Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

Anniversaries, Gifts, and Anniversary Weddings

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Today marks the occasion of my one-year wedding anniversary (time really flies when you are having fun!). While perusing my books on the subject, I was reminded of the usual custom of marking the occasion with a celebration or gifts made from certain types of materials.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that these appear to have changed over the years, depending on the etiquette expert you are referring to and the time period of the book. I always assumed they were etiquette 101 and had always been the same. Not so!

My more modern copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (16th edition, 1997), has a very long list of anniversaries 1-20, then in five-year increments until year 60, then 70 and 75 are recognized. Here are the first ten years from her list:

1: Paper or Plastics
2: Calico or Cotton
3: Leather or simulated leather
4: Silk or synthetic material
5: Wood
6: Iron
7: Copper or wool
8: Electrical appliances
9: Pottery
10: Tin or aluminum

I dug deep into the etiquette archives to try to determine when this tradition started. Based on an informal study that consisted of me grabbing the oldest etiquette book I could find on the shelf behind me, I found mention of them in the 1877 book Decorum, by J. A. Ruth. I was surprised to find them called “Anniversary Weddings”:

"Celebrating Anniversary Weddings is a very pleasant custom which is coming gradually into general favor. Special anniversaries are designated by special names, indicating the presents suitable on each occasion.


The first anniversary is called the paper wedding. The invitations to this wedding should be issued on a gray paper, representing thin cardboard. Presents from the guests are appropriate, but not by any means obligatory. These presents, if given, should be only of articles made of paper. Thus, boxes of note-paper and envelopes, books, sheets of music, engravings and delicate knickknacks of papier mache are all appropriate for this occasion."

The author has less anniversaries described but is consistent with Emily Post’s list: he jumps to the Wooden Wedding, which he says to celebrate on the fifth year. Tin is for the 10th, crystal for 15th, china for the 20th, silver for 25th, gold for 50th, diamonds for 75th.

In Correct Social Usage, an etiquette book published in 1903, a suggestion is made to recognize anniversaries much later, though the concept remains the same and the earlier years are described for the benefit of those who want to celebrate sooner:

"Wedding anniversaries are not generally observed until the twenty-fifth year ~ “the silver wedding.” There are people, however, who find pleasure in presenting their married friends with appropriate remembrances on some, if not all, of the established anniversaries. Such remembrances must be gifts made of material which corresponds with the same of the anniversary. These occasions have been designated in this way: first year, paper; fifth year, wooden; tenth year, tin; twelfth year, leather; fifteenth year, crystal; twentieth year, china; twenty-fifth year, silver; thirtieth year, ivory; fortieth year, woolen; forty-fifth year, silk; fiftieth year, golden; seventy-fifth year, diamond."

It looks to me like tin and wood have been fighting it out for 5th place for awhile. Hallie Erminie Rives’ The Complete Book of Etiquette, with Social Forms for All Ages and Occasions (1926) has this slightly different list (with less years represented):

"Wedding anniversaries… hold a unique place in the life of a married couple. About the earlier ones there is an air of informality and fun that cannot but infect every guest. As the pair grows older, the celebrations become decidedly important events, and the “golden wedding” carries with it a sense of climax and fruition which makes its day a sacred one indeed.

Symbols of the conventional anniversaries are as follows:

First year: Paper
Second year: Cotton
Third year: Leather
Fourth year: Wood
Fifth year: Tin
Fifteenth year: Crystal
Twentieth year: China
Twenty-fifth year: Silver
Thirtieth year: Pearl
Fortieth year: Ruby
Fiftieth year: Gold
Seventy-fifth year: Diamond

The comedy possibilities of informal entertainments given on the first and second anniversaries are realized to the full by those who gather to congratulate a happy young couple. Nor do the bride and bridegroom ~ who, after the first anniversary may count themselves graduated from the newly married status ~ fail to take advantage of the amusing opportunities for table and house decorations."

The author then goes on to describe some of the party antics that could occur, including this crazy idea, for the paper anniversary: “Both hostess and women guests sometimes where entire costumes of crêpe paper.” Or, at the Leather Wedding anniversary: “as far as decorations and costumes go, is apt to be a thing of shifts and straits.” I can’t wait til that third year!


Miss Abigail’s (Timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas 2010

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Dear Readers: Today I resurrect my every-so-often holiday gift ideas post and bring to you some book titles that might tickle the fancy of people on your lists. If you aren’t done shopping yet, and need some help, perhaps these will do!

First up, we have a gift for the woman in your life. Although I thought this book might tell the “woman who hates to clean” that she should just hire a housekeeper and call it a day, it does assume that the wife, no matter how much she hates it, will be the one cleaning. Drat. Still, it offers “hundreds of ways to take the drudgery out of cleaning.” That’s sure to be appreciated by women and men (who are hopefully chipping in) alike.

Good Housekeeping's Miracle Cleaning Book (1955)

Next up, a gift for sis. Is she wanting to be on America’s Next Top Model, but doesn’t quite have the looks for it yet? She’s love this book, which was penned by Princess Luciana Pignatelli. The flap copy gives a hint to what are the secrets of a beautiful woman: “self-discipline, private bedrooms, work, cosmetic surgery, facial exercises, rest, repose, having late babies, the right kinds of husbands and loves, yoga, isometrics, and walking.” Your sister might also benefit from those sunglasses. Ooh, baby!

The Beautiful People's Beauty Book, by Princess Luciana Pignatelli (1970)

Speaking of isometrics, this next book would be perfect for anyone on your list. I mean, who wouldn’t love exercise that requires no movement at all?

Vic Obeck's How to Exercise Without Moving A Muscle (1964)

Dad might really enjoy this “Greeting Card Book,” which can be sent directly via the mail.  You could even send it anonymously so he has no idea that you doubt his handyman skills!

The Unhandy Handyman's Book (1966)

Young, frantic parents in your life might really appreciate this helpful guide from the Department of Defense. Who wouldn’t have a better grasp on how to raise preschoolers?

Department of Defense, Caring for Preschoolers (1982)

Here’s another for just about anyone on your list, from the business executive to those starting out in life  ~ this book has 871 pages full of etiquette and more, more, more. I was going to list all of the topics but I figured it was easier to just share the title page (click on it to see a larger size).

The cover of The National Encyclopedia of Business and Social Forms... (1881)

Title page of the National Encyclopedia...

This final entry is for the car lovers in your family, particularly those with VWs. It’s not an advice book, but I found it on my shelves while poking around and it seemed like the perfect gift for both “Volks folks and Normal People.” Here’s a few to whet your appetite: “There was the Dallas oilman who paid for his new Cadillac with a $10,000 bill and took his change in Volkswagens” HA! Or how about: “Here’s a tip to help you quickly dry your VW after a washing. Pick it up by the windshield wiper and it will shake itself dry.” Hooboy, what a riot! Here’s one more: “Give a man with a big car an inch and he’ll take a mile, but give a VW owner a foot and he’ll park his car.”

The Jokeswagen Book (1966)

Well, that’s it for another year. I hope these ideas help with your last-minute gift shopping, and that you all have a wonderful holiday!

Miss Abigail 8 Ball (and other gifty things)

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Magic 8 BallThe folks over at the Off-Broadway show version of Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage have opened up an online store. You can get a signed (by me and Eve Plumb) copy of my book there, among other fun things.

I’m personally hoping Santa puts a Miss Abigail Magic 8 Ball in my stocking this year. Just imagine how much easier this advice business would be.

Dear Miss Abigail: I like this boy but I don’t know how to tell him, what should I do? “Consult me later.”

Dear Miss Abigail: I am 35 and have never been married. Is there any hope for me?  “Maybe.”

Dear Miss Abigail: Is it rude to talk on your cell phone while in a public restroom?  “You Can Count on It!”

Origin of the Bridal Shower

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

each one thought of a giftAs maid of honor for my sister’s wedding in May, I’ve got a lot to do in the coming months. One major activity is to help plan the shower, and now that a date has been selected, I’ve turned to my books to find out more about this festive party. Etiquette expert Lillian Eichler provided a bit of history in The New Book of Etiquette, which I’ve found quite informative.

1924: Origin of the Bridal Shower

There are many kinds of showers, but most popular of all is that given to the engaged girl. Friends are never so good-naturedly generous as when a young woman confides that she has given her heart in love.

The bridal shower is one of our most charming before-the-wedding customs. It is a pleasant and sensible way for friends and acquaintances to present gifts that would seem too trifling if they were presented singly. The custom has an interesting background, and its origin takes us across the sea to Holland.

Many, many years ago ~ so as the tradition runs ~ a beautiful young Dutch maiden gave her heart to the village miller who was so good to the poor and the needy that he himself had but few worldly goods. He gave his bread and his flour free to those who could not pay, and because of his goodness everyone loved him. Everyone but the girl’s father. She must not marry him, he said. She must marry the man he had selected ~ a fat, horrid, wealthy man with a farm and a hundred pigs! ~ or she would lose her dowry.

The miller was sad, and the girl wept on his shoulder. The people who had eaten of the good miller’s bread were sad, too. Couldn’t something be done about it? Couldn’t they give the girl a dowry so that she could marry their kind miller and make him happy? They didn’t have much money, it is true, but each one thought of a gift that he or she could contribute.

And they came to the girl in a gay procession: one with an old Dutch vase; one with some fine blue plates for the kitchen shelf; one with strong linens made on the hand looms at home; one with a great shiny pot. They showered her with gifts and gave her a finer dowry than ever her father could! There was a solemn wedding ceremony and a jolly wedding feast, and even the father came at last to wish them happiness.

A good many years later, an Englishwoman heard of a friend who was about to be married and decided that the only gift she could afford was too slight an expression of her good wishes. Remembering the story of the Dutch ‘shower’ and knowing that there were other friends who felt precisely as she did, she called them together and suggested that they present their gifts all at the same time. The ‘shower’ that they gave was so successful that fashionable society adopted the custom, and it has remained ever since.

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1924.
~ pp. 82-83 ~

Talent for Toy Choosing

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

quainter, cuter, sweeter, more take-me-homishI’m heading down to my mom and stepdad’s house in Florida for the long weekend, and part of the purpose of the trip (besides lounging by the pool) is to pick up my favorite childhood toy: a doll so creatively named Big Baby. She’s been part of my life for the last thirty or so years, but when Mom was in town a few months ago we pondered over Big’s current state of disrepair. A decision was made to carefully transport her to a doll maker relative to perform the much-needed surgery. I haven’t seen her yet, but the reports are good ~ in addition to a new cloth body and stuffing, her hair has been washed and combed, hopefully hiding the choppy haircut I gave her many years ago.

All this talk of loving toys led me to the following quote, from Emily Post’s Children are People. Thanks to Mom and Aunt Pam for saving Big Baby! And many thanks for not replacing her with a boring old tinkle doll.

1940: Talent for Toy Choosing

There is an especial gift which certain people have for choosing the very toy that each child loves the most of all. Buying a present for an older child is easy enough, since it is usually getting something that you can persuade him to tell you about, including the store or the catalog in which it is to be found.

But when choosing a toy for a younger child, the essential thing to do is to imagine that it is for you, and ask yourself what you are going to do with it. If it is something to look at ~ like the musical doll’s head on a stick that tinkle-tinkles as you swing it around ~ it would bore you to death and make you dizzy besides. Well, that is exactly what the child will think, too. For a little baby the tinkle doll is quite all right. But not for more than a minute at that, since he can’t take it in his hands or put it in his mouth or do anything but blink at it as it whirls around. For a child of two, anything with which he can make something is always delighting. I hesitate to suggest a hose to couple and uncouple, to turn on and off on a hot summer’s day ~ because nothing ever made by a toy manufacturer ever met with the success of this. Next to a hose, a collection of small boxes ~ ordinary wooden boxes of the kind silversmiths use to enclose cardboard boxes for mailing, and of course blocks of almost any sort, and balls both big and little, and animals, and a wagon. Above the age of three all of the kindergarten boxes ~ mat-weaving, sewing, drawing, clay-modeling, painting, bead-threading ~ are delightful if a grown person or older brother or sister will help to keep it easy play and not an irksome task.

The ‘didey doll’ was perhaps the most fascinating of dolls, because of all the things that the child was able to do for it ~ bathe it, dress it, feed it, change it, wash for it.

Having rather belittled things just to look at, let me add that there are endless things that children love to look at for minutes on end ~ picture books, dolls, toy animals. But the books must have pictures that fascinate you, the doll a face that suggests a name. In fact, to give it a name when you send it is sometimes a good idea. Pigaline, a chunky bear, the elephant child, and the personable dog. . . .

In many cases, if, when you go to buy a doll or an animal, there is one that has something about it that makes you think it quainter, cuter, sweeter, more take-me-homish than anything you’ve ever seen, it is almost certain that the child will think so too! Why? I don’t know ~ perhaps it is nonsense, but in many, many cases, and over the stretch of many years, I have found it to be true.

Source: Post, Emily. Children are People, and Ideal Parents are Comrades. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1940.
~ pp. 158-60 ~

Gifts at Christmas-time

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

books for the book-loverPerfect for this time of year, this selection is dedicated to my dear, sweet mother, recently shocked by the words of a rather difficult relative:

“The squirrel nut dish is cute. It’s about the fifth one like it I’ve received. I think everyone in the family has hit me with that one once. We sold about 3 of them at the flea market last year. Yours is a little different . . . Keep sending stupid gifts if you want to. I’ll just send you a card next year. Ho Ho Ho.”

Let’s just say that Miss Abigail is not too pleased with this rude response. It sounds like a wonderful squirrel dish, don’t you think? I believe we can all learn a little (some more than others) from Lillian Eichler, author of the 1924 etiquette book that shared this advice.

1924: Gifts at Christmas-time

There are two distinct kinds of gifts ~ duty gifts and pleasure gifts. When a distant relative sends an invitation to his or her wedding, we send a gift because we feel that we are expected to do so. But when Christmas time draws near and there’s a hint of fir trees in the air, we think of a wonderful friend far away we’d like to see, or a jolly neighbour around the corner, or a business acquaintance who has been kind. And the gifts we pack tenderly with our own hands are ~ pleasure gifts.

For the woman who likes pretty things for her room, we suggest a handsome perfume bottle, and handkerchief box, a painted glass powder jar. Books for the book-lover, lamps for the home-lover, flowers and garden tools for the nature-lover! Make your gift suit the person for whom it is intended, add a bit of holly to carry the breath of the Christmas spirit, and send it so that it arrives on Christmas morning.

One writer on Christmas and Christmas gifts says:

‘The spirit of Christmas is better expressed by fifty inexpensive gifts that include people who might be forgotten than by doing one’s Christmas duty by means of a diamond bracelet and a set of expensive studs to a few people who could just as well afford to do without them. Besides this, the chief object of Christmas presents is to express the spirit of good will and hospitality which goes with the season, and there is more fun in the distribution of a greater number of little gifts than in the solemn presentation of two or three.’

Little travelling clocks, bridge sets, tennis rackets, gloves, fitted bags, books, collar boxes, work baskets, powder jars, boudoir dolls, writing sets ~ all these make ideal Christmas gifts. Make the gift suit the person for whom it is intended. A Mah Jongg set will not excite the little cousin who goes to business and has no time to learn the game; nor will a book of poetry please the flippant young débutante as much as a rather daring ‘best seller’ will.

‘For the children,’ says Eleanor O’Malley, ‘there is no substitute for Christmas toys, and little Willie will grow up with a hard corner in his heart for the person who greets him on Christmas morning with a smart new sailor suit or a strong pair of shoes. Though we may hazard a wild guess at the preferences of adults, we cannot possibly act on less than exact knowledge of the wishes of little ones. Even an expensive tricycle may prove a barren gift for a little fellow who was hoping against hope for a fifty-cent boat to sail on the lake, and the person who has not ingenuity enough to discover by means of letters to Santa Claus what is wanted in the nursery would better give up hope of trying to make a pleasant gift to the children.’

Source: Eichler, Lillian. The New Book of Etiquette. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1924.
~ pp. 78-80 ~

A Sentimental Gift

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

the offspring of their gentle skillQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have a friend that is leaving soon. He is from another country and is going home ~ forever! I really want to give him a sentimental but useful gift. Any ideas?


A Dear Charlotte:

Oooh! Presents! One of my favorite topics. Here are some gift-giving tips, and some bonus thoughts about giving and receiving them, from John A. Ruth’s Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiqutte and Dress of the Best American Society. Enjoy!

1880: Presents

Presents Among Friends. Among friends, presents ought to be made of things of small value; or, if valuable, their worth should be derived from the style of the workmanship, or from some accidental circumstance, rather than from the inherent and solid richness. Especially never offer to a lady a gift of great cost: it is in the highest degree indelicate, and looks as if you were desirous of placing her under an obligation to you, and of buying her good will. The gifts made by ladies to gentlemen are of the most refined nature possible: they should be little articles not purchased, but deriving a priceless value as being the offspring of their gentle skill; a little picture from their pencil, or a trifle from their needle.

Praising Presents. If you make a present, and it is praised by the receiver, you should not yourself commence undervaluing it. If one is offered to you, always accept it; and however small it may be, receive it with civil and expressed thanks, without any kind of affection. Avoid all such deprecatory phrases, as ‘I fear I rob you,’ etc.

Making Parade. A present should be made with as little parade and ceremony as possible. If it is a small matter, a gold pencil-case, a thimble to a lady, or an affair of that sort, it should not be offered formally, but in an indirect way, ~ left in her basket, or slipped on to her finger, by means of a ribbon attached to it without a remark of any kind.

How to Receive a Present. Receive a present in the spirit in which it is given and with a quiet expression of thanks. On the other hand, never, when what you have given is admired, spoil the effect by saying it is of no value, or worse still, that you have no use for it, have others, or anything of that kind. Simply remark that you are gratified at finding it has given pleasure.

Refusing a Gift. Never refuse a gift if offered in kindness unless the circumstances are such that you cannot with propriety or consistency receive it. Neither in receiving a present make such comments as ‘I am ashamed to rob you;’ ‘I am sure I ought not to take it,’ which seems to indicate that your friend cannot afford to make the gift.

Value of Presents. In the eyes of persons of delicacy, presents are of no worth, except from the manner in which they are bestowed; strive then to gain them this value.

Source: Ruth, John A. Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society. New York: Union Publishing House, 1880.
~ pp. 219, 220-221 ~

Miss Abigail’s (timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas, Vol. VI

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Happy Holidays, everybody! Welcome to the sixth edition of Miss Abigail’s Gift Ideas. Having trouble finding that perfect present? Never fear, I’m here to help with your last minute shopping. There’s something here for the whole family! Now onto the presentation:

What mother doesn’t love a new vacuum? I’m sure the local department store is having a sale on this exciting new model. Run out and grab one today. (1965)

mom's vacuum

Little Johnny needs a new mallet so he can learn how to properly fix his bike. Make sure you get him the only the finest, and be sure to teach him how to use it safely. (1914)

Daddy always loves gadgets for the outdoors. How about these ideas for when he takes a turn at cooking? That adjustable grill doesn’t look too hard to assemble ~ I’m sure you can build it by Christmas. (1939)

Perhaps you can convince grandpa to assemble this exciting swing for little sister in the basement or attic. Won’t she be delighted! I know I would be. (1896)

Uh oh, you forget to get your baby sister Adelaide something! You better get shopping ~ and fast! I don’t think she’ll care what it is. (1937)

Miss Abigail’s (timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas, Vol. V

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Worried about finding a perfect gift for your hard-to-shop-for relative? Welcome to the fifth annual collection of Miss Abigail’s gift ideas. This year I offer a lovely selection of items that I’m sure those on your list will just adore. Trust me.

Dad sure loves to cook those burgers. How about this handy “portable electric range” to make him forget about the grill? (1970)

What baby doesn’t love a metal tub? You tell me! (1924)

When baking sheetcakes for your elderly relatives or neighbors, be sure to size the pan correctly, or trouble might ensue. (1965)

Sis always feels special in a new set of spectacles. Mom, Dad, why not treat her to a new look?(1952)

Hmm… what does mom want? A new set of dishes? A toaster oven? A vacuum cleaner? No, silly. She wants CASH! (1947)

Miss Abigail’s (timeless) Holiday Gift Ideas, Vol. IV

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Trying to figure out what to get that hard-to-shop-for relative? Welcome to the fourth annual collection of gift ideas. This year, more than ever, many are seeking comfort in books, but you’re probably stumped about what your family might like to read. Miss Abigail, nonfiction book wiz, is here to help.

The advertisements following were found in the back of some of my old books.




“Westland’s Tocology for Mothers”: “Indispensible to every wife and mother,” reads the ad, and I’d have to agree. What mom wouldn’t love to read about all of this fun stuff? [ca. 1908]

“Daddy Must Leave Tobacco on Shelf”:Dad, please give the gift of your life and health to your children. Order this pamphlet today and stop smoking before your daughter starts speaking like this! [ca. 1920]

“A Book About the Pet Canary” would be fitting for just about any family member. Junior might not be ready for the responsibility of a puppy, but might enjoy raising a bird, or granny may find comfort in the company of a canary while grandad is off playing golf at the country club. [ca. 1908]

“Dr. Foote’s White Lily Sanitary Tampons”: This one isn’t a book, but what teenage girl doesn’t want tampons for Christmas? Makes a perfect stocking stuffer. [ca. 1908]

“Better than Beauty”: OK, that last one wasn’t fair. Here’s a “blessing” that sis will really appreciate. [1933]

“Hair Culture”: Last but not least, dad or grandpa will certainly enjoy this exciting read. The caption for the illustration above reads “You would not think to look at Mr. Macfadden’s luxuriant growth of hair that at one time he was in grave danger of becoming bald.” Is your father in danger? Get this book at once! [1923]