Museum of the City of New York Collection on Social Events, 1759-1997

Extent: 10 boxes
The Collection on Social Events includes invitations, menus, calling cards, and dance cards related to balls, parties, dinners, and other invitation-only events held in New York City from 1759 to 1997. The majority of the materials date from the late 19th to early 20th centuries, during the Gilded Age of New York City.

Historical Note
The majority of materials in this collection date from the Gilded Age, the period between the United States Civil War and the early 1900s marked by swift economic growth, industrialization, and corporate and individual wealth. New York high-society in the mid-19th century was defined by pedigree. This shifted during the Gilded Age, when wealth was valued over connections to “old” New York. New York City’s Gilded Age high-society encompassed titans of new industries such as railroads, mining, and steel manufacturing – J. Pierepont Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Astor family. Balls and parties were a way to broadcast one’s wealth and social status, and consolidate social networks. Toward the late nineteenth century, interest in these balls waned as the high society families of New York began building homes with ballrooms large enough to host their own parties; the Museum’s collection likewise holds materials related to the private balls that began to take the place of annual subscription balls.

 Scope and Content
The Collection on Social Events brings to life a time when gentleman dined at their “club,” ladies lunched with the various charitable and church associations they belonged to, and New York’s “four hundred” attended fancy dress balls on a regular basis.  While the majority of the collection focuses on New York City’s “high society,” the collection contains a small portion of objects related to the social events of the middle class, as well. Materials include invitations and response cards, menus, seating lists, dance cards, and calling cards. Some invitations are very formal in style, while others, such as those for masquerade balls truly capture one’s imagination with their fanciful illustrations. The collection also holds realia from less extravagant affairs, such as benefit balls for various fire companies, charities, and arts societies.  Among some of the highlights from the collection are a list of invitees to an Assembly Ball; a program to a benefit ball for the Americus Fire Company, of which Boss Tweed was a member; an invitation to a Beaux Arts Ball; an invitation and ticket to Truman Capote’s Black and White Dance; and materials associated with the Bachelor’s Balls.

Series I: Events Hosted by Groups or Organizations
Series II: Events in Honor of Individuals
Sub-Series A: Prince of Wales Ball 1860
Series III: Calling Cards and Place Cards
Series IV: Weddings

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Related Collections
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Clubs, Societies, and Associations

Museum of the City of New York Collection on Formal Dining Events

Museum of the City of New York Collection of Pamphlets