Category Archives: Frolics

An Imposter at the Concord Ball: 1875

Colonial Revival costumes in a portrayal of George and Martha Washington’s wedding, 1912

A Western Deceiver.

Nora Perry writes of the centennial celebration at Lexington and Concord in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. Of the Concord ball she writes: And oh! What a pretty sight, as everybody unanimously voted. Such brocades, smelling of cedar and camphor-wood, as would now and then appear, plaited and puckered in the very stitches of the old-time—not a fold altered nor a ruffle changed. But there were not many of them. Those fair ones who rejoiced in these veritable old heirlooms walked about with their pretty chins aloft, lifted up above common modern clay by the sublime consciousness of a fine Mayflower ancestry, which these credentials would place beyond dispute.

But a woman’s wit will sometimes get the better of the stoutest credentials; and so a saucy, mischievous little damsel managed to array herself in a brand new gown, which she so plaited and puckered and betrimmed with coffee-dipped lace and scented with camphor-gum, in the very pink and pattern of the Continental dames, that all the little Mayflowers lowered their chins on her approach and whispered audibly, in her delighted hearing, “That is the real thing! Wonder who she is?”

And the little deceiver, with “a smile that was child-like and bland,” went on her way rejoicing, happy as all human nature must be at such a signal triumph. Boston is much too well-bred to ask outright questions of identity, so my fair one kept her secret with these fine Mayflowers; but after the ball she is perfectly willing to reveal her cunning guilt, and to let a faithful correspondent say that it was one of Chicago’s nearest neighbors who thus proved herself more than a match for Boston.

Daily Graphic [New York, NY] 7 May 1875: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this, the anniversary of the fateful day that the American Revolution began: the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it seems appropriate to record the sartorial conflict between the camphor-scented blue-bloods of the East and the parvenu of the West in her coffee-dipped lace.

1876 saw a revival of “Colonial” American costume, from antique lace ruffles at ladies’ elbows to daintily embroidered shoes to sack-back gowns of flowered brocades. Mrs Daffodil regrets to say that some enthusiasts actually remade historic 18th-century garments into fancy-dress costumes or pageant attire for “Lady Washington teas.”

Eighteenth-century costumes were proudly displayed as an emblem of pedigree by Americans who otherwise scorned England’s class system as un-democratic.  An aged American lady of impeccable lineage was distressed to part with her historic quilted petticoat. And this improbably aged relic was described at a celebration of The Geauga County Historical Society, 30 September, 1875:

In the exhibit, first, I bring to your attention, the singular and costly specimens of work presented by Mrs. Polly Norton, of Troy, Ohio, in 1873, a widow lady, seventy-seven years of age, and an early settler in that township. Her husband was a farmer, and died some years ago. First, the waist of a dress; second, a portion of the skirt to another dress; third, a window curtain—all made of linen, the waist being striped with blue, the other two pieces white, all worked in flowers, made of woolen floss. In this floss may be found, at this date, twenty-three different shades of color, and upon the waist are forty-seven different kinds of buds and flowers. Upon the skirt, which is supposed to be about one width, there are one hundred and sixty kinds, and it is estimated that upon the whole skirt there must have been no less than eight hundred buds and flowers worked. Upon the curtain there are one hundred and thirteen kinds, no two of which are considered to be alike. The flax was carded, spun and wove for the fabric of these relics, and the wool was carded and spun for the floss, and it was colored into all the various shades, and then worked into the almost countless flowers upon the fabric. Then the dresses were made, and the curtains stitched and worked, all this having been done by one and the same person, the great-great-grandmother of Mrs. Polly Norton, thus running back, on the line of descent, four generations, or more than six generations of the average life of men. These garments, so skillfully made, must have cost more than twelve months of work to perfect them, including the full set of curtains. The dresses look like the completion of a “sensation” toilet upon the charming person of this great-great-grandmother, as she moved in society more that two hundred years ago, in the colony of Massachusetts. Indeed, they take us back to the threshold of the days of the Pilgrims, and it would almost seem that this dress had brushed against the sword at the side of Miles Standish, or touched the gallant arm of a Governor Carver or Bradford. It was made in the old Bay State, far back beyond the days of cotton mills and whizzing spindles. Pioneer and General History of Geauga County [Ohio] 1880: pp. 42-3

Mrs Daffodil fears that this little story perpetuates the myth of pioneer ladies who made clothing entirely from “scratch,” although, both before and during the Revolution, there was an active trade smuggling the English textiles, laces, and luxury goods the Colonies desired.

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.

 

The Kettle-drum and the Winter Picnic: 1874

tea-party-1902-5

“KETTLE-DRUM.”
Another Fashionable Folly – Winter Picnics.

In this country we have few gentlemen of leisure, and in society, ladies’ clubs to the contrary notwithstanding, you can do little without gentlemen. While these are daily absorbed in some pursuit, ladies have been compelled to abandon themselves to lounging, dressing, calling, lunching, reading novels, and other weak efforts to kill time, cultivating society principally as an evening amusement, which usually resolves into the crush and jam of a party. Now, however, in large eastern cities, ladies are turning young men who have leisure, into account. They are invited to “kettle-drums,” a species of entertainment something like a high tea, where ladies are in the preponderance, where the rigidity of full evening dress is not required, where the proceedings are easy and informal, servants only being admitted with trays of refreshments, and then excluded, the hostess herself pouring tea or chocolate for her guests, and where society plans are discussed, suggestions made, and people decapitated without mercy. The “kettle-drum” has in it the elements of immense success, but it is necessarily confined in its sphere of operations. It was at a party of that character that the notion of a “winter picnic”—another scheme to kill time of those who have nothing to do during the day—was proposed. The modus operandi of the latter is thus described: A lady volunteers the use of her house, which she is expected to decorate with evergreens in profusion—holly, mistletoe, cedar, pine and the like—and also provide tea. The rest of the eatables the gentlemen contribute. One sends a hamper of ready cooked game, another fruit, another cakes and biscuits, another the creams and ices, and so on, until the collation is complete. Wine is not favored; instead, “Russian” tea is the vogue, simply Pekoe, choice Bohea or Mandarin tea, with thin slices of lemon floating in it instead of milk. As much of the house as possible is thrown open, halls are festooned with green, tubs and pots containing plants from the conservatory, or hired from a neighboring greenhouse, are placed here and there, and the table is spread picnic fashion by the company themselves, who also restore the dishes to the baskets and wind up with a dance. We heard it rumored that a lady, prominent in society in this city, is making preparations for a “winter picnic” at an early day.

Morning Republican [Little Rock AR] 13 January 1874: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To be Relentlessly Informative, the origins of the term “Kettle-drum” are shrouded in the mists of the seventeenth century:

The origin of the Kettle-drum as somewhat obscure, but if history speaks truly, they were very common during the reign of that gay monarch, Charles the Second. The ladies returning from the hunt, gathered together for a tea-drinking and some light refreshment, the entertainment being known as a “drum,” to which the term kettle was later prefixed. The term Kettle-drum can not, therefore, be applied to anything but a tea-drinking; and, strictly speaking, should include only a light refreshment of sandwiches, cake, and biscuits. At no afternoon entertainment, at present, unless a full dress reception, is coffee or wine fashionable, chocolate or bouillon being the substitutes; and these, as well as tea, should be served in small dainty cups, the cream and sugar being handed each guest on a salver. Cook Book of the Northwest 1887: p. 167

Naturally, it was an English importation.

The kettledrum, or five o’clock tea, is really a very admirable institution, and a great relief in the severe formality and heaviness of average English entertainments. The guests drop in a little after four, the ladies retaining their hats and wraps. There are pictures and books to discuss, music at intervals; the rooms and balconies are filled with flowers; there is presently an ethereal little refection of wafer-thin bread and butter, delicate cakes, coffee and tea, served upon exquisite porcelain; and then after a little more talk and music the company melts unceremoniously away, and the little meeting has been simple, inexpensive—not–gay, for that would not be English, but pleasantly content—an excellent thing in the right houses, and in the wrong ones an evil of bearable weight and duration. The Galaxy, Vol. 15, February 1873: p. 260

Mrs Daffodil has long served the leisured class and no fashionable folly such as a “winter picnic” would surprise her. Still, one is rather shocked at the “soft” socialites holding such a soirée indoors. Where is that rugged American spirit? Here is how a proper “winter picnic” might be achieved: 

WINTER PICNIC HINTS

A winter picnic may be great fun

Ice and snow offer as many inducements for out-of-doors sports as any thing we have in summer. Two things, however, are essential really to enjoy a winter picnic. The first is proper clothing. Sweaters, woolen gloves and arctics are essentials. The second is the lunch. This should be much more substantial than the summer fare. If possible, have a good fire and cook at least one hot dish. In cold weather metal is disagreeable to handle, so use enameled ware cups and plates, which won’t break if dropped by cold fingers. Ham and eggs fried over a camp fire make a hearty lunch, and if an enameled ware frying pan is used it will be found easier to manager than the heavier iron variety. A little ingenuity will suggest many tasty hot dishes and winter picnics once tried will become a favorite pastime.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 23 November 1915: p. 11

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.

 

The Dances of the Day: A Chat with a Royal Dancing Teacher: 1893

THE DANCES OF THE DAY

A CHAT WITH THE LADY WHO TEACHES THE PRINCESS BEATRICE’S CHILDREN

The two eldest children of Princess Beatrice have reached the age when the discipline of the nursery is gradually exchanged for that of the school room. One of the newly imposed duties of the Royal babies at Windsor Castle consists of a weekly dancing lesson. The lady who has been asked to undertake the task of teaching “their paces” to the Queen’s small grandchildren is Mrs. Wordsworth, whose name as an authority on, and a first-rate teacher of, dancing, is well known in London and elsewhere. Once a week Mrs. Wordsworth escapes from her never-ending engagements to go to Windsor, where Her Majesty honours all the dancing lessons to her grandchildren with her presence. This is not surprising, for it would be hard to find a more charming and amusing sight than a class of juvenile dancers whom Mrs. Wordsworth teaches. For this lady does not teach like other teachers; the principles on which she bases her instruction are strictly scientific, a fact which, we hasten to add, makes her classes not less but much more interesting and entertaining than is generally the case. A representative whose attention had been drawn to some of the dancing classes at Queensberry Hall, Harrington-road, gives the following account of a visit to that ideal ballroom:

It is absolutely no use trying to get more than a moment’s attention from Mrs. Wordsworth while her lesson is proceeding. She has eight assistants dispersed among the sixty or seventy pupils forming one of the juvenile classes, but for all that it is Mrs. Wordsworth herself on whom falls all the real work. It is not with her voice and with her movements only that she teaches, but she throws into it her whole soul and spirit, and such teaching is infectious. The pupils cannot be dull or indifferent; they are awakened, quickened, drawn away (in some cases, it is easy to see, in spite of themselves), till even the most awkward lassie and the most clumsy lad shake off their gaucherie and join the fun in utter self-forgetfulness.

To watch a class of Mrs. Wordsworth’s pupils, be they small beginners or graceful maidens practising society skirt-dance, is an artistic treat. Imagine an immense hall, well aired, lighted from the top, and with a faultlessly smooth floor. In one corner a piano, along the walls, on either side, the delighted kith and kin of the dancers, and the whole hall filled with children, mostly girls, from the toddling infant of four or five, whose kittenish capers are in themselves as good as the proverbial play, to the graceful young beauty standing on the brink where “maidenhood and childhood meet.” All the girls dressed in dainty loose gowns of soft stuffs and pretty tints. There are also a few boys, but boys at dancing lessons are not things of beauty, and they keep, wisely and well, in the background.

cretan-garland-dance-lighter

At one moment the whole class is engaged in playing ball, in the manner of Greek maidens; next they dance with skipping-ropes, toy with fans, accompany their Spanish dances by the musical click of castanettes, or show that even clumsy-looking clubs can be gracefully handled. And among them, eager, anxious, delighted, or momentarily chiding, moves the teacher, forgetful of everything except that these children must learn to dance and to move gracefully about. After two hours of incessant strain, Mrs. Wordsworth retired for a few moments into her tiny private room, and there, fanning her hot face, she expressed her views of the dancing of the day as follows:

“How are new dances made, Mrs. Wordsworth, or are there no new dances?” “Yes, there are new dances every season. As far as I am concerned, I invent my own dances as I go along. Perhaps a new tune is in vogue. If it lends itself at all to dancing, I listen to it, and while doing so determine in my own mind what steps would suit it best. After much experience this becomes quite easy to me now.”

“I believe it was you, Mrs. Wordsworth, as it not, to whom is due the revival of taste for step-dancing?” “Yes, I was the first to teach it in England; but what began with a few dances created by Taglioni has now grown to an infinite variety of pretty arrangements. I often get an idea for a new dance form the picture. For instance, Sir Frederick Leighton’s painting of the Greek maidens playing at ball suggested the idea of the exercise with balls which you have been watching. I study the picture very carefully, till I know exactly what muscles come into play if the position on the picture is assumed. Then, since I want all the muscles to be exercised, I add other steps and poses till I have what I want. Mr. Alma-Tadema’s pictures also furnish me with many suggestions.”

“Then, is your idea of what a dance should be based upon the idea of the Greeks, whom you seem to take as your models?”

“It is. But though dancing is recreation, it should never be bodily recreation only. I want my pupils not to follow blindly and unthinkingly my teaching as to steps and poses. No one will ever dance or move gracefully who goes to a dancing-class in that spirit. I want the movements of the body to be prompted by the brain; I want my pupils to think. Thus they do not all move and dance in exactly the same way, but each puts something of her own individuality into the dance. I do not want to mould them all in the same form; they must remain individuals.”

The Westminster Budget [London, England] 26 May 1893: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Daughter of a Brighton dancing master, Mrs Wordsworth was one of the most famous society dance teachers in England. She held strong views about the practical value of dance as exercise, discipline and promoter of moral fibre:

A moral gain is also attainable for many by this study. Experienced teachers have seen instances of improvement effected in nerve and temper, undiscoverable until the stern discipline of the dancing lesson came to the rescue, working subtly in the guise of play—for one must remember that vigorous movement is natural to the young. The disobedient become accustomed to obey; the sulky perforce throw off their habitual mood; ill-temper is forgotten. Thus the physical benefit of the exercise is supplemented by other elevating influences. 1895

The use of the word “stern” is no accident. Despite those gowns “of soft stuffs and pretty tints,” Mrs Wordsworth felt that the terpsichorean arts were best inculcated by an almost military discipline. This was not entirely to Queen Victoria’s taste:

The queen, hearing of Mrs. Wordsworth’s fame as an instructor of stiff ankles, sent for this energetic little lady, who was introduced to teach the children of Princess Beatrice. Possessing a stentorian voice and extreme vigor in her manner of imparting, Mrs. Wordsworth treated her little items of royalty to the same shouts and signals which she finds so effective with her great army of pupils, the queen being present and much interested in the lesson. Next time this celebrated dancing mistress visited Windsor, however, it was politely intimated through a lady in waiting that her majesty’s nerves had been a little tried by the “forcible” method of her excellent instruction, so the royal Battenberg babies had perforce a much easier half hour. Hamilton [OH] Evening Journal 10 February 1894: p. 8

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.

 

Making Valentines in London: 1871

THE VALENTINE IN LONDON.

Curious to see one of the veritable temples of Venus, whence issue the bleeding hearts and flowery darts of Cupid, we were directed to a very unromantic house in that very prosaic thoroughfare Aldersgate street, in which is installed as agent of the classic goddess a very business-like but romantic-looking Englishman, who does by substitute, we are given to understand, the major portion of lover’s work in this country. We were informed that he keeps a real poet, as part of his manufacturing machinery; and as we wound our way up the dark and devious stairs, we looked about for that individual with “eye in fine frenzy rolling,” but failed to catch it, as we passed the smudgy-looking printers intent upon their prosaic work. Nevertheless, this armory of Venus upon inspection proved to be one of the curiosities of this great city.

We soon became aware of one fact that a little astonished us—the valentine of the shops is not even indigenous. Not only do we no longer address our lovers in our own phrases, ornamented with our own devices, but we fail to supply the manufactured substitute. France, the reader will instantly suggest, finds us in the sentimental finery, the amatory poetry, and the soft lace-work in which the British youth wraps up his affections. Nothing of the kind; strange delusion; they know nothing of valentines in fair France. There, New Year’s Day takes its place, and it is to old Germany that we have to go to find St. Valentine as much respected as amongst ourselves.

In the old land of printing, the valentine has always been a theme for the printer’s and the lithographer’s art; hence the reason of their power to supersede our own handicraft in this department of ornamental stationery. But if we import the foreign work, we utilize it in our own fashion. German valentines come over to us in the form of embossed and colored card-work, of the most elaborate character—wreaths, devices, pictures, emblems, all grouped together in fancy designs; the different parts, however, being attached by fine points which easily break asunder. The English valentine-maker fancies he can make combinations of his own out of these easily resolved materials, which will suit the home market better; hence the first part of his business is to break the German valentines to pieces, in order that they may be built up afresh. Rows of sprightly young damsels are engaged at this work, tearing hearts out of encircling wreaths, separating lace-work from mottoes, with the most unconcerned hands, disuniting the most touching emblems, reducing flowery pictures to mere disjecta membra, which other hands are employed in reuniting in a more simple fashion. All valentines, it is true, are not subjected to this revolutionary process; it is only the cheaper sort, in which we cannot compete with the foreign work. The more expensive valentines are of home manufacture.

The range of cost is extraordinary, extending from a penny to a pound. In the higher-priced ones, satin and lace are the surroundings, and the settings are exquisite pictures. These are arranged with such springs and delicate foldings that they will not bear the rough usage of the post, but require the protection of elaborate cases. In short, a high-class valentine packed for delivery is like a lady going to the opera, who must have the whole carriage-seat to herself, to keep her flounces, her Brussels lace, and her towering headdress entirely free from the touch of ordinary mortals; so the delicate fancy valentine is fenced off, and goes by the parcel post—a mighty aristocrat beside the ordinary penny specimens in the postman’s bag.

Lace-work for valentines is a manufacture by itself, and is made in a very curious way. It is stamped in relief in a metal mold; one side of the mold is then lifted, and all the superfluous paper is rubbed away with pumice-stone, leaving the lace pattern in the die, from which it is lifted when cleared of its surroundings.

The statistics of London valentines, if they could be procured, would be very curious. There is no means of even making a guess at the numbers which pass through the post-offices of the entire kingdom; but a guess may be made at the numbers passing through St. Martin’s-le-Grand. The average number of letters is, of course, pretty well known, and in the year 1866 there passed through the London post-offices, for delivery in town and country, 897,900 in excess of this average on St. Valentine ‘s Day. In 1868 the excess had increased to 1,199,142. Probably on St. Valentine ‘s Day, 1871, this number will have increased to a million and a half, bringing a revenue, due entirely to the tender sentiment, of upward of £15,000. Who shall say after this that sentiment does not pay?

Frank Leslies Weekly, 18 March 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In 1895, the Valentine trade was said to be in decline.

Practically, there is but one firm left in the valentine trade, namely, Messrs. Goode Brothers, of Clerkenwell. The astonishingly rapid decline of the valentine within the past ten years brought ruin to many a wholesale manufacturer, to whom the trade was worth perhaps £20,000 a year, between the years 1870 and 1875-—the golden age of the valentine. At this period a single maker would keep six designers and eighty girls employed on valentines all the year round. Rice paper from China was bought by the shipload; plush, in wholesale quantities of 9,000 yards at 2s. per yard; and silk fringe, from Coventry, in bales of a hundred gross of yards. Twenty years ago, too, the big valentine dealer’s turnover was a thousand pounds a week during the three months of the season; and in his workrooms a quarter of a ton of the finest white gum disappeared in the dainty trifles. Four well-paid male artists designed the “comics”—mainly trade skits and domestic incidents—and these were reproduced on 1,500 reams of paper. The machines were kept going night and day, turning out a million caricatures a week, of which some 5,000 gross were dispatched to Australia by sailing vessels in May and June. From a hundred to a hundred and thirty different comic designs were produced every year, and one house would have five smart “commercials” showing the pattern-books to retailers in all parts of the kingdom….

One of the very few of the valentine “commercials” left in London tells a woeful tale of the dying trade. Every season a fresh batch of fancy dealers shake their heads at his approach, with the remark, “I don’t think I’ll go in for it this year.” The valentine trade in the Metropolis is simply infinitesimal; the matter-of-fact Londoner prefers to send his lady-love a box of gloves on the “fourteenth,” and we opine that the damsel herself prefers this useful valentine even to the chastely designed “ sentimental” of to-day, though the latter be resplendent with aluminium frosting which costs a guinea a pound.

Although flowers and confectionary are always acceptable, one simply cannot argue with a useful box of gloves, particularly if the gentleman has spent enough time holding one’s hand to ascertain the correct size.

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.

 

The Very Worst Thing: Young Ladies and Their True Confessions: 1895

 SOME DILEMMAS

But the Worst One was the Story of the Letters.

They were having a real nice time together, and they had told each other almost all of their private affairs when one of them remarked, as she deftly removed a marshmallow from a hatpin on which she had toasted it, “Look here, girls, I wish you would tell me the very worst thing that ever happened to you.”

“H’m,” replied the plump brunette, “that is easy enough in my own case. It happened the last time I went sleighing with Tom. You see, we quarreled desperately and”—

“Was that it?” slyly put in the tall blond.

“It was not. It was the discovery after I had refused to speak to him that I had lost my handkerchief. We had five miles yet to reach home, and I had a cold anyhow, so you may imagine my sufferings.”

“Mercy on us, that was nothing at all,” groaned the tall blond. “Don’t waste any sympathy on her, girls, but listen to me. I was just starting to dress the other day when Walter sent up a message that he had stopped on his way to the train and wouldn’t I see him for a moment right away? In my haste I got on May’s back hair instead of my own. It is nine shades darker, so you can imagine the effect. The parlor curtains were at the laundry, too, the sun was shining brutally in, and I discovered my mistake in the mantel mirror as I took my seat. Think of it! After he had written a poem, which was almost accepted by a magazine, to my ‘Riotous Golden Hair!’”

“Oh, oh!” groaned the first girl, “that was simply awful! As for me, you know I would perish before I would admire Dora’s sleeves. Well, one night I staid with her and died of envy at her new dark blue waist.”

“The one with sleeves like sublimated sofa pillows?” queried the plump brunette.

violet-satin-bodice

“The same. I had on my pink one, but it faded away like a sunrise before hers. I determined to have sleeves like those or fill an early grave, so in the morning I told her that I couldn’t possibly wear my pink waist home in daytime, and she actually loaned me her new one.”

“Even Dora has a good fit sometimes,” said the tall blond.

“M’hm. I went home as fast as I could, took off the waist which I had promised to send right back, and flew to the dressmaker’s with it. She promised to make my new sleeves juts like ‘em, and I was coming peacefully away when whom should I meet on the threshold but Dora herself!”

“Oh, Fan, how awful!”

“It was. Not as bad as it might have been, though, for she had my pink waist in her hand. She had come to have the garniture on it copied. Of course neither of us could say a word, but the one moment in which I knew that I was found out was the most awful of my life. I woke up at night bathed in cold perspiration at the thought of it.”

‘And no wonder,” said the other girls in chorus. “Do have some more marshmallows, dear.”

The melancholy girl with the brown hair heaved a sepulchral sigh: “I am glad to know that other people have woes too. I have mine. George and I quarreled desperately yesterday because he actually said I was flirting with Jim.”

“And were you?” queried the blond.

“Of course not. I denied it indignantly and gave back his ring on the spot. When he was gone, I bundled up his letters, called a messenger and sent them off before I drew breath. Today I discovered that I had by mistake inclosed a lot of Jim’s with them, and now I’m wondering how I’m ever going to explain them away.”

And for a moment there was an awed silence in the room.

Ukiah [CA] Daily Journal 3 May 1895: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: How, indeed?  Mrs Daffodil, who has seen and abetted a good deal of blackmail in her time in service, always advises burning compromising letters and beating the ashes to powder with a poker. Such trifling precautions may save the recipient from being beaten to a powder by a disgruntled lover with a blunt instrument.

Still, stories about ladies who experience difficulties when entertaining two consecutive gentlemen are so commonplace as to be scarcely worth our sympathy. It is the unprincipled ladies who rush off to their dressmakers to copy a sleeve or a garniture of a rival who truly shock Mrs Daffodil.

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 Swell Party on Ice: 1881

London Skating Rink, 1882, British Museum.

London Skating Rink, 1882, British Museum.

“Clara Belle” has been to the aristocratic rink in the  polo grounds, off Fifth Avenue, and discourses of her skating sisters with her usual freedom. “A swell party,” she says, ” had hired the ice for the afternoon, and were thus enabled to skate without showing their heels to common people. A great deal of solid comfort was in the warm club-house, where the girls awarded the valued privilege of putting on their skates, and that sentimental operation was performed with some newly acquired graces. There was a prosaic attendant at hand to do the work, but he was only called on to serve the older and plainer women. The more attractive girls were beset by volunteers, and one impartial maiden surrendered a foot to each of two admirers. She manifestly enjoyed the experience of having two fellows on their knees before her at a time, and bore the ordeal with unexampled patience, though they were wonderfully slow, and kept her feet in their laps at least ten minutes. Not being shoemakers, they appeared to appreciate the boon, and to be each determined to make it last longer than the other, under the pretense of having trouble with the straps. Finally her big brother came along, and pulled the buckles into place with brutal celerity. She did not say ‘thank you’ to him, and probably didn’t feel like it.”

“The assemblage,” she continues, “was comely as a whole, and had a few good exhibits of American beauty. They wore short street-costumes, in many cases quite elaborate. The fashion used to be to wear plain woolen dresses, made expressly for skating ; but it is not so now. The rage for costly fabrics is too great to be relaxed for even one afternoon. Satins, velvets, and plushes were commoner than wool, and the damage done toilets by falls on the ice was simply immense. An awkward girl, with a weight of one hundred and eighty pounds, sat down with a thud on not less than a full square yard of embossed velvet, and slid over a rough spot, utterly ruining not less than forty dollars worth of surface. But she didn’t care. I only saw one who seemed to be at all mindful of consequences. She wore a skirt of velvet and brocade satin, and evidently was resolved not to spoil it. Whenever she slipped up she managed to fall cat fashion on all fours—and to straddle about until an upright position was regained without having dragged the precious cloth on the ice. She was built like a spider, weighed about ninety pounds, and could strike light, while the other girl went down with a crushing, spreading, sprawling force that was terrific.

“The only distinctive features of dress for the occasion were on the heads and legs. Many of the women wore turban-like caps of fur, plush, or velvet ; but there were a few very coquettish hoods, of the pattern usually worn by little children, but made of handsome dark materials. These were at once warm and stylish. The hair left visible was a frizzle or bang in front, and a careless brush hanging down behind. The effect was killing, particularly if the girl had any claims to beauty of face. A close hood on a round, rosy-cheeked creature, with a bang reaching nearly to her bright eyes, and a tangle of hair flying behind her, made her simply bewitching.”

But Clara reveals the artifices of the sex with most refreshing frankness. Listen:
“One whom I have especially in mind was as artful in reality as she was innocent in aspect. Her arrangement of stockings proved it. She wore a pair of leggings, or over-hose, of knitting or crochet work, reaching from low down on her boots to a little above the ankle. They were red, and therefore conspicuous enough to draw considerable attention to her skating gear. But that was not all. Every high flop of her short skirts revealed light pink silk stockings.— just a tantalizing amount of almost flesh-colored surface above the leggings, at the point where her legs began to swell. The contrivance has often been resorted to in the ballet. It may be that I wrong her by the suspicion that her falls were not always accidental. She was a most excellent skater, and it did seem odd that she should go over on her face, with her heels kicking up behind, four times in one hour. Being of her sex I was no doubt envious. However, I did not discern any incredulity on the part of the men, who invariably rushed to her assistance, and I really believe the trickery was as pleasing to them as it was to her.”

On the whole, it is perhaps as well that we have no skating in ‘Frisco.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 22 January 1881

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Well, quite.

Young ladies who skated in crinoline in the ’60s might certainly tantalise the young men with a glimpse of stocking, but the narrower dresses of the ’80s should have rendered this delight impossible, except, of course, to this saucy siren of the ice. One wonders if this member of the “swell” skating party “swelled” her calves by means of artificial padding as young ladies did in the ’60s.

Some other posts on ice-skating: A Naughty Story on Ice, An Idler at a New York Ice Carnival, and How to Be Decorative While Ice-Skating.

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.

 

Bon-Bon Boxes of Paris: 1875

BON-BON BOXES OF PARIS.

The Paris correspondent of the Philadelphia Press writes:

The bon-bon boxes prepared for the coming holiday season are simply lovely to behold. Every confectioner’s shop has its separate speciality, and each tries to out vie the other in originality of design and beauty of execution. Siraudia exhibits various floral designs, such as a basket of lilies of the valley, the flowers being attached to a close fitting flat cover, which, on being lifted off, or rather out displays the sugared treasures within. More novel and charming is a pink satin wheelbarrow loaded with wild flowers. Ackard has golden shoes, of full realistic size, very stubbed about the toes, and with marvelous striped silk stockings. Cacot displays satin water-coolers of divers shades, each painted with a charming figure of spring and also porcelain rabbits.

Boissier, however, takes the lead, as usual, with the most exquisite little bags of pale pink and pale-blue satin, which represents bagpipes, the pipes being of ivory and the sides of the bags being painted with delicately-shaded flowers of the same hue as the satin. He also offers exquisite caskets of crystal, elaborately engraved and with mountings of gilded bronze. One fantastic and extravagant bonbonniere that I saw was composed of a covering of point lace, laid over a large square box covered with light-blue satin and held down in the middle with a tiny bouquet of roses; the box was finished with a rich silk cord round the edge. The price of this festive article was $100.

A St Catherine bon-bon box http://www.rubylane.com/item/594272-MT376/Large-Antique-Napoleon-Era-Eglomise-Bon

A St Cecilia bon-bon box in eglomise work. http://www.rubylane.com/item/594272-MT376/Large-Antique-Napoleon-Era-Eglomise-Bon

Less elegant, but really more extravagant, was another rich casket covered with portions of a gold-embroidered India shawl, which had been artfully cut out and put together, the whole being finished with a gold cord, and being valued at $150. The price and splendor of these costly trifles may appear extraordinary; but when one reflects that bon-bons are the only gift that a gentleman is permitted to offer to a lady in Paris on New Year’s day, and that it is almost an obligatory custom among friends and intimate acquaintance, it can readily be imagined how the Parisian gentlemen will strive to vie with each other in elegance and extravagance of style in making this conventional gift to some reigning queen of fashion.

But, unquestionably, the prettiest and most original invention in this line exhibited thus far this season is Boissier’s game of nine-pins. A large, square box, covered with blue, pale pink, or cherry satin, reveals, on being opened, a set of nine pins, the heads of which are of polished black wood, and the bases of satin to match the color of the box, the balls being black. Each nine pin and ball is hollow, and each is filled with a different kind of sugar-plum. Nothing more daintily elegant and fantastic could possibly be imagined or desired.

The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal 15 January 1875: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The satins of France are the most tempting in Europe.  These containers sound as alluring as their sweet contents. Alas, they were an ephemeral art and very few have survived. Oddly, some English sweetmeat boxes and bags of an earlier generation have outlived the pretty toys of the French.

This damascened sweetmeat box, “The Dudley Box,” was given to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.

dudley-sweetmeat-box-2

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78628/the-dudley-box-box-unknown/

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.