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.
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 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.
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."
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."
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