Skip to main content
Grolier Club Exhibitions

Autumn of the Victorian Era, 1890-1899

The World’s Columbian Exposition was in held Chicago in 1893. Over the course of six months, more than 27 million people visited the fairgrounds which featured national pavilions and carnival rides such as the original Ferris Wheel. The extensive use of electricity created a sensation. In February of that year, a financial panic led to a severe depression that would completely engulf President Grover Cleveland’s second term in office. It was also the decade when Civil War veterans’ organizations peaked in membership. Long after the shooting stopped, the veterans in blue and gray continued to live with their war, holding frequent reunions and taking anniversary trips to battlefields and cemeteries. In April 1898, the United States declared war with Spain. The ten-week conflict, which Theodore Roosevelt described in a letter as “a splendid little war,” marked the American entry into world affairs.

New York Press Club

Delmonico’s.

New York Press Club. Honoree Banquet. New York City: January 31, 1891.

While on a speaking tour in 1891, explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley was honored at the annual dinner of the New York Press Club. Stanley had become world famous in 1871, when he found missionary David Livingstone, who had vanished in central Africa. Stanley’s expedition was paid for by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., publisher of the New York Herald. The cartoon on the cover shows Stanley at the moment of discovery, famously asking, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” One of the speakers at the banquet was General William Tecumseh Sherman. His remarks were loudly cheered by the journalists, who afterward serenaded him with the Civil War song “Marching through Georgia.” Sherman died two weeks later at the age of 71.

Table d’hôte

Lakewood Hotel.

Table d’hôte. Lakewood, New Jersey: April 28, 1891.

The Lakewood Hotel was established in 1891 in the temperate, coastal Pine Barrens of New Jersey, a winter resort area frequented by New York society. During the winter season, the names of its fashionable guests were reported in the New York Times. Although the hotel normally closed in mid-May, it remained open past the regular season in 1908 to accommodate the ailing ex-President Grover Cleveland, who convalesced there before returning to his home in Princeton, where he died on June 24 of that year.

Tremont House Waiter's Association Ball Supper Tremont House Waiter's Association Ball Supper

Odd Fellows Hall.

Tremont House Waiter’s Association. Ball Supper. Boston: March 10, 1892.

The waiters at luxury hotels in Boston were exclusively African-American men who were deemed particularly suited for service in upper-class dining rooms. The Tremont House Waiters’ Association was a mutual beneficial association formed in 1890 when black waiters in Chicago were conducting a series of successful job actions. This 10-page booklet from its third annual ball contains the dance program of waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and new steps like the Glenwood Glide. Each dance is dedicated to a waiter, such as Albert Jackson, “the ladies fancy;” C. E. Butler, “old steady;” and William Walker, “heel taps.” The late supper was provided by William Tufts, whose catering business was situated in the Odd Fellows’ Hall where the ball was held. The portrait on the back cover is presumably headwaiter Gabriel Minor, the association president. The ball may have marked a high point for this group. The old Tremont House closed in 1894 during a severe depression. Within a few years, black waiters in Northern cities began to be marginalized by new ideals of servitude as wealthy Americans who wanted to emulate the European aristocracy decided they preferred white waiters.

À la carte

Palette Hotel.

À la carte. New York City: ca. 1892.

The simple design on the plain cover coyly alludes to the name of this exclusive “love hotel” which discreetly operated in a double brownstone on West 52nd Street near Sixth Avenue. According to a vice report in 1890, the Palette was patronized by “the misguided of the upper ten” who were leading double lives. The cuisine and prices were in league with luxury restaurants like Sherry’s and Delmonico’s. The wine list on the back includes a dozen fine Champagnes.

Private Dinner

Lillian Nordica Residence.

Private Dinner. London: October 14, 1894.

When performing in London, actress and singer Lillian Russell often stayed with American soprano Lillian Nordica, whose home at 11 Clarence Terrance overlooked Regent’s Park. Given that Nordica was a friend of British royalty, it would be fascinating to know who among the Victorian glitterati may have attended this private dinner party possibly to celebrate Russell’s appearance in the comic opera “The Queen of Brilliants,” which was then nearing the end of its run at the Lyceum. Lillian Nordica was an early celebrity endorser for the Coca-Cola Company, which used her image in ads beginning in 1904. The card is signed: “Yours with Good Luck, Lillian Russell.”

Table d’hôte

Sanitarium.

Table d’hôte. Battle Creek, Michigan: October 10, 1895.

The Sanitarium at Battle Creek was founded in 1866 on principles advocated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It evolved into an upper-class spa, hospital, and hydrotherapy institution closely associated with nutritionist John Harvey Kellogg, a leader in progressive health reform who endorsed a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that included dairy products and egg dishes. Kellogg is best known for the invention of the first dry flaked breakfast cereal which transformed the typical American breakfast.

Civil War Veterans Reunion Banquet

Brunswick Hotel.

Civil War Veterans Reunion. Banquet. New York City: February 10, 1896.

The Brunswick was located on East 26th Street, overlooking Delmonico’s at Madison Square Park. The upper-class hotel was a popular gathering spot for the wealthy horsey set, whose Coaching Club ran their Tally-Ho excursions from here. This richly-illustrated, eight-page menu comes from the annual banquet of this well-heeled Union veterans’ group.

Gridiron Club

Arlington Hotel.

Gridiron Club. Washington, D.C.: January 30, 1897.

President-elect William McKinley spoke to the Gridiron Club dinner attendees by telephone from his home in Canton, Ohio. The topical menu is in the form of five playing cards that make a royal flush. The king card depicts William McKinley and his recent opponent William J. Bryant. McKinley holds a gold coin and a tariff bill; Bryant grasps a silver coin and wields a sword inscribed “free coinage.” The queen card shows ex-Queen Liliuokalani of Hawai’i and a Cuban señorita with a cigarette between her lips.

A.A.O.N.M.S.

Islam Temple.

A.A.O.N.M.S. Golden Gate Hall. San Francisco: October 13, 1897.

This ten-page, die-cut menu comes from Ladies Night at the Islam Temple of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (now commonly known as The Shriners.) Established in 1870, the fraternal association for Freemasons adopted a Middle Eastern theme and built ornate meeting halls called temples. By 1900, there were 55,000 members and 82 temples in the United States and Canada. This dinner featured a creamy Creole stew called oysters à la poulette and terrapin à la Maryland. The refreshments included a sauterne from Château d’Yquem, Champagne, and Mt. Shasta spring water.

First New York Volunteers Thanksgiving Luau First New York Volunteers Thanksgiving Luau

Waiakea Plantation.

First New York Volunteers. Thanksgiving Luau. Territory of Hawaii: November 24, 1898.

The First New York Volunteers attended a complimentary luau on Thanksgiving in 1898 at the Waiakea Plantation on the Island of Hawai’i. The traditional feast featured fish “from fish ponds,” pig baked in ti leaves, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, beef, kukui (candlenut) relish, turkey, poi (taro), kulolo (coconut and taro pudding), soda water, and lemonade. Since the Spanish-American War had already ended, the federalized National Guard regiment soon returned home, having never reached the Philippines.

Church Supper

Presbyterian Church.

Church Supper. White Bear, Minnesota: October 26, 1899.

This summer resort town had a permanent population of about 1300 people in 1899 when the Ladies Aid Society of the Presbyterian Church held its “war banquet.” Reflecting popular support for the Spanish-American War, the themed menu features dishes with jingoistic names, such as Spanish cream, American whipped and San Juan potatoes, Roosevelt scal(lo)ped [sic].