Saturday, April 30, 2022

Gilded Age Excess and Etiquette

Cutting up a $2,100 cake at a birthday party attended by several score of young men and fair girls just entering society has hardly created more than a ripple in New York society, so common are the extravagant whims of millionaires. Yet such a cake was one of the features of the recent birthday given by Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt on the occasion of the social debut of her daughter, Consuelo.


A Vanderbilt Cake
Cut at Miss Consuelo Vandebilt's Birthday Party
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Valuable Diamond Rings Inside
The Brilliant Prizes Went to the Lady and Gentleman who Drew the Slices Containing Them

Cutting up a $2,100 cake at a birthday party attended by several score of young men and fair girls just entering society has hardly created more than a ripple in New York society, so common are the extravagant whims of millionaires. Yet such a cake was one of the features of the recent birthday given by Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt on the occasion of the social debut of her daughter, Consuelo.

Strictly speaking, the cake did not cost $2,100. It cost $100, and that is a pretty good price for a cake, even if it was three feet in diameter and was carried by two men with difficulty. The value of $2,100 was due to the presence beneath its frosted and beautifully ornamented crust of two diamond rings, one for the fortunate young lady whose pearly teeth found it nestling in the depths of the wedge which was cut off with a silver knife for her delectation, the other for some equally fortunate young man.

The rings cost $1,000 each. Both were clusters and were especially designed. An inscription was engraved upon the inner surface of the golden bands. The cake was not in itself an especially ornate affair. The baking company which furnished it has made many others and cakes more costly. This cake was 36 inches in diameter and 14 inches in height. It was made of layers of poundcake and marmalade, the whole saturated with French cordials. The surface decorations were of roses in sugar, and the sides of the cake were further decorated by delicate sugar tracery. A dividing line in red was drawn across the snowy surface of the cake.

In one of the halves thus made a tiny blue silk flag bore the letter “G.” In the other field an orange banner displayed the letter “L.” Within these sections were hidden the rings destined for the lucky lady and gentleman. At the close of the elaborate collation, over which the proud mother of the young debutante presided, Miss Consuelo in person undertook the task of cutting up the cake. There was as near an approach to a scramble as good breeding would permit. The cake had been less than half distributed before the prizes had been discovered, and the rest of the guests accepted their pieces as a polite duty. 

In the meanwhile, a cake containing two rings valued at $100 each was being cut in the servants’ hall. “There was nothing remarkable about this prize cake,” said Manager Jansen, of the company which furnished it, “except that the value of the rings given was greater than usual.” The custom of secreting valuable jewels in cakes made for birthday parties and cotillions is common among society people of wealth, and an order for something of this nature is received every day or two. I do not recall an instance of rings being used as valuable as these, but a list of the names of parties who have expended from $200 to $500 in this line would be quite long and embrace most of the names made familiar in society news columns. 

“At a wedding celebrated last October, a bride’s cake contained a handsome solitaire diamond for each of the bridesmaids. If asked to say off-hand how many orders of this kind we have filled in a single year, I would say more than a hundred. On last St. Valentine's Day we put on the market a fancy heart-shaped cake, elaborately ornamented and satin incased, which cost $3 each. In no less than fifty instances, the parties who ordered them – men of course– brought valuable rings to be placed in them.” –Hanford Journal, April 23, 1895


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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