USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Maggi Andersen is an Amazon #1 bestselling, multi-published author in Regency and Victorian Historical Romance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The History of Dance Cards and Aide Memoirs

The dance card, programme du bal or Carnet de bal, is a booklet with a decorative cover, listing dance titles, composers, and the person with whom the woman intended to dance. Some were very elaborate, even incorporating precious metals and jewels like silver, ivory or mother of pearl. They had a decorative cord by which it could be attached to a lady's wrist or ball gown, or a ring to slip on a woman's finger as ballgowns didn't have pockets. Often a small pencil was attached by a cord to the card.

They were first used in the 18th Century. 

18th Century Dance Card
And became more widespread in the early19th Century in Vienna and France.

1800s with pencil at the side

While I can’t find evidence that they were used in England during the Regency era, they were made in Birmingham, England as early as 1803.
This one is an ancient leather and silk 'dance card holder' with silver 'guilloché' covers, made in 1835 by Birmingham's silversmith Joseph Wilmore. According to Jackson's he entered his mark in the register between 1803 and 1807. He is an interesting maker as it is believed that he also entered his marks in London. This would allow him to set up a London workshop.
It has a pencil holder on its side and three ivory sheets on the inside. The book was held closed when the pencil was placed through the silk loops. Faint traces of the names written on the ivory still survive. The silver is fully hallmarked with 'anchor' (Birmingham), duty mark (King William IV), date letter (M = 1835) and 'JW' (silversmith Joseph Wilmore).
They gained in popularity at balls and assemblies in the early 19th century. More formal balls in the previous century had begun with minuets, danced one couple at a time, in a rigidly prescribed order defined by the social rank of the dancers. The first dance would be led off by the highest ranking couple. The man would retire, and the lady would dance with the next highest ranking gentleman. She would retire and he in turn would dance the next minuet with the next appropriate lady, and so on until everyone had their turn. The second half of the evening was given over to more democratic country dances, done in a longways formation. Even so, rank again became important in deciding who lead off the set. 
Dance engagements card for 11 January 1887, showing a list of all the dances for the evening - valse, polka, lancers and quadrille; opposite each dance is a space to record the name of the partner for that dance. After the event the card was probably kept as a souvenir of the evening.
  Here's a variety of Dance Cards and Carnet de Bal: 
Napoleon and Josephine Dance Card
 Victorian Dance Card 1885
Antique French Palais royal Mop Dance Card Holder
French 1840 Carnet de Bal

French porcelain Dance Card from the grand ball of the Philharmonic Society
Antique French Filigree Aide Memoir

French Carnet de Bal
Very rare 1898 Dance Card

 Dance Card or Carnet de Ball Paris 1774-80

Below Louis XV 1774 Dance card holder.
Dance Card 1850
Dance Card 1894
Edwardian Dance Card


Maggi Andersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mshadden said...

Thanks Maggi. We discovered a dance card that my mother had kept since 1949 and the younger generation really had no idea what it was, other than it seemed romantic. But, of course, that's a custom from the days when couples actually danced together.


Forrest Outman said...

Greetings Maggi,

You have some exceptional examples of ornate dance cards. I am a social dance historian and I would love to acquire some high resolution images of these to use in lectures. Do you recall the sources for these images? Thank you for this posting which illustrates the lost pageantry of yesteryear's social affairs.
Sincerely, Forrest Outman

Jayla said...

I have a question about dance cards, did the young ladies have cards made for each ball, who made the cards and were they expensive?

Jayla said...

I have a question about dance cards, did the young ladies have cards made for each ball, who made the cards and were they expensive?

Maggi Andersen said...

I'm not sure Jayla, I imagine they purchased them and used them for one or two seasons. They weren't used much in the Regency era, more popular during the Victorian era.