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How to be a Well-Dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

The well-dressed young man.

How to Be Well Dressed

The New York Star

Every man in New York who has any pride whatever about him likes to be well dressed. This is especially true of the young man, and if he is a discerning one, he soon learns that being decently clad is no drawback to him. On the contrary, he finds that, if anything, it tends to push him along a bit. No staid business man would admit that a good suit of clothes and spotless linen ever made an impression upon him. At the same time he is likely to have remarked to his partner that he favored so-and-so, among a long line of applicants for a subordinate position, because he appeared very respectable. The speaker would never add, of course, that the trim outward appearance of the applicant had materially aided in forming his judgment. He would probably charge the opinion to his ability as a character reader, and flatter himself that he had read the young man with the nice clothes through and through.

There is no doubt about it. A good outfit is a credential that waives considerable examination. A well-dressed man can go through life with his head in the air, and it will be generally concluded that he knows what he is about, while an infinitely superior being, with seedy apparel, will be harassed and cross-examined by lackey as well as master. The first will be given credit for an unusual amount of ability in his line, whether he possesses it or not. If the latter proves the case, surprise will be expressed. In any event, he won’t be hurt by the good start he gets. But the man who is not well groomed will suffer a succession of petty oppositions. He will be set down as worthless at the beginning, and he must have wonderful talents to override the prejudice. He is on the defensive with the world all the time, being constantly called upon to demonstrate that he is not what he seems to be.

Besides, a well-dressed man is nearly always a better man for being well dressed. He takes more pride in himself, his conduct, and his work. What he does he does better. He instinctively endeavors to ” live up to” his appearance. A neat and conventional dress is an easy guarantee of politeness from those you meet, and is a better recommendation than most of the commendatory letters that you may carry. It serves as a ready passport in the business community, and squeezes many a man into good society. Relative to this subject, I once heard a gentleman tell this story: “I believed that clothes never made the man,” said he, “until I started out in life for myself. I was rather indifferent then regarding my attire—in fact, I think it might have been deemed shabby. Well, what was the consequence? Every hotel I went to made me pay in advance if I stayed but a single night. I noticed then that others with better clothes than mine were treated with greater confidence. I took the hint and braced up, and, would you believe it? I could remain at a strange hotel for three and four weeks, after that, and never be presented with a bill. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is unprofitable to dress badly.”

Dr. [Josiah] Holland, who became famous as Timothy Titcomb, made the subject of dressing an important part of his published letters to young men, and the soundness of his philosophy was never questioned. Ten dollars a year spent in neckwear, he declared, went further toward dressing a man well than one hundred dollars a year spent in clothes. Timothy did not assume that a man could neglect his clothing because he wore fine neckwear. But he made the broad claim that a man with spotless linen, a becoming and well-arranged cravat, well-polished shoes and a clean suit of clothes would be described as well-dressed by the casual observer, even if the garments were very much the worse for wear. The greatest compliment that could be paid a man with respect to his apparel, Timothy Titcomb wrote, was to refer to him as one whose cloth and general outward appearance had made no impression, save that it was pleasing or neat. It indicated that nothing striking had been worn, yet an artistic effect had been produced. [Mrs Daffodil suggests that Beau Brummel may have had a prior claim to this idea. He is quoted as having said, “To be truly elegant one should not be noticed.”]

Another philosopher describes the best-dressed man as “he who wears nothing out of the common, but who wears that so well that he is distinguished among his fellows.” Dr. Holland’s idea respecting the necktie and linen is undoubtedly one of the secrets of good and cheap dressing. Scouring and renovating without stint might be added as another. A poor man who wants to dress well and as cheap as he can should not discard a suit so long as its color is firm and its fibres hang together. No man knows how far fifteen dollars a year spent for repairs will go toward making his appearance presentable, nor how large an expenditure for new garments it has saved him, until he tries it.

If men with moderate incomes, who feel obliged to dress shabbily six months out of the year, observed a woman’s way of sponging, overhauling and retrimming they might get a useful object-lesson from it. It is often remarked as being beyond explanation how that fellow can pay his board and dress so well on a salary of fifteen dollars a week or less. I happen to know a young man who does that very thing, and he dresses as well as any of the men about town who have far greater means, and says the cost of doing so is the smallest portion in his expense account. He contrives to own a dress suit, a suit for occasional wear and a business suit. His dress suit he has worn five years already, and has no idea now of replacing it with another. Frequently he has had it altered, to keep nearly apace with the decrees of fashion. In doing this he has practised some original ideas. For example, here is a bill he showed me:

To putting new broadcloth collar on dress suit $2.50

Widening trousers .50

Total – $3.00

The first item is decidedly unique. The present make of the coat might seem an anomaly to tailors, but it is strictly first-class in the public eye. The sleeves of the garment appeared a little bit threadbare, and the owner declared that he would remedy that defect in a couple of weeks by having a pair of new sleeves put in. I asked him how he prevented the new cloth being distinguished from the old, and he replied that his bushelman [one who alters or repairs clothing] managed in some way to sponge them up even. With his other suits he could not resort to such devices, but he keeps them looking new until, I might say, they are worn out. He buys coat and vest buttons by the box; so that they cost him about a cent a dozen. The moment the old buttons grow rusty he plies the needle himself in putting on a new set, and the appearance of the cloth is at once heightened. When binding breaks or gets glossed, he has the garment rebound, and at a very moderate cost it bobs up again in attractive shape.

Now, if one wants to pursue this sort of economy he can do so still further. A silk hat can be made over with any style of brim, washed, blocked and ironed, for one-third the price of a new one. This expenditure will include the cost of new lining, a new leather sweatband, and a new silk band and lining. Between it and a new hat, then, where is the difference? Some small cobblers make a business of vamping patent-leather shoes for two dollars. Nine hundred and ninety-five men out of a thousand throw away their patent-leathers as soon as they crack. The same proportion of men discard light-colored neckties when they become soiled. Various establishments clean them for fifteen cents each, or to practise more economy, a can of ether for sixty cents will clean two dozen and a half of them. Summing the whole thing up, I should say that a man can dress handsomely on from seventy-five to one hundred dollars a year, and very well on much less. [Citing again, Beau Brummel, who replied to a widow who asked how much it would cost for her son to be fashionably dressed: “My dear Madam, with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred a year.”]

Current Opinion, Volume 4, edited by Edward Jewitt Wheeler, Frank Crane, June 1890 p. 451

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is long past the time that the gentlemen should have been inducted into the sartorial secrets of the lady type-writer and  stenographer who make-over, make-do, turn, press, sponge, and re-trim and who, in the words of a somewhat dreary exponent of domestic thrift, make “economy in dress an art.”

But where does a young gentleman learn to “ply the needle” to sew on one of those buttons so economically bought by the box?  Sisters are an excellent resource or the young lady in the room down the hall at the boarding house might be flattered to be asked to share her knowledge of needle-arts. For the cost of an occasional box of chocolates the young man may find himself freed from the button-sewing altogether, although there is always the danger that he may also find himself betrothed. While such a state could have its disadvantages, he might console himself with the thought that henceforth the care of his wardrobe would devolve upon his wife.

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 Black Rose: 1910

THE BLACK ROSE

Triumph of Botanical Chemistry, but Who Would Want One

(from the New York Times)

The inventor of a process for growing black roses naturally takes pride in his achievement. The black rose is new in agriculture. Nature, within the knowledge of man, has produced no rose of that color, and the black rose, if it is a shapely, full-grown flower, will be cordially received. If it have the perfume of the garden rose, its value will be greater. Some of the most esteemed roses of the florist’s shops are almost odorless. The inventor of the black rose is to be congratulated. Black diamonds and brown ones are esteemed far above their intrinsic value. Mr Burbank’s horticultural hybrids are highly prized. It will not do, in this scientific era, to condemn the gardener or agriculturist for using his wit and art to produce freaks in defiance of nature. The freakish tendencies of nature are now too well understood. The cunning of man cannot outdo them. Only nature has not yet produced a black rose, and the first of its kind will surely command a high place in the market for curiosities.

The utility of a black rose is questionable. It will never satisfy the eye like the red, yellow or white rose: a new poetry of roses must be made to fit it; no lover will come to use it as a symbol of his passion. At its best it will seem a thing of mystery. A bunch of black roses carelessly laid on the rail of a parterre box at the opera will not necessarily charm the vision of the unfortunate lookers-on in the stalls. The near-sighted ones may fancy that the principal occupant of the box is displaying her overshoes. A black rose in a lovely woman’s hair will resemble a rosette of silk or velvet. As a gift the black rose, after its first novelty has worn away, will fit only funeral occasions. Even then its oddity and the extravagance its presence implies, will serve to make it seem unsuitable.

The advent of the black rose will be an event, a triumph of botanical chemistry, a subject for learned discussion, and some more or less tedious frivol. But, after that—what? Who really wants a black rose?

Charleston [SC] News and Courier 17 February 1910: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To-morrow is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, World Goth Day. While previously Mrs Daffodil thought that the day was to celebrate European barbarians who opposed Imperial Roman rule, this year she knows better and was ready with this post about the Goth’s favourite posy: the black rose.

It is curious that the alleged inventor is not named in the piece above; Mr Luther Burbank, the distinguished American horiculturalist was always cited as the ne plus ultra of plant breeders, but even he did not breed a black rose.

Two gentleman, both Russian, were named in the British and United States press as the inventor of the black rose.

The honor of making the black rose belongs to an amateur horticulturist—Mr. Fetisoff, of Voronezh, Russia. Mr. Fetisoff has accomplished what professional horticulturists for fifty years have been striving for. They have tried again and again and the wisdom of years has been combined in their efforts and yet they have never succeeded in producing a rose whose petals were absolutely black.

Mr. Fetisoff is guarding the secret of the existence of his black rose with religious care. The Evening Times [Washington DC] 2 July 1898: p. 6

and

A Russian nurseryman, named Seraphimoff, has actually produced a black rose….One would suppose that the admixture of manganese in the soil in which roses or tulips are grown would produce a purple shade in the flowers, but how black, which isn’t recognized as a color, can be developed, one utterly fails to understand.

The name Seraphimoff, is suspiciously religious. One fears that a sacrilegious nature faker is abroad. The word “seraphim” is one not to be used in jokes. The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 19 May 1908: p. 20

Experts who commented on these stories suggested that a black rose might be produced by intensive cross-breeding, or “culture in highly medicated soils.” The cultivar is said to exist in nature in Tibet and in Turkey; outside of nature, they may be purchased at Cartier, in onyx.  If Mrs Daffodil had to guess its meaning in the “language of flowers,” the black rose might signify, “I adore your skull jewellery and your jet lip-stick.” or “You are dead to me.”

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.

 

Finding the Lost Will: 1910

FINDING OF THE LOST WILL

(TITO SCHIPA)

Under his signature Mr. Schipa tells two psychical experiences of his own. Once, when a boy, he saw the apparition of a woman with Spanish veil and fan. Months after he visited his uncle in Parma, where he had never previously been. Glancing through a photograph album he came upon one of his uncle’s lately-deceased wife, taken in Spain at the time of her marriage, and exclaimed to his mother that this was the lady he saw. It proved to be his uncle’s wife whom, as well as whose portrait, he had never seen, and it was also ascertained that the apparition appeared on the night of her death…. The remaining incident we now present. The ingenuity shown at the close of the story, in trying to account for the facts, indicates that the narrator has a critical, rationalizing tendency.

Still more interesting was another incident which happened in my early days of opera singing and shortly after my career had started. It was at Vercelli, where I made my debut in Traviata. The little inn, a very old one, where I stopped seemed steeped in gloom, which extended from the manager through the entire personnel. It developed that the man’s father had died and left no will; at least none which could be found. For generations that inn had been inherited by the eldest son, whose early life was spent in preparation for its future management.

Owing to absence of a will, the then eldest son in charge would lose it, as the place must be sold and the proceeds divided among the dead man’s heirs.

This eldest son proved a nice fellow, telling me with frank honesty and thinking I might have scruples, that his place was crowded and the sole room he could give me was the one in which his father had died. Having no foolish fears in the matter, I promptly took it, sleeping soundly the night through.

The second night proved less fortunate. Tossing restlessly for hours, at last I fell asleep, though it seemed to me only briefly, when I was awakened by a whirring noise as of some big bird circling just above my head. Thinking probably a bat had flown in through the open window, I got up, lit a candle and made search. No bat was there.

Sleeping from then on, I was again aroused in the half-dawn by repetition of the whirring noise just above my head. Only partially awake, I struggled against sleep until startled by spoken words. Sounding husky, and uttering the words singly, as if with strong effort, the voice said: “Look-on-left-wall.” The last word was almost inaudible. Whether I had dreamed this or really heard it I felt uncertain. But I got up and looked in the dim light. The left wall looked exactly like any other wall, wainscoted to the ceiling with wood panels, against which hung an old oil painting.

Smiling to myself at what seemed a freak of imagination, I climbed into bed. Presently three sharp knocks against the wooden wainscoting of the left wall decided me that a bat was blindly seeking freedom. Then I began to search more thoroughly, for I was tired of having my peace wrecked.

Perhaps the bird had been caught behind the old painting, was my next thought. Dragging a tall table across the floor, I climbed up on it, taking down the picture, which proved to be the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, gloomy and cruel, showing the bleeding wounds and piercing arrows. I placed the face of the picture against the wall. Before I climbed back to hang it up, and in the daylight which had meanwhile grown stronger, the gleam of a white paper caught my eyes. It was neatly folded and stuck at the back of the picture between a wooden stretcher and the canvas. Pulling the paper out, I took it to a window to investigate. It was the lost will, leaving the inn to the writer’s eldest son.

Frankly speaking, a cold sweat covered me. The will dropped from my hands. The voice speaking must have been that of the dead! Then reason began to assert itself. Possibly, my mind filled with the story of the will, I had dreamed those words, or, half awake, had fancied them. As for the whirring noise and knockings, they might, after all, have been made by a bat now flown.

Then, too, I considered the situation along another line. As a singer I was keenly sensitive in my response to surrounding influences, often reading the thoughts of those about me, much as the antenna of a radio receives sounds. Why might not that same sensitive response to the hidden paper have inspired me, driven on by a half-dream, to the finding of the will? At any rate, there it was.

Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences, Walter Franklin Prince, University Books, 1963 : pp. 263-65

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This gripping anecdote originally appeared in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 12, 1928. Tito Schipa (1888-1965) was an Italian tenor who had a long and illustrious career, making his debut at Milan and eventually being engaged, in 1919, by the Chicago Opera Company as its leading lyric tenor. He also sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and at the San Francisco Opera.  Mrs Daffodil must say that Signor Schipa sounds remarkably sensible, despite his claim of unusual sensitivity, rather than  full of dramatic bravado, as tenors notoriously are. And bravo to him for braving what well could have been a bat in the dark.

For another story of a will lost and found, see The Will and the Ghost.

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 New, Frank Guest Book: 1915

Visitors’ Book The Manor House. Studland 1908 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1255992

A NEW, FRANK GUEST BOOK

One Which Will Prove Helpful to the Hostess and Bring Comfort to Guests

At one of the big country houses a new sort of guest book has been installed and it bids likely to prove a tremendous success. At this place there is a guest house, an annex for the accommodation of guests, and in each of the sleeping rooms therein is a guest book, bound to match the furnishings of the room. One is covered with block printed English chintz, another has a cover of rose brocade, bound on with gilt braid and still another is in black and white printed linen. But the bindings are not the interesting part of the guest books.

At a week-end party a little while ago each guest was requested to make a new use of the guest book. After registering the guest was to make truthful comment on the guest house, and, in fact, the whole house—friendly criticism as well as praise.

Monday morning, before the party broke up, the hostess gathered the books before her on a table, and read out the comments to the guests, and the result was decidedly entertaining.

Here are some of the entries:

“The hot water in the bathroom assigned to me,” wrote the guest, “does not run well. I like the way the windows are shaded so that the early sun doesn’t waken one.”

Another wrote; “Why didn’t you say that my room was pink so that I could have brought pink lingerie and negligee? DO tell me next time what color my room will be. Your maid has a lovely way of wrapping a hot water bottle in blue Canton flannel at the bottom of the bed each night. It is delightful.”

“The south window in my room rattled in the wind, and never did I see anything more comfortable than that little reading stand and light by my bedside,” read another.

And this: “I think the futurist paper in your dining room is awful. I and my lovely new dinner gown swore at it horribly, and I really think neutral-toned walls are far better in the dining room. But your guest house is a dream, and really I’m not cross about that fascinating dining room paper.”

There were other entries, each written frankly. And they were not only interesting to the guests, they were of real help to the hostess. For one thing, she had little wooden pegs made, and placed a box of them in each room so that they could be wedged into rattling windows, and so save sleepless hours. After this she does intend to tell her guests—the women of them—the color of their rooms. A plumber took five minutes to fix the hot water—and but for that entry she might never have known of its slowness and her guests might always have been inconvenienced.

It is a clever idea, this new guest book, far more interesting than the old book that was merely a record of names and dates.

Tulsa [OK] World 24 February 1915: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has known a great many hostesses who kept private “guest books” about the idiosyncracies of her guests: their favourite foods, their preferred amusements, positions on important political questions, sensitive conversational topics, mistresses or lovers du jour—a hundred-and-one helpful and compromising details that a hostess needs to create a delightful country-house stay or a lucrative black-mail.

This hostess is to be commended for inventing, well in advance of Tripadvisor, the candid hotel review. Mrs Daffodil feels, however, that while wooden pegs are a useful stop-gap measure, the truly considerate hostess would look into having the windows replaced.

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.

 

Hearse Horses: 1860-1911

 

Miniature model of a hearse and horses, c. 1865-75 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M990.674.1

It is the week-end of the Royal Windsor Horse-show and Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded by a box of really excellent chocolate cremes to allow Chris Woodyard, the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, to post a guest article on the theme of “hearse horses,” a class which Mrs Daffodil can confidently assert will not be on the programme at Windsor. In view of Prince Phillip’s impending retirement, a Hearse Four-in-Hand event might be seen as lacking in tact.

But enough persiflage. Chris Woodyard is champing at the bit….

Hearse and plumed hearse horses, 1870

In the United States, until the advent of the automobile hearse, hearse horses were a cherished commodity, well-known and sometimes beloved by the communities they served. The acquisition of a new pair of hearse horses was, like the purchase of a new hearse, an important event—something to be puffed in the papers. A smart team of plumed hearse horses was a selling point for any undertaker.

As late as 1911, E.F. Parks, an undertaker in Bryan, Texas, announced the arrival of “our fine team of hearse horses” rhapsodizing: “They are simply beautiful. White with a touch of red about the ears, back and hip. They are full brothers 5 and 6 years old.” Undertaker Parks even ran a contest for several weeks in the local newspaper to name the horses, selecting “Prince” and “Pilot” as the winning names. The Bryan [TX] Eagle 16 March 1911: p. 1

Mexican hearse with six netted horses. 1884

Articles about the acquisition of hearse horses often stressed the animals’ training (which seems to have been primarily about gait and speed), yet there were hundreds of accounts in contemporary newspapers of hearse horses running away or colliding with trees, trains, or telegraph poles, often with grave consequences.

FUNERAL HORROR FRIGHTENED HORSES

The Corpse of a Man Pulled After the Demolished Hearse in a Runaway

Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 24. A ghastly accident occurred at the double funeral of Mr. and Mrs. John Hackett, held near Lyons yesterday afternoon that has deeply shocked that community.

While the first hearse, drawn by a spirited team of blacks, was passing through a deep snow drift the horses became frightened, and, unseating the driver, ran away. The hearse containing the coffin and the remains of Mr. Hackett tipped over and the casket was demolished, throwing out the corpse, which, becoming entangled in the wrecked hearse, was dragged a considerable distance over the bare road and through deep snow drifts. When the terrified team finally broke loose from the wrecked vehicle and its ghastly occupant, the corpse was so badly mangled as to be almost unrecognizable. A driver was sent to look up another casket, which was procured several hours later, after which the funeral procession proceeded to the cemetery, where both bodies were interred in one grave. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 24 February 1902: p. 4

One undertaker, when he discovered that the hearse horse he had trained could not keep to the required solemn gait, made the best of a bad job and released the horse to a racing career:

There is a son of Del Sur in California that they call “The Los Angeles Del Sur Wonder,” but known, for short, as the “hearse horse.” He was bred by an undertaker, and used for a while hauling the hearse. He was found to be rather faster than was needed to keep at the head of the procession, and being trained, trotted a 2.20 gait and paced in 2.18. Otago Witness, 28 April 1892: p. 27

 

White child’s hearse with driver outside Neil Regan Funeral Home, Scranton, PA c. 1900 http://en.wikipedia.org

An essential part of funeral pageantry, black horses were used for many adult funerals; white horses—or sometimes white ponies—drew the white hearse of the maiden, the child, or the infant. White horses were also used at state funerals:

Last of the Lincoln Hearse Horses.

A local celebrity recently died after a kind, useful life of thirty-eight years, says the Indianapolis Journal. His name was Jesse, and the one act which entitled him to mention was participation in the funeral cortege of the martyred Lincoln. He was the last of the six white horses which drew the hearse containing the honored body along the streets of Indianapolis. His mate in the proud but sorrowful lead of the team died eight years ago. The McCook [NE] Tribune 3 July 1891: p. 8

Since they were so much in the public eye, certain traits made for the most desirable hearse horses. In the United States, this was a suggested standard:

A more popular hearse-horse is coal-black with no white markings, and he must also have a long, flowing tail. Occasionally they are accepted when slightly marked with white, which is less objectionable on the hind feet than in the face or on the front feet….A hearse requires a horse from 15-3 to 16-1 hands high and weighing 1200 to 1250 pounds. Quarterly Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Volume 21, 1909 p. 490 and 512

In England, a matched set of black Drenthe horses from Hanover were employed at royal funerals. For the fashionable society funeral, black Belgian stallions were the ne plus ultra. Some of the cheaper imported stallions lacked the all-important tail-weepers and were provided with false tails:

A queer English custom is that of decorating the black hearse horses with long false black tails. They attract no more notice on a street in Liverpool than do the black nets used in this country to cover the horses. Pierre [SD] Weekly Free Press 16 November 1905: p. 1

The use of nets, as seen in several of the illustrations, seem to have been confined to the Americas. If draped, a European funeral horse would wear a blanket, as we see in these pictures of Russian and Roumanian hearse horses.

Russian hearse with elaborately draped horses, First World War http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205250983

Draped Roumanian hearse horses c. 1920

Rich in detail is this account of the “Black Brigade” of funeral horses in London. I’m particularly amused by the horses being named for current celebrities. It is also fascinating that an influenza epidemic put pressure on the supply of desirable hearse horses.

A sample of the Black Brigade

THE BLACK BRIGADE

A good many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as ‘the black brigade ‘; but the real black brigade of London’s trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the jobmaster is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The ‘funeral furnisher’ is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. The [funeral] wholesale men, the ‘black masters,’ are always ready to cope with a rate of twenty per thousand —London’s normal is seventeen—but when it rises above that, as it did in the influenza time, the pressure is so great that the ‘blacks’ have to get help from the ‘coloured,’ and the ‘horse of pleasure’ becomes familiar with the cemetery roads.

A hundred years ago there was but one black master in London. He owned all the horses; and there are wonderful stories of the funerals in those days when railways were unknown. The burying of a duke or even a country squire, in the family vault, was then a serious matter, for the body had to be taken the whole distance by road, and the horses were sometimes away for a week or more, and were often worked in relays, much on the same plan as the coach-horses, only that rapid progress through the towns and villages was impossible, for the same reason that no living undertaker dare trot with a tradesman within the limits of the district in which the deceased happens to have been known and respected….

Hearse with Plumes, John Henry Walker, 1850-85 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M930.50.7.409

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing; in fact, they begin work as what we may call the ‘half-timers’ of the London horse-world. When young they cost rather under than over a hundred guineas a pair, but sometimes they get astray among the carriage folk, who pay for them, by mistake of course, about double the money. In about a year or more, when they have got over their sea-sickness and other ailments, and have been trained and acclimatised, they fetch 65£. each; if they do not turn out quite good enough for first-class -work they are cleared out to the second-class men at about twenty-five guineas; if they go to the repository they average 10£; if they go to the knacker’s they average thirty-five shillings, and they generally go there after six years’ work. Most of them are stallions, for Flemish geldings go shabby and brown. They are cheaper now than they were a year or two back, for the ubiquitous American took to buying them in their native land for importation to the States, and thereby sent up the price; but the law of supply and demand came in to check the rise, and some enterprising individual actually took to importing black horses here from the States, and so spoilt the corner.

Three-horse hearse, c. 1895-1898 http://www.historymuseum.ca/collections/artifact/140018/?q=deueil&page_num=2&item_num=2&media_irn=5249990 Canadian Museum of Civilization digitized historical negatives

Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth [founder of the Salvation Army], for instance, is ‘most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud’; all the Salvationists ‘are doing well,’ except [George Scott] Railton, ‘who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.’ [Journalist W.T.]Stead, according to his keeper, is ‘a good horse, a capital horse—showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn’t work with [biologist Thomas Henry] Huxley at any price!’ Curiously enough, Huxley ‘will not work with [physicist John] Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. [philanthropist Thomas John] Barnardo.’ Tyndall, on the other hand, goes well with Dickens,’ but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. [Liberal statesman John] Morley works ‘comfortably’ with [Conservative politician & PM Arthur] Balfour, but [Liberal statesman William Vernon] Harcourt and [Irish political leader Michael] Davitt ‘won’t do as a pair anyhow.’ An ideal team seems to consist of [political activist and atheist Charles] Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. [Alfred] Adler, and Cardinal [Henry Edward] Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. ‘All the horses,’ the horsekeeper says, ‘named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!’ And so we leave Canon [Frederic] Farrar, and Canon [Henry] Liddon, and Dr.[William Morley] Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now ‘out on a job,’ and meet in turn with [celebrity quack doctor] Sequah and [Louis] Pasteur, [hypnotist Franz Anton] Mesmer and [Electrohomeopathy inventor Cesare] Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

‘Why don’t you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?’

‘They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians—well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!’ And so the horses after they are named have to be changed about until they find fit companions, and then everything goes harmoniously. The stud is worked in sections of four; every man has four horses which he looks after and drives; under him being another man, who drives when the horses go out in pairs instead of in the team.

One would think these horses were big, black retriever dogs, to judge by the liking and understanding which spring up between them and their masters. It is astonishing what a lovable, intelligent animal a horse is when he finds he is understood. According to popular report these Flemish stallions are the most vicious and ill-tempered of brutes; but those who keep them and know them are of the very opposite opinion….

There is an old joke about the costermonger’s donkey who looked so miserable because he had been standing for a week between two hearse horses, and had not got over the depression. The reply to this is that the depression is mutual. The ‘black family’ has always to be alone; if a coloured horse is stood in one of the stalls, the rest of the horses in the stable will at once become miserable and fretful. The experiment has been tried over and over again, and always with the same result; and thus it has come – about that in the black master’s yards, the coloured horses used for ordinary draught work are always in a stable by themselves.

1880 hearse

The funeral horse hardly needs description. The breed has been the same for centuries. He stands about sixteen hands, and weighs between 12 and 13 cwt. The weight behind him is not excessive, for the car does not weigh over 17 cwt., and even with a lead coffin he has the lightest load of any of our draught horses. The worst roads he travels are the hilly ones to Highgate, Finchley, and Norwood. These he knows well and does not appreciate. In a few months he gets to recognise all the cemetery roads ‘like a book,’ and after he is out of the bye streets he wants practically no driving, as he goes by himself, taking all the proper corners and making all the proper pauses. This knowledge of the road has its inconveniences, as it is often difficult to get him past the familiar corner when he is out at exercise. But of late he has had exercise enough at work, and during the influenza epidemic was doing his three and four trips a day, and the funerals had to take place not to suit the convenience of the relatives, but the available horse-power of the undertaker. Six days a week he works, for after a long agitation there are now no London funerals on Sundays, except perhaps those of the Jews, for which the horses have their day’s rest in the week.

To feed such a horse costs perhaps two shillings a day—-it is a trifle under that, over the 700—and his food differs from that of any other London horse. In his native Flanders he is fed a good deal upon slops, soups, mashes, and so forth; and as a Scotsman does best on his oatmeal, so the funeral horse, to keep in condition, must have the rye-bread of his youth. Rye-bread, oats, and hay form his mixture, with perhaps a little clover, but not much, for it would not do to heat him, and beans and such things are absolutely forbidden. Every Saturday he has a mash like other horses, but unlike them his mash consists, not of bran alone, but of bran and linseed in equal quantities. What the linseed is for we know not; it may be, as a Life Guardsman suggested to us, to make his hair glossy, that beautiful silky hair which is at once his pride and the reason of his special employment, and the sign of his delicate, sensitive constitution.

The Horse-world of London, William John Gordon, 1893, pp 139-147

****

We find equally telling detail in this section from an article on unusual professions. Painting over inconvenient white portions of a funeral horse was widely practiced. An 1875 article tells of undertakers “not stinting with paint or black lead.” A lady observer in 1912 wrote about “dyed horses” in Paris funeral processions.

Vista of funeral horses, man painting out a white fetlock.

The last curious industry deals with funeral horses. Mr. Robert Roe, of Kennington Park Road, has imported these stately animals for upwards of twenty-five years. It seems they come from Friesland and Zeeland, and cost from £40 to £70. There must be about nine hundred funeral horses in London. The average undertaker, however, keeps neither horses nor coaches, but hires these from people like Seaward, of Islington. Mr. Seaward keeps a hundred funeral horses, so that a visit to his stables is an interesting experience.

“It is dangerous,” said one of my informants, “to leave a pair of these black stallions outside public-houses, when returning from a funeral; for these animals fight with great ferocity.” Once, at a very small funeral, the coachman lent a hand with the coffin; but, in his absence, the horses ran amuck among the tombstones, which went down like ninepins in all directions.

A white spot takes a large sum off the value of a funeral horse. In the photo one of Mr. Seaward’s men is painting a horse’s white fetlock with a mixture of lampblack and oil. A white star on the forehead may be covered by the animal’s own foretop.

On the right-hand side in the photo. will be seen hanging a horse’s tail. This is sent to the country with a “composite” horse— a Dutch black, not used for the best funeral work, owing to his lack of tail. He is sold to a country jobmaster, with a separate flowing tail, bought in Holland for a shilling or two. In the daytime, the “composite” horse conducts funerals, the tail fastened on with a strap; but at night he discards it, and gaily takes people to and from the theatres.

Worn-out funeral horses, one is horrified to learn, are shipped back to Holland and Belgium, where they are eaten.

The Strand Magazine, Vol. 13, 1897: p. 202

At least, that was the practice in England; Belgian horses were prized in their native country for their tender meat. In the United States, a hearse horse often retired to green pastures, after a long and useful career. This clever hearse horse had a well-deserved tribute paid to him on his retirement.

KEPT UNDERTAKERS BUSY

Horse Always Stopped at Houses Where Crape Hung on Door.

From the New York Press.

Having reached such a degree of zealousness in behalf of his owner’s business interests that he would stop in front of any house on the front of which symbols of mourning were displayed, Dan, for twenty years a faithful horse for Thomas M. O’Brien, an undertaker of Bayonne, N.J., has been retired on a pension. The undertaker made arrangements with a farmer in Orange county to take good care of Dan for the rest of his life, and to give him decent burial when he dies. Dan was shipped away yesterday. Twice when on the way to the railroad station the horse balked, and it was noticed that each time he balked it was in front of a house with crape hanging on the door. It was not until the driver whispered in Dan’s ear that his boss already had the jobs that the intelligent animal consented to move on.

Dan knows the way to and from every cemetery within 20 miles of Bayonne. Some persons even assert that he knows most of the family plots in those cemeteries. More than once the horse placed O’Brien in an exceedingly embarrassing position by stopping with a hearse in front of houses on which mourning was displayed regardless of whether O’Brien had been retained to have charge of the burial.

One of the stipulations entered into between O’Brien and the Orange county farmer is that Dan must not be compelled to do any work. He must have good oats and timothy hay in winter and, added to that, all the grass he can eat in spring, summer, and fall.

“He’s earned his retirement by twenty years of faithful work,” O’Brien said. “If he were a man instead of a horse, he would have been a partner long before this. He was simply indefatigable in hunting for new business.” The Washington [DC] Post 17 January 1909: p. M10

Shrouded horses with hearse, 1858, advertising Undertakers Massey & Yung, San Francisco

The hearse horse might also serve as an equine memento mori as in this elegiac New England article:

THE OLD HEARSE HORSE

Among the long-standing fixtures of our day are the Hearse-man, the venerable Robert Bell, and his scarcely less venerable old Black Horse, which will be twenty years old next months. For fourteen years the same man and the same horse have been in attendance at almost every funeral that has taken place in our city. For nearly two thousand times have they borne to their resting places the old and the young—the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered. There can be seen scarcely a more grave sight than these funereal accompaniments. The old horse though lively and active on other occasions, knows the moment a corpse is put into the hearse, and he will scarcely mind the admonition of a whip to change his speed from walking. His master is growing infirm and the horse is nearly blind—a premonition that all must ere long return to the dust. Portsmouth [NH] Journal of Literature and Politics 12 May 1860: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to the subfusc author for being so relentlessly informative and are pleased to have learned something new to-day about this department of the Victorian funeral industry.

Mrs Daffodil has noticed an unlikely resemblance between the plume-adorned hearse-horses with their dark burdens and beplumed circus horses drawing brilliantly carved and coloured circus wagons at a stately pace. One idly wonders if an aged circus horse ever retired to a career as a hearse-horse or if a black horse of too cheerful a disposition might run away with the circus.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

 

Letters from the Grave: 1850s

 

Romney, George; A Hand Holding a Letter; Kendal Town Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-hand-holding-a-letter-143151

The curtain has but recently fallen on a touching drama of society, whose hero’s name I could give you if I chose. Though I suppress the chief actor’s name, the play has naught of fanciful construction, being really a natural series of terrible facts.

The personage in question, who is in the enjoyment of a high social position, a handsome establishment and a large fortune, had, as a consequence of a youthful folly, a natural daughter, whose mother died a few years after her seduction. The seducer, afterwards marrying, had not force of character enough to confess to his young wife the existence of this poor child, and having long confined himself to a mere mercenary care of the latter, he finally neglected her altogether.

The aged mother of this parvenu, being cognizant of the circumstances, was deeply moved by this abandonment, though she herself was barely supported by her snobbish son, in lodgings respectably distant from his own sumptuous hotel. But Madame N—–, the mother, who had in days gone by pinched herself to pay for her son’s education, and having nothing but the little pension she now received from him, nevertheless took all possible care of the forsaken child. And the child grew up to be a fine young girl capable of taking up some occupation. The occupation chosen was art.

Hortense, that was the girl’s name, applied herself to it with all her mind and heart, and struggled bravely against the many difficulties which society stupidly puts in the way of unmarried women in their efforts at self-support. She thus reached her twentieth year, her grandmother her seventy-eighth. While the father of one, the son of the other, gave magnificent balls, delicious dinners, vain fêtes in his rich hotel, the young girl and the old woman suffered the most cruel privations—the requests for a little supplementary aid from the rich man being often left unanswered.

One night the poor old woman died. At the simple funeral which he gave her the son necessarily came into contact with his daughter, and, glad of the chance to persuade himself that she now had a livelihood, departed, leaving her a trifling pecuniary assistance. A few weeks rolled by, and society’s whirlpool engulphed him deeper than ever.

Winter came. He gave a ball one night, and the salons of his hotel were crowded with the fashionables of the court and of the city. The rooms were dazzling with the light, the rich toilets, the French and foreign uniforms, the decorations, the gilded ceilings, the polished mirrors, the everything that could lend a lustre to the scene. The conservatory, lit up by colored lanterns, afforded little mysterious corners, where beautiful and romantic Polish women listened to the whisperings of love. The English ladies present danced with untiring gaiety; the daughters of Italy, listlessly extended on the sofas, kept up their flowery chat; the Parisiennes, with a Frenchwoman’s eye to good things, began to look for the magnificent supper which was to be served by Chevet. The rich man had the world in his salons. He revelled in ostentation and vanity, he was intoxicated with the great names announced at his door, his cup of pride was filled to the brim, and when ministers of state, with waistcoats bedizened with honorary orders, came to shake him by the hand, his delirium was not far from that when Cæsar, at the culmination of unheard-of power, exclaimed, “I feel myself a god.” Our parvenu mentally said, “I feel myself a duke.”

A group of guests had surrounded him, loading him down with praises of his fête as they sipped his delicious sherbets. A great foreign lady complimented him upon the completeness of his conservatory; an ambassador told him that his ball was the thousand and second night. The rich man, crammed with vanity, was fast losing his senses, when suddenly a valet de chambre enters, passes through the aristocratic circle, and presents to his exalted master a large letter on a golden salver.

The rich man, brusquely awakened from his dream, followed into his empyrean of pride, deprived of his aureole of glory, and nettled at being brought down to earth again by so vulgar a matter, exclaimed,

“You stupid rascal, idiot, donkey! could you not choose another time!”

And he pushed away the salver with an angry movement; but as the servant resisted a little, his eyes fell upon the peaceful cause of the disturbance, the letter, and in an instant he turned frightfully pale.

By his half-stifled cry, by the haggard eyes which he could not remove from that mysterious letter, every one about him saw that something extraordinary had occurred.

The guests politely drew aside, whispering to themselves, exchanging looks and words of surprise. Soon our Crœsus found himself alone with the valet in the middle of the salon, and still before his face the obstinately presented letter.

He had recognized in the address the handwriting of his mother, who had been dead eight months!

He seized the letter with a trembling hand and succeeded with difficulty in reaching the adjacent library, where he locked himself in, to the great surprise of his guests, who had followed his movements with wondering eyes. There he fell, rather than sat down on a sofa and looked at this terrible letter, sent him from the grave and bearing the unmistakable trace of a hand long since cold in death.

He summoned up all his strength, excitedly broke the black seal of the letter, and read as follows:

“My son, your daughter is suffering! her ill-requited labor does not suffice to keep want away from her door. In the midst of your opulence remember her. Your mother begs you to do it; your mother who is now looking upon you and knows what is passing in your heart.”

Then followed the signature.

In intense excitement the gentleman rang a bell; a servant answered it.

“Who brought this letter?” he asked.

The lackey replied that it was a young girl poorly clad, who had been nearly run over by the equipage of a Russian count, as it dashed into the courtyard of the hotel.

The host returned to his salon with a pale and troubled face; a cloud had settled over his fête, and his guests saw it without understanding the reason.

He retired early, before the party had broken up, but could not sleep, so strong a hold did the ghostly features of this demand from his dead mother take upon his imagination.

In the morning he sent two hundred francs to the young artist, who, in point of fact, had not money enough to buy bread to eat nor colors to work. What would this miserable sum do to rescue her from such distress? But the gentleman probably thought he had been very generous.

The winter past, he went to Italy.

Months went by, and the circumstance became erased from his mind. One evening at Naples, he had just returned with a brilliant company of tourists from an excursion to an island near by. As he entered his room he discovered on a table a letter bearing the Paris postmark. He opened it carelessly, continuing his chat with his friends. But suddenly he became agitated, turned away and left the room. It was another call from the grave; it was his mother again imploring aid for his child. Finally, several months after, in Paris, at his own house, as he was just stepping into his carriage for a drive in the Bois, another letter was handed him, another appeal, and this time more earnest, more imperious, more solemn than ever before.

He now determined to rid himself at once of the annoyance; he was becoming blasé to the emotion. He went to his lawyer and constituted in favor of Mademoiselle L—–, artiste, a life pension, just sufficient, if not to live on, at least to keep her from starving— exacting at the same time that he should have handed over to him in a lump all the letters which might yet remain in the hands of her who had received this trust so admirably conceived, so terribly made use of!

In fact, as you have, perhaps, all ready divined, the poor old mother dying had foreseen the future miseries of the young girl, for she well understood the character of her precious son. Hence, she had the sublime inspiration of the letters, and, thanks to them, the maiden—that child of love, protected by death—was snatched from a poverty so full of perils to one of her age—her sex, and, above all, her abandonment. 

Frank Leslie’s Weekly.22 October 1859.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a pity that the shock occasioned by the letters from beyond the grave was not fatal. His daughter would then have had a claim upon his estate and could have lived happily ever after without repeated calls upon the cold charity of such a heedless father. A life pension “sufficient, if not to live on, at least to keep her from starving,” suggests that he had not learnt anything from the salutary letters. Mrs Daffodil hopes that his mother decided to appear in person, preferably in a state of advanced decomposition in a bloody shroud, a visit which might have proved more effective than writing.

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.

 

Women Gamblers of New York: 1884

An Avid, Masked Lady Gambler

Women Gamblers

How They Pursue The Exciting Game in New York City

A cable dispatch, says a New York correspondent, recently referred to the high play at the various clubs in London and Paris, and incidentally mentioned the fact that a Russian nobleman lost at one sitting £80,000. In an issue of a Western paper some weeks ago the propriety of the country was startled by a detailed description of a gambling-house engineered and patronized by females. Since then the existence of such institutions in various other cities has been made known. The most prominent and noteworthy of them all, however, has been overlooked.

It is located in a cozy, quiet-looking old mansion of the stately and monumental New York type, and within two blocks of the Brevoort House. To all outward appearances the place is only one of the many residences of aristocratic elegance which line the street. All the windows are heavily curtained, and a face is seldom seen there. Even at night it is rarely lighted in the front. So quietly and unobtrusively has the business of the establishment been carried on that, although it has been in existence for months, its real character has never been suspected. The proprietress of the house was originally the friend of the proprietor of one of the most famous gambling-houses in this city. She quarreled with and left him. Finding herself cast on her own resources and owner of a valuable collection of jewels, she determined to profit by her experience. She hired a furnished house—the same in which she now carries on her trade—and, after instructing two or three of her intimate acquaintances in the mystery of dealing and manipulating cards, began work with their assistance. The place was extensively advertised as a “ladies’ club-house,” and soon became quite popular, the more so as no men were admitted. Roulet and faro, as well as occasional games of rouge-et-noir, were at first dealt, but the gaming soon resolved itself into faro alone. Heavy playing has taken place in this house. One lady is known to have carried off over $5,000 as the result of a day’s lucky play. Another female won upon three days in succession $4,800. The bank was so low at one time that the proprietor contemplating closing, and would have done so but for the appearance of a creole gamestress fresh from New Orleans, who lost over $8,000 in money and jewels at a sitting, and so replenished the nearly empty coffers. For the past few months the “bank” is said to have enjoyed an almost unexampled run of luck, scarcely ever losing.

For obvious reasons the games are all confined to daylight. In order to obtain admission it is necessary to have either a card from the proprietress or an introduction from a frequenter. Regular habitués have latch-keys which admit them into the passage between the outer and inner doors, both of which are always kept closed. The inner door is guarded by a pretty young girl whose orders are to admit no stranger or unprovided with the proper credentials. The post-office box of the proprietress is daily filled with applications.

No gentleman, it is said, has been admitted except into the basement, where groceries, wines, etc., are delivered. The servants, of whom there are several, are all females, as are also all the dealers, casekeepers, and attaches. The house originally belonged to a well-known millionaire, a former agent for one of the great transatlantic steamship lines, from whom its present owner rented it. Since then she has purchased the building outright. It is furnished in the most luxurious style throughout, nothing that taste could suggest or money procure being absent.

The gambling is carried on in a back drawing-room on the second floor. In the first drawing-room an elegant lunch is always laid, with the most delicate and costly wines. The upper floors are devoted to the use of the attaches of the establishment, who all reside on the premises. The proprietress is a woman verging on middle age, of a commanding figure, and very handsome. She dresses in black, is famous among all her acquaintances for her love of pearls, which are the only jewels that she is known to wear, and of which she is reported to have the most magnificent collection in the country.

One complete set in particular belonged to the Empress Eugenie, and the gems which once queened it in the drawing-room of an Empress now preside over the fortunes of a game of faro. One of the dealers is also a famous character. She is comparatively a young woman, who some years ago enjoyed the favor of no less a person than “Jim” Fisk Jr., in whose Grand Opera-House she began life as a ballet-girl. In her circles she is known as “Diamond Jennie,” on account of her weakness for those precious minerals. The rest of the executive corps are a more or less equivocally famous and attractive, and are said to be as skillful and cool in all the traits and tricks of their trade as a veteran gambler.

The housekeeping is on the most extravagant scale, and is chiefly served by two prominent Fulton Market dealers and a wine merchant who supplies the principal clubs. All of these dealers affirm that the consumption of the finer quality of their wares far exceeds that of many of the clubs where male New York finds such luxurious comfort.

There are several other institutions for a like purpose scattered about this city and Brooklyn,, but they are on a far inferior scale, and their use is restricted positively to elected members. In these places only round games of cards are played; even at that limited rate, however, much money is lost and won. After the incalculable wrong wrought, the place of which we especially treat is indubitably the worst. Women are proverbially infatuated gamblers, and once embarked on the sea of chance, with their fates totally at the mercy of the fickle goddess Fortune, or worse, with the chance of the game dependent on the honesty or dishonesty of an unscrupulous dealer, the result may easily be imagined.

In conversation with the sporting man upon whom the proprietress of this novel temple of chance once depended for a living the following particulars were learned.

“I heard nearly a year ago,” said he, “that ‘Belle was running a game somewhere in the city, but where it was exactly I never could find out. I often met women who had been there, but they would never give the place away. It was too good a thing, you see, for them to risk its being shut up. When ‘Belle’ and I were on good terms she used to take great interest in faro and all sorts of games. She would come down to my Broadway place and watch the game for hours. She made me buy her a faro lay-out and teach her how to deal. Then little Barney, one of my dealers, who is dead—and a smart little chap he was—had to show her all the points. He taught her how to stack cards and how to finger the turn. I’ve seen them at it many a time, and laughed at what I thought was a silly freak.”

The general opinion is that “Belle” is backed in her venture by ladies of high social position and influence. Some even did not hesitate to accuse two well-known leaders of society by name.

“I tell you,” said one. “There’s more than one lady in society here that’s mixed up in such affairs. I know of two myself who are actually bankers of faro-banks run by their husbands, who of themselves never had money enough of their own to start a 50-cent limit on avenue A. One of these women to my knowledge deals faro to her friends in her own house. The other is the shrewdest poker-player in the city. She’d bluff even old Schenk himself. [Possibly Austrian murderer Hugo Schenk] Oh! There’s another thing,” he added, “and that is that there is a deuced sight more faro played in private houses than there is in public games. Whenever you find a lodging or boarding house full of young clerks you will find one faro layout at least, and some shrewd fellow to work it.

Chicago [IL] Tribune 5 April 1884: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does not gamble;  she has a wholesome horror of leaving anything to chance. She also observes that someone must be paying for the lavish décor and the delicate foods and wines, which rather spoils any pleasure in watching the wheel spin or the dice fall. Then, too, Mrs Daffodil has seen ladies over-extend themselves at the gaming tables, with dire consequences:

In Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth and Twenty-third streets, there are often parties of ladies from which the opposite sex are sternly excluded, where the fair gamesters play until daylight for large stakes; and it not infrequently happens that when their purses are depleted they put up their bracelets, necklaces and watches as wagers. Some of the feminine gamesters lose heavily, and the desperate shifts—no allusion to wardrobes—to which they are put to conceal their losses and replace them, must be fearfully demoralizing. A young woman, the daughter of one of our most opulent citizens, was pointed out to me in the Park, as a notorious gambler, by one of her own sex, who informed me she had parted with nearly $100,000 since she went to Saratoga, in July, and made her doting papa believe she had expended the sum in dress and charity. The young woman in question is very pretty, not more than twenty and no one regarding her pale, spirituelle face, her soft blue eyes, and gentle and reserved manner, would imagine she had fallen a victim to one of the most dangerous of vices. N.Y. Correspondence Cincinnati Gazette. Dayton [OH] Daily Empire 13 October 1865: p. 1

Amateur Lady Gamblers.

The ladies of Arensburg, Germany, are passionate card-players. Since they are not allowed to play at local clubs, they make up games at their friends’ houses and gamble all day through. As soon as the cash funds run short, they take to various articles, mostly toilet belongings. Thus, one lost to another her corset, one lost a bonnet, a third some lace and perfumes, and they go even as far as losing their prayer books. The San Angelo [TX] Press 18 June 1902: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil suggests that the ladies of Ahrensburg may have invented that popular American entertainment known as “strip poker.”

For a previous post on a very unusual wager over a young actress’s clothing, see Her Jewels Weighed More Than Her Clothes.

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.