Stationery and Society
In this excerpt of pages 262-265 from Gaskell's Compendium of Forms, Social, Educational, Legal & Commercial (1882), conventions and templates for "Notes of Invitation" are provided. Unless addressed between close friends, invitations are always formal: they should be written in third person on plain paper "of the heaviest and finest quality." Being courteous to guests is of the utmost priority; invitations should be clear regarding the logistics and expectations of the events, and should be sent to invitees early enough that prospective guests have enough time to purchase a new dress. Some of the templates include: "An Invitation to an Evening Party," "Invitation to an Evening Party (Full Dress)," "Invitation to a Croquet Party," and "An Invitation to Join a Picnic--A Lady to a Gentleman."
As explained in "Notes of Invitation" from Gaskell's Compendium of Forms, balls are public affairs that are usually hosted by an organization and directed by managers expressly hired for that purpose. As such, invitations to balls are less personalized and earnest than those for dinner or evening parties, instead reading more like advertisements. Lizzie Johnson received this elaborately embossed invitation to the American Ball, hosted by the American Party of Austin, in a bright purple envelope. The public nature of this event is evident in both the content and the style of the typed invitation, which includes an "American Ball" heading, a poetry quote, varied typefaces, and the list of managers. It reads in part, "The invitations are not confined to the members of any Party, but most liberally extended to all. We repudiate party proscription in our social relations." By disregarding party affiliation in their social events, the American Party exhibits an attitude of accommodation and courtesy towards their guests.
Addressed to Lizzie Johnson, this elaborately embossed envelope features fruits, flowers, and birds, and the back flap has scalloped edges. The all-encompassing formality of notes of invitation is most evident in this piece. While an envelope may function as merely the carrier of a letter, it is also the first impression made by the sender on the receiver. If an invitation arrives in an envelope as beautifully decorated as this one, then the invitee will be impressed by the attention which the host gives to their guests.
Lizzie Johnson received this invitation, which closely follows the template of "An Invitation to an Evening Party" as put forth in Gaskell's Compendium. Written on embossed paper, the letter opens with the host, P.B. Watkins (?), referring to himself in the third person and addressing his intended guest, Miss Lizzie Johnson. He "requests the pleasure of her company to the party to-night" and then provides the location and date. Perfectly expressing the expected tone and form of creating social engagements, this invitation further demonstrates the central role of propriety in the social landscape of mid-19th century Texas.