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Little tidbits

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I was trying to think of a good way to integrate my favorite ad into my dissertation (it's harder than you might think; requires either opening a can of worms I don't want to open, or engaging in dreaded Speculation), so had to go back and check the date.  While there, ran across a few other interesting ads from the same day, though nothing so shocking or exciting.

A gentleman of means would like to meet a young lady of refinement, 17 or 18, light complexion; object,
matrimony.  M.H., 184 Herald Uptown.

This isn't that unique in most ways.  Ads from gentlemen with means trying to meet young ladies "object, matrimony" were fairly common by the 1890s (when these ads date from) and the men were almost certainly not really looking for matrimony.  This guy just wants a companion, and a very young one too.  I wonder if he's going to be open with the girls who answer that he's not really looking for marriage, or is he going to seduce some poor innocent?  Either way, I don't think his intentions were honorable.  But what did strike me as not so much strange as sort of funny is that he specifies she must have a light complexion.  Of all things.  Of all the characteristics a desirable woman might have: a certain height, weight, eye color, hair color, disposition, etc, etc, etc, the thing that matters to him most is her complexion.  I wonder why.

Lady who was drawing my picture at Seney sale, balcony, please send address Signor Cardinali, Ashland House.

Oh dear.  I can just imagine this.  I don't know what the "Seney sale" was (or even if I read that word correctly), but my guess is that this was some kind of auction or estate sale, and this girl was like an art student or something sitting in the balcony and sees this very distinguished Italian profile that she draws.  Little did she know that he was observing her observing him!  And now he's hoping to get some play out of it.  That would be embarrassing.  Unless she was doing it on purpose and showing him her progress as she went along.  In which case, this was probably what she was hoping for.

To my friends and acquaintance. - Being unable to call on you before my departure for Europe, I take these means to bid you all goodby.  H. Koennecke.

Okay...Somehow this strikes me as tongue-in-cheek.  My imagination just came up with this scenario: H. Koennecke was a European grifter, who insinuated himself into upper crust New York society, flirting with all the women and winning over all the men with, I don't know, his excellent riding skills or expertise at billiards.  But then!  He is discovered.  And it turns out he's wanted for some crime back in the Old Country, so he's being deported.  So this is his sardonic "farewell" to the people who loved him but have since sold him out.

I don't know why my mind went that direction.  It just seems like, if this was legit: if he couldn't call on them, why didn't he write them each individually?  And why couldn't he call on them?  Was his trip to Europe so last minute that he didn't have a chance to drop in and say goodbye?  And for that matter, why would he need to call on everyone before he left?  If it's just a vacation, then he'd be back.  And if he was moving away permanently, wouldn't he have known this was coming for awhile?  Plus it's so blunt.  No, "I'll miss you, please write!"  Just, "I bid you goodby."

Well, I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation, but I like my grifter theory better.

©2010 Pam Epstein

7 comments:

Anonymous August 11, 2010 at 6:31 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pam August 11, 2010 at 8:18 AM  

Laura - Indeed it does! Nice catch!

Bianca August 12, 2010 at 12:05 AM  

I'd like to think Koennecke (pronounced like Kinicki from Grease preferably) was going to be forced to wed someone due to some sort of reputation ruination and does not plan to meet that fate!! Or perhaps just robbed a whole bunch of his high class friends blind, and is high-tailing it out of town just as he is being discovered LOL!!

Do you think the Signor is requesting an address to send $$ for the picture? I think its odd that he asked for an address, not a letter or "please write me" or something?

Pam August 12, 2010 at 1:14 AM  

Ha ha, I love the pronunciation! My mom also suggested this is a guy skipping out on his debts, and I buy that. But as for the picture, I think he wanted to meet her...men did ask for addresses at which to send a letter. However, I suppose it's a possibility! I'll buy anything about these ads!

Anonymous August 20, 2010 at 7:20 PM  

Light complexion was often fetishized as an attractive feature in women because it indicates that a woman spends no significant amount of time outdoors; i.e. she doesn't work in the fields or hang out laundry or go shopping, etc. but is from a rich enough family that the servants take care of all that. (Long fingernails were fetishized for the same reason.) Over time, this became divorced from the initial context and was considered attractive in its own right.

Pam August 20, 2010 at 8:16 PM  

Oh sure, it's not the appeal of the light complexion that was striking to me. It's that it was the one and only personal characteristic that mattered to him. I guess it's no different than if someone was to say they wanted to meet a lady with blue eyes...But I see stuff like "blue eyes" or "blonde" or "brunette" all the time. This I don't think I'd ever seen before.

Anonymous August 21, 2010 at 12:27 PM  

Might it have hinted a being ok with a non-white women so long as she was light skinned?

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