Emily Post, an American author famous for writing about etiquette, wrote this interesting description of a typical dinner table in the early 1900s in her book: Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. The book was published in 1922, so some references are dated. But we hope you enjoy and learn from it as much as we did.
THE DINNER TABLE OF YESTERDAY
All of us old enough to remember the beginning of this century can bring to mind the typical (and most fashionable) dinner table of that time. Occasionally it was oblong or rectangular, but its favorite shape was round, and a thick white damask cloth hung to the floor on all sides. Often as not there was a large lace centerpiece, and in the middle of it was a floral mound of roses (like a funeral piece, exactly), usually red.
The four compotiers were much scrolled and embossed, and the four candlesticks, also scrolled, but not to match, had shades of perforated silver over red silk linings, like those in restaurants to-day. And there was a gas droplight thickly petticoated with fringed red silk.
The plates were always heavily “jewelled” and hand painted, and enough forks and knives and spoons were arrayed at each “place” for a dozen courses. The glasses numbered at least six, and the entire table was laden with little dishes—and spoons!
There were olives, radishes, celery and salted nuts in glass dishes; and about ten kinds of sugar-plums in ten different styles of ornate and bumpy silver dishes; and wherever a small space of tablecloth showed through, it was filled with either a big “Apostle” spoon or little Dutch ones criss-crossed.
Bread was always rolled in the napkin (and usually fell on the floor) and the oysters were occasionally found already placed on the table when the guests came in to dinner!
Loading a table to the utmost of its capacity with useless implements which only in rarest instances had the least value, would seem to prove that quantity without quality must have been thought evidence of elegance and generous hospitality! And the astounding part of the bad taste epidemic was that few if any escaped.
Even those who had inherited colonial silver and glass and china of consummate beauty, sent it dust-gathering to the attic and cluttered their tables with stuffy and spurious lumber.
But to-day the classic has come into its own again! As though recovering from an illness, good taste is again demanding severe beauty of form and line, and banishing everything that is useless or superfluous.
During the last twenty years most of us have sent an army of lumpy dishes to the melting-pot, and junky ornaments to the ash heap along with plush table covers, upholstered mantel-boards and fern dishes! To-day we are going almost to the extreme of bareness, and putting nothing on our tables not actually needed for use.