste; don’t even believe a word that she says unless you have an affidavit that no other piece of silver, jewelry, bric-a-brac, or whatever it chances to be, was ever made like it anywhere in this world. For unless this is the case, before your missive reaches you your gift, which has cost you so much anxious thought, time, and maybe money, may have been exchanged or sold outright along with a dozen or more Just like it. This business of exchanging and selling duplicate wedding gifts is by no means new. It has been going on for almost a quarter of a century, but it is getting bigger and bigger every day. J. H. Johnston, who was the originator of the duplicate-wedding gift business, delights to talk about it when he can get his mind off of literature and art long enough to come down to anything so commonplace as swapping wedding presents.

“One learns a great deal about human nature in buying and exchanging wedding gifts,” he said, in response to a question, “and I see and hear many amusing things. How did I come to go in this business? Well, away back in 1876 one day an advertisement of a sale of misfit carpets caught my eyes ‘Misfit carpets,’ I said to myself, ‘misfit carpets. If misfit carpets, why not misfit wedding presents;’ and immediately I advertised that I would buy and exchange duplicate gifts. From the first the scheme took well.

“In buying and exchanging wedding presents one naturally hears very curious stories and a romance revealed in one minute might be drawn out into a volume by a skillful novelist.  Brides, as a general thing, have a great deal of sentiment about their wedding gifts, even if they get a great many of one kind. They rarely sell them outright for cold cash, but prefer to exchange them. The majority bring them to us soon after this wedding, though not a few have so much sentiment that they keep them for years before they can make up their minds to part with what has been graciously bestowed on them the day of all days in their life. In the course of a day it is not uncommon to buy and exchange barrels of silver and jewelry is also exchanged.

Fee in a Divorce Case.

“A short time ago I bought thirty dozen after-dinner coffee spoons from a bride who had kept back enough to supply her needs, and only last week at newly married woman from Detroit sold us eleven fine cut-glass bowls. I once bought three solid silver tea sets from a bride who had received six, and I also bought ten solid silver salad bowls from one person. As I said, most brides prefer to exchange their gifts rather than sell them. Occasionally we get hold of wedding presents, not always duplicates, that have cost their owners a distinct sacrifice. One day I received a letter from a lawyer, a well-known man down In William street, asking me to call at his office, as he wished to see me on business. . The next day I went down, and found him at his desk. He turned immediately to two office boys and said:

“’Edward, you and James bring in that trunk from the next room.'”

The. boys returned staggering under the weight of a tremendous trunk, and, taking a key from his pocket, the lawyer opened it and began taking out piece after piece of the most magnificent silverware.

“‘Some time ago.’ he said, ‘I had a client for whom I had to get a divorce from her husband. She had no money to pay me, but gave me some of her wedding presents, and here they are. I’ve kept them a long time, thinking that she might some day redeem them, but she never will, and I want to sell them to you.’

“A great many people have an idea that only poor people and those in moderate circumstances exchange or sell their duplicate wedding presents, and, indeed, that most of the sliver sold to dealers come from people who have to sell to relieve pressing wants. The great bulk of silver and the greatest number of duplicate gifts come from the wealthiest people.

“For instance, one day a carriage drove up to the door with the swellest of swell coachmen and footmen on the box. The footman jumped down, opened the door, and two magnificently dressed women got out and came in. One of them, after looking about a bit, asked the price of a little silver clock which I had bought in Amsterdam the last time I was there. I told her $35, and she said:

“‘All right; I’ll take that.’ Going along the case, she picked out half a dozen articles, saying that she would take them, and then she said: ‘By the way, won’t you send your porter out to my carriage and have him bring in some silver that is there?”

The porter returned with three of the handsomest solid silver salad bowls I’ve ever seen anywhere, and she asked me how much I would give her for them. I told her $150, and the difference between that and the cost of the things she had just purchased was $75. I had just made a deposit in the bank and didn’t have enough cash to give her, so I asked if she’d take a check. She said of course she would, and when I asked her name to make it out, imagine my surprise when she gave me the name of a forty millionaire banker. She caught my expression and laughingly said:

“I received nine big sliver salad bowls among my wedding presents. Don’t you think that six are enough?”

My answer was, ‘I certainly do, and I don’t blame you for turning them into goods such as you desire or cash, and what applies to her applies to every other bride.”

Erasure of Gift Marks.

“Are not these duplicate gifts frequently marked with the monogram or full name of the owner?” was asked.

“Yes, but we have a process of refinishing silver so that no vestige of engraving is visible.” visible.” was the reply. “Indeed, as I said, so many brides have so much sentiment about gilts that they store rather than sell or exchange them. After a while, however, they find that the storage costs so much that they make up their minds to part with what was once so dear, and so here they come with a lot of battered or abused silverware. We give them a fair cash valuation for it, or other articles, put their goods in order, and sell them–frequently for other brides. There is an epergne there which was made to order at one of the most fashionable houses in the city. It was given to a couple on their fiftieth anniversary and cost $650. It is a magnificent piece, and when put in order you would never know it. The next time it is sold the selling price will be $150. Why the owners disposed of it I cannot say. Possibly because they didn’t want the responsibility of caring for it and were not disposed to pay storage on it.”

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 27 November 1898: p. 30

wedding gifts grand forks ND daily herald 27 Sept 1890 p 6

 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Duplicates, particularly in glassware and silver, were a perpetual problem for the newly-married. One invariably ended up with nine pitchers and no useful table-linen. This clerk understood the bridal frustration:

ABOUT WEDDING PRESENTS.

One Who Knows Tells Something of Their Purchase and Exchange. Practical Gifts Preferred by the Up-to-Date Bride

Duplicates and the Surprises That Bob Up When Mistakes Are Remedied.

“It would be a good thing if somebody would inaugurate the bridal fad of sending along with wedding invitations a printed list of articles most acceptable in the gift line. People somehow seem to imagine that only the gew-gaws of life appeal to a newly-wedded pair, and they make a mighty big mistake. The purchasers of a rare piece of Dresden would probably be as insulted as surprised if they could see it handed back a few days after the honeymoon in exchange for a novelty in coffee pots or a substantial whisk broom and holder.

This is what a salesman in a well-known bric-a-brac establishment said the other day after just completing an “exchange” with an interesting young couple who were lamenting together over half a dozen duplicates in Bohemian glass.

“Now that pair,” he continued, as they left the store, “must have sent out their wedding invitations just about the time we were having a bargain run on flower vases. There was, I remember, quite a rush for them at the time, for people are just snobbish enough to want to have our stamp on a box, no matter how trivial the article it contains.

“Those Bohemian glass vases were snatched up right and left. Six of them have found their way into the possession of that couple. They wanted to know how many of them they could exchange. The girl said, quite candidly, that they would never have enough flowers to fill half of the vases, and as for ornaments bouquet holders minus blooms were about as superfluous as bonbon baskets without any sweets.

“Oh yes, we have some funny experiences in bridal present exchanges. It’s amusing at times to see how surprised a customer is when she finds she can’t exchange her ten-dollar knickknack for some article that runs up into the fifties.

“If two women are together when they discover the price of some gift which they have very much over-estimated they draw off and begin a whispered, “Well, did you ever? I never would have believed he could have been so mean.’ “Twelve dollars and a half, and he’s able to pay a hundred. I shan’t forget it.’ And so on.

“The other day a progressive young woman brought in an article that had been purchased here, something I believe in silver and glass for the dressing table, and wanted to exchange it for a sterling silver corkscrew.

“Nine times out of ten an exchange supplements something practical for a purely decorative affair. People don’t buy wedding presents with much discretion. I could give them points. I know, for experience with duplicates and exchanges has taught me not a little wisdom in that line. But they want to make a lot of show for their money or they want something altogether unique and between the struggle for quantity and a desire for originality, the practical, acceptable things in stock are entirely overlooked until the recipient of so much decorative riff-raff comes in and effects an exchange for something more necessary to every-day living.”

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 8 June 1895: p. 11

For other posts on the subject, such as some gift-exchange contretemps, how quiet weddings are a blunder if one wishes a well-laden gift table, and wedding gifts as a source of worry for the conscientious guest. As for the wedding gifts received by then-Princess Elizabeth, in the photo at the head of the post, one imagines that the bride did not worry about receiving duplicate diamond tiaras.

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.