Entertaining at Home

The Frick Pittsburgh

This collection of objects from The Frick Pittsburgh illustrates the elaborate dining and entertaining that signified proper refinement and exquisite taste at the turn of the twentieth century.

This electric call system, called an annunciator, hangs on the kitchen wall in Clayton, where it could be easily seen and heard by household staff.

When a small, doorbell-like button was pushed in nearly any room of the house, the bell at the top of the annunciator rang, and the correct arrow turned to the signaling room. Upon hearing the bell, a staff member checked to see which room was calling, and hurried to lend the proper attention.

When a dinner party was held at the Frick's home, the butler was in charge of creating a seating chart. According to etiquette, the guest of honor was given a prominent position, and married couples were not seated together in order to encourage new conversation.

This seating chart can be lengthened and shortened according to the number of guests, just like the table in the Clayton dining room.

This service bell is engraved AHCF, the monogram of Mrs. Adelaide Howard Childs Frick, who would have used the bell to summon service at meals.

An elegant silver tea service would have been recognized as a sign of feminine hospitality and domesticity by guests arriving for afternoon tea.

Whist, similar to bridge, was a popular game for entertaining in the Frick household. Mrs. Frick took lessons and hosted whist parties. Mr. Frick also played, and there are many whist instruction books in the collection.

Although the Frick's were living in New York at the time, Helen Clay Frick's 1908 social debut was held at Clayton, the family's Pittsburgh home.

Mrs. Frick wore this silk and Irish lace gown at the reception. The dress was purchased at Lichtenstein Cie Modes, which had shops in Paris and New York.

Serving trays were essential for proper entertaining at a time when refreshments were passed by servants.

Elegant silver trays, like this one from elite retailer Tiffany & Co., indicated wealth and refinement.

From a set of three, this small tray is decorated with intricate scroll and floral patterns and was customized with the Frick family crest.

In the Gilded Age, punches were not reserved for special occasions, as they tend to be today.

In "Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America," author Susan Williams includes a period recipe for the popular Roman Punch, made of lemon water-ice, champagne, rum, maraschino, and vanilla, which was often served as a first course at dinner, just before the soup.

The Gilded Age saw an explosion of specialized flatware and serving utensils. An elaborate service might include up to 150 different forms.

Aside from a dinner or luncheon fork, etiquette demanded additional forks for pickles, lemons, salad, oysters, fish, fruit, and ice cream.


The Gilded Age dessert course consisted of fruit, cheese and crackers, bonbons, and a variety of baked goods, and the dessert plates were splendidly decorated—as though the end of the meal required extra festivity.

This service included 12 plates, each decorated with a different tropical bird and its nest.

This Asian-inspired dessert setting may have been given to the Fricks as a gift to celebrate their marriage in 1881.

One or more wines would be served with an elaborate dinner, and each had it's own glass. Much like today, champagne was preferred for parties and celebrations.

Glassware for water, wine, sherry, cordials, whiskey, and champagne can all be found in the dining room at Clayton.

The Orchestrion is a freestanding mechanical instrument that imitates orchestral music; the one at Clayton replicates nine instruments and has over 200 pipes.

In her memoirs, Helen Clay Frick recalls that her father enjoyed playing the orchestrion for guests during dinner. After dinner, Mr. Frick took pleasure in revealing to his guests the large instrument that had been their "orchestra."

Coffee surpassed tea in popularity in America, and silver services often include both coffee and tea pots.

Tiny cups of strong, black coffee were typically served as the last course of a formal dinner.

Entertaining was not reserved for feminine affairs.

In her memoir, Helen Clay Frick recalled:

"Once a week, my father had a group of men friends come in for poker after dinner. I had the important duty of arranging the chips and took great pleasure in doing this...They played in the breakfast room, and the following morning the room still retained the odor of cigars which they all smoked."

Henry Clay Frick's monogram is found on the side of the locking wooden holder, which enables the glass decanters to be carried easily and also allows the owner to keep their contents secure.

Credits: Story

Resources:
Savory Suppers And Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America by Susan Williams

Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor by Charles L. Venable, Dallas Museum of Art

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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