Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A Very Clever Young Lady

 As you know, I’m an avid collector of 19th century dance cards, those delightful little confections of silver and bone and shell that young ladies carried to keep track of their dance partners at balls. As we’ve discussed before, the ones that I collect date to the middle-ish part of the century, from around the 1830s to maybe the 1870s, when printed cards or booklets given out at balls became the standard (and a clever one, too: it gave you a tangible memento of your evening.) It also made sense: it meant you didn’t have to remember that you’d promised the first polka to Mr. Twinkletoes or the galop to Mr. Fleetfoot, because it was all right there in writing. 

I recently found this delightful carnet de bal online. Four and a quarter inches long by one and a quarter wide at its widest, it’s my favorite form—for some reason, I just love the fan-shaped ones. It’s a tad rickety—the chain and ring by which it would have hung from a young lady’s finger or button is gone, as is the pencil—and the coil of brass which would have held the pencil and formed a catch to keep it closed is partially detached from the back panel. The ribbon that held the leaves in place is still there, though detached from the front panel. But what makes this little trinket so marvelous (at least to me) is that its owner was a very organized young lady who also evidently did not like to have to keep track of to whom she’d promised that first polka. Look carefully at the individual leaves:

She carefully inked a heading on each leaf! They read (I apologize for the image qualityit was very hard to photograph!) from left to right, Valses (waltzes), Polkas, Quadrille (that one was a bit hard to make out), Galops, Polka Mazurka, and Schottishe [sic]…and then below that, six numbered spaces for names. Faint traces of names penciled in and erased are there, though alas, too faint and jumbled to read.

Based on the spelling of the dances and the quick research I did on when dances became popular, I’m guessing that this carnet is French, from the 1850s, while the Quadrille was still being danced and the Schottische a popular newcomer. So its owner was evidently well ahead of her time when it came to asset management—er, keeping track of her dance partners. 😊 I like to think that she was a popular young lady who was forced to find a creative way to manage her engagements. Who knows—maybe she helped popularize the printed programs of the future to help her daughters keep track of their swains!

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