At left is a dance card for a "Grand Easter Ball" held on Tuesday, March 27, 1894, by a local Sons of Veterans chapter in Middletown, New York. That's actually a couple of days after Easter (March 25th that year), but I suppose they could hardly hold a ball during Holy Week itself. Midweek balls seem to have been surprisingly common in the nineteenth century, judging from ball invitations and dance cards I've examined.
The Sons of Veterans was a youth organization (14 and up, with a junior branch for ages 6-14) for the sons of veterans of the Civil War. It was formed in 1881 as a combination fraternal order and paramilitary training group. By 1890 it had over 100,000 members. More informaton about the group may be found on Wikipedia or on the webpage of its descendant organization, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The two pages conflict on some points about the early history of the Sons of Veterans -- there seem to have been some organizational politics with the veteran's organization -- but I am not sufficiently curious to research the details myself.
In 1894 the original teenage members would have been young men in their twenties, a very suitable age group for holding a ball.
The front of the card depicts a young soldier holding a rifle with bayonet. I am no expert on military uniforms, so I can't say whether the uniform represents (accurately or otherwise) a Civil War soldier, a soldier of 1894, or perhaps the Sons of Veterans' own uniform. The general look is similar to the soldier on the left in this New York Public Library image, which shows soldiers from 1881-1903. I will leave it open to any experts who want to chime in on this topic in the comments.
The back of the card shows the Sons of Veterans medal with the organization's name in Latin.
The card is generally in good shape, despite a blot on the front and someone having scribbled on the back of it. There is no attached pencil, but the cord and tassel survive. The card was never used.
My primary interest, of course, lies in the dances. Twenty-six are listed on the card, divided into two sets of twelve and fourteen dances, with a banquet mid-ball. It is interesting to compare this program to that of another 1894 card from a ball in Las Vegas. My thoughts:
Unusually, there is no Grand March listed.
There are eight quadrilles, six of them being Lanciers and two simply listed as "Quadrille". An unanswered question of mine is whether people really danced the Lanciers six times in one night -- this is not the only card I've seen with so many Lanciers -- or whether they did it once or twice and skipped the rest. Even with different music each time, six times through the same quadrille seems a bit excessive.
All the other dances are couple dances, and the principal reason that I acquired this card. To quickly dispose of the typical nineteenth century repertoire: with eight waltzes, that dance clearly continued its popularity, while the polka and schottische, at one each, seem to be in decline.
The other eight dances are somewhat more exotic.
The Vasouvienne (a.k.a. Varsovienne, Varsoviana, etc.) dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and at this point was still a dance done in normal ballroom hold rather than the promenade hold with which it is nowadays associated. It belongs to the general family of redowa/mazurka waltzes, as does the York, which became popular in the 1880s and likewise appears twice on the card. I teach the York and its many variations regularly, so it's nice to have an example at hand for when people ask, fairly enough, if these less common dances were ever really done in ballrooms.
The two-step, which is just becoming popular in the 1890s, turns up twice as well, a fairly early appearance for that dance.
The last two couple dances, the Caprice and the Bon Ton, cannot be definitively described. Some candidates:
The Bon Ton Gavotte is a very mediocre schottische-based sequence dance described in M. B. Gilbert's Round Dancing (Portland, Maine, 1890). It mostly makes me want to hold my head and moan "why???"
Gilbert also describes a Caprice Schottische (also known simply as the Caprice), which is a lively, mazurka-influenced dance with heel-clicking and a waltz-galop segment. There is also a Caprice Waltz or Waltz Caprice described in George E. Wilson's The Little Dancing Master (New York, 1898) and Marguerite Wilson's Dancing (Philadelphia, 1899), but the placement of the Caprice on the card directly before a waltz makes me think that the schottische is a more likely candidate.
The Caprice turns up fairly regularly on dance cards of the 1890s, but this is the only instance I have seen of the Bon Ton.
The inside pages of the card are below, with the dance program appearing in the central image. Click each, and the cover images above, to enlarge.