A Vintage Bride And Her Vintage Registry

by admin on July 17, 2013

I found this in an old, archived issue of my local newspaper (Roanoke Daily Times, December 31, 1889). I thought you might find it interesting.

It’s the “story” of a bride who went from merchant to merchant to get them to take note of what presents she would like, so they might encourage her friends to buy them for her when she came in–an early wedding registry.

Given the anonymous nature of the bride and writer, and the fact the only location is “Atlantic,” I suspect this is an early attempt to market the first “registries” to merchants and brides.

It’s in the next to last column, about halfway down, in the upper right quadrant, called, “A Scheme That Worked Well.” I’ve retyped the text for you in case it’s slow to load or hard to read. The archaic punctuation (including no end quote marks), odd phrasing, and use of “wont” are original to the article; other typos are mine.  0716-13


Not long ago an Atlantic young lady was about to be married–she is
married now. The following story has leaked out by merchants comparing
notes from time to time: “About two weeks before the time the wedding was
to take place this young lady visited the various stores in the city. At
each of the jewelry stores she called the proprietor aside and told him of
her approaching marriage, and then said: ‘Now, it is very probable that
some of my friends may come in here and select me a present. It’s horrid
to get something you don’t like, so I wont you to look out for me, and if
you can satisfy yourself that a present is to be purchased for me induce
the purchaser to buy something I will now select.’ The proprietor could
see nothing wrong in granting such a request, and the young lady selected
a number of pieces of jewelry which suited her taste. They were marked
and the clerks notified. This was repeated at the crockery, music and
book stores. From all that can be learned the scheme worked well, and on
her wedding night the happy bride had but few presents with which she was
not pleased.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber July 17, 2013 at 10:45 am

HA! I adore this. It reminds me that people have always been people.


Allie July 17, 2013 at 11:09 am

Fascinating. Thank you for submitting this, OP. I suppose we can’t fault this bride too much since her “registry” information was not foisted on her guests. She simply alerted the merchants that should it become apparent someone was purchasing a gift for her they should steer them in the right direction. Hopefully, her selections weren’t too lavish.


No Wedding July 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Why was she registering for jewelry? Or was that suggestion for the groom?


Isabella July 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm

A lady of the house was to look the part when entertaining guests – this meant wearing a certain amount of jewelry. Although odd to us now, hostessing was something of an art in the late 19th C. Getting jewelry for a wedding gift was seen the same way we might see getting hand embroidered dish towels now – it’s for the guests and so your household looks nice when guests come over. You just happened to have to look nice as well. The jewelry could easily be things like watches and cufflinks for the husband too.


NostalgicGal July 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Yes, I will agree, it was done in a tactful manner. The bride did not have overt lists and did not wave it everywhere, or foist it down the guests’ throats. Just some guidelines so if people came to shop for presents, the clerks could steer them (sounds like not one posted list). I agree with Allie, I hope the choices weren’t lavish.


WifeyDear July 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Thank you for posting this! Not only for the example (or lack thereof) of etiquette, but for the fascinating glimpse into the past! I’ve been poring over this paper all morning 🙂


Vickie July 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Did anyone else think the last line was a little… suggestive?

Was jewelry a common gift back then? I know old (victorian) novels talk about getting wedding jewels..


Stacey Frith-Smith July 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Most interesting and bizarre- “it’s horrid to get something you don’t like”. Really? Horrid is war, famine, poverty, rape and gross injustice. Suggested synonyms for the term are terrible, frightful, dreadful and awful. It is most certainly not the wrong gift or other trifle.


Catherine July 22, 2013 at 3:02 am

“it’s horrid to get something you don’t like”.
Hence the creation of the first Bridezilla! Lol.


TinLizzie July 18, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I always got the impression that “horrid” was just a 19th century slang. I think it was used the same way someone today might say something “sucks.”


Elaine July 17, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Citing only my extensive reading of mid-to-late 19th century women’s domestic fiction (and the newspapers in which most novels were published prior to appearance in the “novel” form):

Stacey, “horrid” would have been cutting edge slang for the day; I suspect the paper was attempting to be up-to-date.

Vickie, for the nouveaux riche (and particularly, women in the upper middle-class) jewelry was a pretty common gift for brides. I think that some categories of jewels were reserved in certain ways (a father gives his daughter her wedding pearls), but they might also be a gentleman’s gift to a beloved female relative, particularly when there was a sort of proprietary family interest. (Valuable gifts were meant to stay in the family, you know.) Such things were not usually given by people who were not “close” – but the story above suggests that in the fast-paced boom and bust economic cycles of that era, rules were breaking all the time. Dear Uncle might by sympathetic to and understand Cherished Niece Bride’s tastes, but the Aspiring Magnate Who Wishes to Get In Bride’s Father’s Good Graces may not. And Bride (who might herself be a marital entrepreneur) could well be looking out for her own investments, as it were.

My apologies for nerding out. Fascinating stuff, this. (Oh! and so seldom do I get to call on my arcane graduate studies…)


LeeLee88 July 18, 2013 at 6:35 am

Don’t apologize! That was not only very informative, but well-written. Thank you!


Snowy July 18, 2013 at 3:01 am

Hey! I submitted that! 😀 Thanks for using it, Admin. (You’re fast!)

Elaine, thank you for the elaboration about the jewelry. I was wondering that myself. I figured it probably was a custom at the time, but I didn’t know the details.

I forgot to include it, but for reference, the first bridal registry is credited to Marshall Field’s in 1924.


Marozia July 18, 2013 at 5:20 am

I thought this was very tactful. At least bride didn’t ask for receipts, so she could return the goods for cash, like so many I’ve read about in the stories here.


gellchom July 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm

LOL – I have to admit I kind of did this! In my circle of very nice women friends, it’s become the custom, when one of us has a decade birthday, for everyone to pitch in a little money and get her one really nice gift. One woman’s 50th birthday was just a few months before mine, and she had gotten, from the group, a really cool necklace from our neighborhood jewelry store, owned by people we all know. I happened to be in there a couple of months before my own 50th, and I saw a necklace I just loved that didn’t cost too much, if anything a little less than the group usually spends. So I told the owners that if they came in looking, or if my husband did, she could tell them that I had been in and I really loved that necklace. (They did get me an excellent necklace, but from a glass gallery that they know I like).

This story seems to be really a precursor not just to registries, but to registering for all kinds of items, not just or primarily those that come in patterns and can’t be purchased any other way. I still don’t especially care for that!


Michelle C. Young July 19, 2013 at 6:09 am

It’s horrid to get something you don’t like? Really? HORRID?

Obviously, this young woman had very little life experience, if she considers it HORRID to get a gift she doesn’t like. Me, I consider getting punched in the head horrid. Just sayin’.

Now, I will grant that it is disappointing. However, her attitude did bother me. I would be much more in charity with her, had she explained her reasoning with, “My friends and family sometimes have difficulty choosing gifts for me. With such a wide array of excellent products you have here, it can be difficult for them to make up their minds. Therefore, I suggest we make it easier for them, by providing them with a short-list of products that would be desirable for me.”

See what I did there? I turned it around to be about the givers’ convenience, not about the receiver’s pleasure. And in the end, she is bound to get more presents that she has already labeled as “desirable,” so she should not suffer as much (horrid) disappointment.


Powers July 19, 2013 at 10:20 am

In the era in question, in particular, “horrid” had come to mean merely “unpleasant” or “undesirable”. It’s regained some of its strength in the last century, becoming almost synonymous with “horrible” — but I’m pretty sure our Victorian era bride would not have considered them so.


Cat September 14, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I am reminded of the thank you note Queen Victoria is said to have written as a child. “Thank you very much for your gift. It is something I always wanted-but not very much.”


pbird July 20, 2013 at 10:48 am

Correct. Horrid back then was just a girlish thing to say.


Tiamet July 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I couldn’t work out what bothered me about this since I usually have no problem at all with registries.

I’ve realised it’s the element of manipulation. If I buy off a registry, I know I’m buying off a registry. In this case, it seems the suggestion is that the purchaser should be guided towards specific items without ever being told it had been preselected by the bride. If that is the case, it seems the bride and the shop are colluding to trick the purchaser, which I don’t think is right.

Of course, if the purchaser is told, ‘Bride has chosen item X’, I have no problem with this, but that isn’t how the article reads.


Dutchie81 July 23, 2013 at 7:40 am

“the happy bride had but few presents with which she was not pleased.”

This just annoys me. Every -honest- present should be pleasing, it’s a gift, a show of appreciation/affection. I say honest present because I don’t mean sort of joke presents. Now; would it be what you might have chosen, no. But your guests are not there to do your shopping for you.

The Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey had a funny moment, i thought, when a vase was broken and the gentleman who broke it apologized. She replied not to worry, it was a gift from a “frightfull aunt” and she had hated it for “half a century”. Not really nice to say but I like the implication that it’s a gift and you keep it and don’t throw it away. On the other hand who has a house these days that’s big enough for all your presents to be put on “display”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUMGk4TC-EM see around 6:33.


Dust Bunny October 28, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Every -honest- present should be pleasing,

Sorry, no. The thought should be, definitely, but I’ve gotten what I am sure were honest attempts at gifts that were so far off the mark there was simply nothing to be done but give them away. Clothing that would never fit; (useful) things that I already owned and did not need to replace; etc. It’s absolutely possible to be completely displeased with a gift, too, and still be gracious about it–thank the giver and quietly find the item a more suitable owner.


JD July 23, 2013 at 2:36 pm

That idea probably spread and spread, and voila, suddenly we have registries! That seems as though that’s what could have happened. I had no idea it was practiced that long ago, though.
What I really enjoyed (another lit. major and Brit. lit. fan, here) is the language. Just look at how formal it sounds to our ears today.
So, do we think the paper was suggesting the bride had a good idea, or were they slyly condemning it?


Dust Bunny October 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Also: It used to be that the names of respectable women didn’t appear in public (this included female reporters and columnists). I wouldn’t expect real names to appear in what is pretty much a fluff piece.


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