I'm fascinated by the golden-era of history... Otherwise, the Gilded Age."
- Elizabeth Soos | founder of Auersmont School of Etiquette
Elizabeth feels a strong connection to the past; specifically with how people lived and interacted. Going back in time to understand the future. Ie., where did handshakes come from? And, why do you use one specific fork for eating a particular item? Learning the history behind these codes of conduct, where they were created, and how they've adapted throughout the centuries, is a way for Elizabeth to bring her vision of etiquette to life.
Her articles are featured regularly on Etiquipedia and soon to be published in the World Protocol Magazine.
As her research unfolds, you will get updates here at The Gilded Age.
New period drama in the works by the creator of Downton Abbey, Gosford Park and The Young Victoria, Julian Fellowes has a new HBO series, coming soon....
HBO describes the nine-part series where "the story begins in 1882 — introducing young Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a Union general, who moves into the New York City home of her thoroughly old money aunts Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook. Accompanied by Peggy Scott, an accomplished African-American woman, Marian inadvertently becomes enmeshed in a social war between one of her aunts, a scion of the old money set, and her stupendously rich neighbors, a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George and Bertha Russell."
A period in time marked by great wealth, accumulated by a very few people. People who became not only well-known for their business accomplishments, but their lavish spending. Many became the titans of their industries and their names and legacies remain well-known to this day. Names like Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Astor.
The term 'Gilded Age' comes from a book title by popular American author Mark Twain, who, along with Charles Dudley Warner, referring to the era as a 'Gilded Age.' It was not only a reference to all of the wealth being accumulated by a celebrated few, but the literal gilding which seemed to cover so much of the design, furnishings and personal baubles which came to highlight and define that golden age in history.
And golden it was! It was a time where gilding was a feature throughout houses and the dining table. There was no expense spared for entertaining the famous, royalty, society, acquaintances, friends and family. This was the era where the table was carefully arranged with brilliant crystals and cut glass, twinkling together with gilded silverware, set upon fine linens and accompanied by bright floral arrangements.
The United States had been underwritten by major industrial growth. Americans especially came into unbelievable wealth and conjured up every sort of implement possible to make life and dining a spectacular show and have society tongues wagging… in the right way!
What did the Gilded Age mean in terms of etiquette? Etiquette expanded itself to new modern devices of the table, transport and social scenes. It was where old forms of etiquette were adapted or thrown out due to the new modern industrial age and new rising social scenes of the western world.
THE GILDED AGE TABLE
What would those of the Gilded Age want on their table? Everything imaginable! Let’s take a look……What would the Gilded Age table have seen? Figure 1 displays a few items that we still see today, butter spreader, children's flatware minus a food pusher. Children were encouraged to eat correctly at the table and cutlery was especially made. The food pusher was an item made for children, even up till 1940-1950's. The butter knife has slowly disappeared and today we would use knives straight from the butchers block.
Interestingly the jelly knife is featured in this catalogue. This type of jelly knife would most probably refer to sweet gelatin dessert. The first recorded jelly dessert was in the 18th century book The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. Jelly was found sandwiched between layers of the trifle, a delectable sweet table pleasure.
Figure 2 is the crème de la crème of the Gilded Age. These flatware or serving ware was made for every dish or food that was eaten by those of the time. You are probably wondering why so many different flatware? Those that had money would purchase such products as a display of wealth and the etiquette of the day was that it was a no-no to touch food with your fingers. The flatware featured are as follows: lettuce spoon and fork, oyster fork, small olive spoon and fork, olive fork and spoon. How did the Gilded Age table look like with all these implements on it?
GILDED AGE PARTY & EVENTS
The Gilded Age was about showing your new found wealth and those who maintained 'old money' also stepped out to let others they were still there. One of the most famous events was noted in the daily paper held at the Astor's 5th Avenue 'double' residence. 300 guests were invited who all were "prominent representatives of New York society". Their invitations noted that they must attend in 'full dress'. What did this mean?
Full dress referred to women dressing in evening gowns with jewellery ordered and shipped from Cartier or Bvlgari via Europe. Wearing together with exotic perfumes from the Orient, highly coiffured hairstyles, silk gloves and an ornate purse. Most likely women would make preparations in getting ready, an all day event with the help of staff. The men would dress in black dress coats with white vest and cravat with accessories such as white gloves, top hat and walking cane.
What was served at the Astor's magnificent ball? Using Mrs Astors "solid silver table service" a midnight supper menu was found to serve the following items:
Consommé à la Princesse
Filet de boeuf aux champignons frais et truffes
Canard canvasback rôti
Salade de céleri et laitue
Glaces de fantaisies
Biscuit glacé biscuit Tortoni
Café Champagne Claret Cup Lemonade Poland water
Clear broth soup
North American turtle soup
Beef with champignon mushrooms and truffles
Roast Canvasback duck
Celery and lettuce salad
Ice-cream based recipe
Ice-cream with crumbled biscuit and fruit
Fruit salad jelly
Cream sponge finger cake
Assorted sweets and nuts
Assorted beveridge's including coffee, champagne, claret, lemonade and water imported from Poland
With the help of Larousse Gastronomique, I have interpreted the dishes that this extravaganza would have served during the early hours of the morning. Why would a French written menu appear in New York? The handwritten menu featured in Europe in royal houses such as King Louis XIV, which still survives today. This menu was written in 1757 where guests were entertained by the king at Château de Choisy, it was placed on the table revealing 4 courses and dessert. This tradition has continued on till today, interesting, Queen Elizabeth has her menus written in French for everyday dining and state events.