Tag Archives: engraved pennies

The Memory Hoop Fad: 1890

memory hoop fad tarnished penny discovered


How the Young Ladies of Washington Amuse Themselves.

The Craze for Fads—How “Memory Hoops” Are Made and Manipulated

Special Correspondence of the Evening Express.

Washington, March 8, 1890.

Every girl in Washington is hunting for a fad. She has no particular idea as to what sort of a fad she wants so long as it is a fad and its possession enables her to say to her three or four dozen intimate friends: “Oh I’ve just got the loveliest fad you ever heard of.” And then she goes on to tell how she got the idea “from something Jack said.” Now there are a lot of pretty girls in Washington and as they all want fads the demand greatly exceeds the supply and as a consequence the girl without any ingenuity of her own soon finds herself where the little boat was—a long way behind—in the fashionable stream.

Well the Washington girl with not much to do has invented and taken up with the vigor of idle enthusiasm a substitute for the old fashioned “memory buttons” and calls the new departure “memory hoops.” I do not wish to be understood as casting any unkind reflection upon the disposed bustle, for the new fad is not that kind of a hoop. The following description was given me by an enthusiastic votary of the “memory hoops:”

“You see you take a hoop. Any kind of a hoop. Some of the girls have old barrel hoops and some of them have the hoops made out of the loveliest kinds of wood. Why, I know one girl who has a hoop made of gentlemen’s walking sticks which she first begged from the possessors and then had steamed and bent into circular form, connecting them with silver bands. Oh yes; you asked where the memory parts comes in. Well it’s just this way: You take the hoop and hang it up anywhere in the parlor or in your own room. Some of the girls hang them so that when standing before their dressing tables the hoops are just over their heads. Well, of course there is nothing in just the hoops about memory. You see, after you get a hoop you ask all your girl friends for a piece of ribbon. Mind, it must be a piece that has been worn, else the charm will not work. Well, of course the girls will exchange ribbons with you and this is supposed to give you enough to start on by winding them around the hoop so as to cover it, each piece being worked with the name and date of the giver. Now, when you have your hoop covered, your work is just begun. The ribbons the girls give you of course don’t count for much, but they start the thing. Then you are to get from all the men you know one of the old-fashioned copper 2-cent pieces, polished on each side so that it just looks like a piece of plain copper and on one side must be engraved the initials of the giver with the date, and on the other side a line of poetry. These must all be paid for by the young lady receiving them at the rate of 10 cents each to defray their cost, but so that you may have given silver for copper and you know you couldn’t well give less than ten cents in silver. Then these copper pieces are to be tied all around the hoop with ribbon matching the dress worn by the young lady when receiving the piece of copper. I think this is where the best part of the memory comes in, for a girl never forgets her dresses. Now, when you have filled your hoop, you hang it up and whenever any one of the copper pieces grows black it means that the giver is in trouble or sickness and the girl must write to him at once. See the idea now? Oh, it’s just splendid, even if it doesn’t always work about the sickness and all that. When the hoops are filled with the little copper pieces dangling from different colored ribbon, it makes a very pretty ornament, indeed, for either the parlor or your own room.”

Then the memory hoop girl went off to get some coppers.

One can imagine the extent to which this fad is going by the fact that I was told at Brentano’s place here that all the men who came in there with girls asked for two cent copper pieces in their change, and at one of the swell candy stores change proprietor actually took the trouble to send to New York for the coppers, and having obtained a lot of them let the fact become known and materially increased his trade thereby.

Los Angeles [CA] Evening Express 15 March 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Young ladies seem to be forever badgering their beaux—if not for ice-cream or visits to the soda-parlour—then for their walking sticks, their hats, those hats’ ribbon bands, or their ties to cut up for crazy-quilts. This is merely one more instance of this magpie behaviour.  The “memory button” fad was an ambitious scheme to collect buttons, preferably all unique in style, from the greatest number of friends. As a novel from 1918, remembering the 1860s, relates:

[J]ust as your scholarly attainments were gauged by the size of your geography and slate, so was your social prestige measured by the length and beauty of your “string.”

The Loyalty of Elizabeth Bess, E.C. Scott, 1918: p. 143

This solicitation of coppers and their associated ribbons suggests those trees found in the British Isles, tied with rags or with coins hammered into them for luck. It is a curiously superstitious artifact to find in hard-headed Washington D.C.

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 anecdote

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.