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June 24, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Mind Your Manners

I love old books.  I love really old books, ones with covers and spines in danger of spontaneously combusting, pages yellowed with passing decades, and bookplates glued to the inside cover declaring the item From The Private Library Of.

Some people (with a lot more money than me) collect first editions of rare and classic books.  Some people collect old comic books.  Some people collect books written by Ron L. Hubbard in hopes they will finally rid themselves of that pesky thetan. 


But I collect old books that give us a glimpse into how things were before…well, before everything you and I can remember.   This is why I would like to share some excerpts from one of my favorites, Etiquette for All Occasions, written in 1901 by Mrs. Burton Kingsland.  I found this gem in an old book store on Market Street in Wilmington, North Carolina.  I think I paid two dollars for it.  The bookplate inside tells me that it was once part of the Private Library of W. F. Kelly. 




The book is broken down into several chapters, truly listing All Occasions:  Table Manners, Servants, Servants’ Dress,  The Wedding Day, Balls and Dances, and the ever important Introducing a Debutante to include just a few.  Etiquette for All Occasions is 500 pages long, so I can’t possibly list all of the finer points here, but the following are some things you will want to read, learn, and use at your next card-party.  I know I’ve learned a lot.  So grab your goblets and enjoy!



At the ball, the patronesses may allow themselves a certain latitude, but the permission of a lady must always be asked, where a man desires her acquaintance, and that of the parent or chaperon for presentation to a young girl.  Indiscriminate introductions must be carefully avoided. 



(On preparing the table) The glasses are freshly filled with iced water but without ice, and near them a vase-shaped glass for sherry, a colored one, white and red or pale green shaped like the water-goblet for white wine, a duplicate in white for claret, and a low flaring one for champagne.  Small tumblers are used for mineral waters. 


Coffee is served to the ladies in the drawing-room, and to the men, with cigars and cigarettes, when the ladies have withdrawn.  Liqueurs follow the coffee, but the subject of wines will be considered farther on.


What I’ve LearnedFinally I know what to do with the drawing room besides store boxes.


Visiting Card Conventions


Trifles are often important, and the correct use and appearance of the visiting card are regulated by fashion – the infringement of which stamps one as beyond the social pale.  The correct size, thickness of the card, and style of engraving in vogue must all be considered.  The present fashion for a lady’s visiting card is that of medium size, almost square, engraved in Old English or Roman letters on thin Bristol board, the address in the lower right-hand corner, the reception day on the left.


The prefix “Miss” must always accompany the name of an unmarried woman. 


Sisters  often have a card in common, with the form “The Misses Smith.”  For cards belonging to the same family, the lettering should be alike. 

What I’ve LearnedWhat the hell is a visiting card?



Women’s Dress

To dress well is an art, and all women are not artists.  A truly refined woman would rather follow than lead a fashion, and she is not well dressed who seems to be secondary to her clothes.


It is an unwritten law, among women of assured position, that one should dress simply when passing through the shops or in a promiscuous crowds anywhere.  Aside from the question of good taste, rich and showy garments arouse the envy and appeal to the weakness of women unable to indulge in such luxuries.  It encourages false notions of what it means to be a fine lady. 


In the afternoon the cloth gown may be of a lighter shade than the one worn in the morning, and the jacket cover a dressy bodice, seen only upon the removal of the coat in the house.  A woman so dressed, if the gown be fresh and well fitted, may attend a reception, matinee, or concert, or call upon her friends.  She may meet others dressed in velvet, very pale cloths, or in gowns conspicuously elegant, but such do not go in the street on foot. 

What I’ve LearnedI am not an artist.




(On what to talk about)

One must guard one’s self from the temptation of “talking shop,” as the slang of the day expresses it, and of riding one’s hobby.  It comes under the reproach of “bad taste,” as does also the retailing of family affairs.  Gossip, too, is really going out of fashion.  Any one self-convicted hastens to retract whatever may give the impression that one has indulged in anything so vulgar and plebeian.


Exaggeration is misstatement, which is untruthfulness.  It often does as much harm as a deliberate life, and is not as honest.


It Is a form of influence to pass on in conversation whatever one has read or heard that may be helpful and inspiring to others.


(On what to say at dinner)

When a hostess has paired her guests before a dinner, and each man seeks the woman assigned to him, he usually says, “I believe that I am to have the pleasure of taking you in to dinner,” and she has but to bow and smile while accepting his arm, and may say in a voice of perfunctory politeness, “I am very glad,” or if she wish to be very complimentary, “I am fortunate.”


The loud laugh speaks a vacant mind. 


What I’ve LearnedI told you a million times not to exaggerate.  Also, I have a vacant mind.


Children’s Etiquette


Children should not be allowed to contradict each other, but be early taught to use the same courtesy in expressing differences of opinion as do their elders,–“I beg your pardon” or “I am sure that you are mistaken.” 


The practice of allowing a sick child to be as cross, petulant, and exacting as his humor dictates is an injustice to the child, who should be taught that under no circumstances may one remit the effort at self-control.  The injunction should be pressed with loving firmness. 


A school-girl’s dress should be plain, neat and calculated to excite no envy, attract no attention.  Simplicity is not only in good taste, but it is in the characteristic of a little maiden’s costume among those who set a fashion by adopting it.  Children should be as unconscious of their clothes as birds of their plumage. 


What I’ve LearnedKids must be polite when they puke. 



Servants’ Dress


Housemaids wear print gowns in the morning, and in some households ,even in the afternoon, black gowns are not always insisted upon.  With the print gown is worn a plain white apron, without bib or bretelles (I hate bretelles anyway), long enough to extend to the hem of the gown. 


The waitress and parlor-maid also wear print gowns until noon, but they are exchanged for black ones before serving the luncheon.  The cap is a smart little affair with a black velvet bow. 


The cook’s appearance should be conspicuous for its neatness. 


A page should wear the “Buttons” suit.  The name comes from the nineteen bullet-shaped buttons used on the coat.  The livery is of colored cloth with pipings of a contrasting color.  The collar should be high and white; white tie, and a cap to match the suit, when running errands. 


What I’ve LearnedNot applicable; as I’ve recently fired my parlor-maid.




Well, there you go.  I hope you enjoyed reading about an entirely different world that existed not long ago.  Though we could all use some grace and manners in this world, my poor, plebeian ass is quite satisfied that I was born during the Space Age.


Leave a Comment
  1. margotmarrakesh / Jul 1 2008 4:11 am

    What I’ve learned is there are two types of people–those who love books, and those who don’t! Hardly anyone is in the middle. I’m a real book lover, too!

    Margot, in Marrakesh

  2. Stacey / Jun 29 2008 1:08 pm

    Is there anything in your book about sharing of the Wii? I need to read up on Guitar Hero etiquette.

  3. Carli / Jun 28 2008 3:45 pm

    There was no mention anywhere in there about how to serve the chef boyardee beef ravioli???

  4. crisitunity / Jun 27 2008 10:33 am

    Visiting cards are rather like business cards of today, except they were soley for social reasons and had complicated rules associated with them. If you stopped by to see someone for the first time, you gave your card to the servant to let them know you were there.

    Wikipedia to the rescue:

  5. fawnahareo / Jun 26 2008 9:47 pm

    Hee, hee – that’s great stuff! I believe my Oma has an old etiquette book. I’m not sure what period it’s from, but I remember her reading out of it to entertain us. 🙂 The only rule I remember, though, is that it is not proper to use a knife to cut food that could be broken into smaller pieces using one’s fork. And also that there is a special knife just for fish, so the fork rule doesn’t apply in that case.

  6. romi41 / Jun 25 2008 8:53 pm

    Holy crap I do not know how to dress..!

    And I love how you collect old books about other times, how interesting 🙂

  7. Cherikooka / Jun 25 2008 10:05 am

    Old books are wonderful. I really need to sharpen my etiquette before coming out to see you.

  8. bluesuit12 / Jun 25 2008 9:23 am

    Very cool. I now have the urge to go into a bookstore and see what I can find.

  9. vesna / Jun 24 2008 9:45 pm

    That’s really cool! I also love collecting old books, but I’ve never thought of transferring them to the digital age.

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