A Sumptuous 1897 Astor Dinner Ball

The Astors Sure Knew Their Food and Their Swag!

Below is the menu for a ball hosted by the Astors in January of 1897....
"One of the Greatest Social Events of the Season" headlines the story featured in The New York Times. 
Miss May Van Alen - I realize I am going back in time a bit, with regard to the heart-breaking, fiancé dumping, May Van Alen, but this dinner serves a purpose. It shows the family background, the lifestyle and charming, gilded world in which May Van Alen lived. Remember, May's mother, was "Emily Astor-Van Alen," who died giving birth to May's younger sister, Sarah. Around the same time of this dinner ball, society pages were abuzz with May's probable marriage to the Duke of Manchester. 

Consommé à la Princesse
Filet de boeuf aux champignons frais et truffes
Canard canvasback rôti
Salade de céleri et laitue
Sandwiches assortis
Glaces de fantaisies
Biscuit glacé biscuit Tortoni
Gâteaux assortis
Gelée macédoine Charlotte Parisienne 
Fruits Bonbons
Champagne Claret cup
Lemonade Poland water

This ball at the Astors' 5th Avenue residence, a "double mansion" according to the news account, hosted nearly 300 guests. All of whom were "prominent representatives of New York society." The midnight supper (above) required the entirety of Mrs. Astor's "solid silver table service" as any menu of that size and amount would require, in the Gilded Age.

That supper was immediately followed by the cotillion. The party favors were "novel and artistic" and were pulled in "by ribbon bands, on an old French Sleigh, mounted on castors, a copy of one formerly used by Louis Quatorze." The goodies were quite a haul!

"Louis Quatorze" or Louis XIV of France

The swag for the guests included; "Wands of roses with little bells attached, tartan plaid silk sashes, with the monogram of Mrs. Astor in gold, with the date of the ball; Beardsley poster blotters, and sachets with large bouquets attached." Aubrey Beardsley was one of the most controversial artists of the Art Nouveau Era, and he died a year after this ball was held. For the men, favors included; "Handsome leather tobacco pouches, with silver tops, gold and silver trimmed golf sticks and golf balls, and jeweled orders with gold chains."

The following is a list of just some of the notable female guests, and notes on what they wore. Miss May Van Alen is among them.


  1. Wouldn't you love to have been a guest at that ball?! To live like that for one evening... I don't think Miss May Van Alen had any clue how fortunate she was, nor do I think many of those young women did.


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