Sunday, January 13, 2019

DAY 9: You Know You Wondered...Dance Cards

Carnet de bal, ca. Charles X

Those of us who love historical fiction--the kind that always includes at least one spectacular ball--know that there was a protocol to choosing partners. Ladies had a dance card, and gentlemen asked to have their names penciled in for each dance. Sometimes, a woman's card was entirely filled before she even arrived at the event, which must have dampened the sense of spontaneity a bit.

But what did a dance card look like? Did a woman stuff a scrap of paper and pencil stub into her bodice, as she was undoubtedly wearing a ball gown without pockets?

She carried a carnet de bal. Which, translated from the French, is roughly: A dance notebook.

Royal Collection, enamel, gold, jasperware
These were classic gifts to a young woman making her debut, crafted by jewlers and refillable with fresh paper. They were meant to be treasured and collected, rather like the cigarette cases I tossed out here yesterday.

Unlike the cases, however, these were small enough to hide in the palm of a lady's hand--roughly 2" x 4". Some were shaped like fans, and collapsed accordingly to hide partners' names. Others looked like card cases--another accessory ladies carried when paying calls--and had internal slots for diminutive pencils. Most had chains for attaching to a lady's belt or wrist.

Here's a spectacular French carnet, carved rock crystal with gold mounts, date uncertain. 

And this Art Nouveau one is silver, with its chatelaine chain still attached.

One of my personal favorites, however, is this tortoiseshell carnet de bal from the period of Emperor Napoleon III, when Jennie Jerome Churchill was a sixteen-year-old living in Paris. I like to think she glimpsed it while hunting with the Court at Compiegne.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.   


  1. I love the fan-shaped dance card! I long to replicate it for a ball someday. However, most of these look like aide memoires. Sometimes, the leaves were of bone (e.g. rock crystal and Art Nouveau ones), which could be written on with pencil and erased easily.

    P.S. LOOOOOVE your Jane Austen mystery series, of which I have every volume. I am dreading the day when you get to 1817. I do have a suggestion to get around the termination date: Please continue writing them, but as "prequels". PLEASE!

    1. Yes, I agree with you--I really don't want to write JANE AND THE WINCHESTER CRYPT either. I've toyed with prequels. But part of me respects the natural life of a series...there ought to be a beginning and end, not an eternal limbo, don't you think?

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