Many of Isabella’s characters played musical instruments, the most common of which was the piano.
Sadie Ried was a talented pianist in Ester Ried, as was Dell Bronson in The King’s Daughter.
Dell’s beloved piano was located “in the little summer parlor,” and she often turned to “her dear piano” for company.
She touched the keys with a sort of tremulous eagerness, and soft, sweet plaintive sounds filled the room.
But a piano was an expensive luxury the majority of Americans could ill afford, despite ads like this one that invited buyers to purchase a piano (or organ) on credit.
For those who could not afford to have a piano in their home, there were plenty of other musical instruments to be had.
Many ladies strummed guitars (Louise Morgan played one in A New Graft on the Family Tree), and some even learned to play banjo.
But one of the most popular musical instruments during Isabella’s lifetime was the autoharp.
Autoharps were extremely affordable—some styles were priced as low at $5.00.
Even better, they were easily portable. They went from home to school, from church to social functions—anywhere musical accompaniment was needed.
Autoharps were relatively easy to learn to play, and thanks to some astute publishing houses, sheet music for the autoharp—from hymns to operas to college songs—was plentiful and affordable.
By 1899 manufacturers began advertising the autoharp as “America’s favorite instrument.”
Autoharps remained popular for decades into the twentieth century. School teachers across the country used autoharps to introduce children to the basic principles of music and singing. And their distinctive sound became a mainstay in early country music recordings.
Have you ever heard an autoharp played before? Have you ever played one yourself? Tell us about it!
In The King’s Daughter, the heroine of the story is Miss Dell Bronson, a fashionable young lady, raised in the lap of Boston luxury by a wealthy aunt and uncle.
In writing about Dell, Isabella described her as dainty, neat, and graceful. Dell was always fashionably, but tastefully dressed; and because of her uncle’s wealth, Dell was able to afford the latest styles of dress and accessories.
One of Dell’s accessories was a porte-monnaie, which she carried in her skirt pocket.
Literally, a porte-monnaie was a place for money—specifically coins. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, men and women carried their paper money and coins separately. Paper bills were carried flat in wallets or bill-folds, but all the many coins in circulation at the time were usually carried in porte-monnaies.
And what a variety of coins there were! In addition to the pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters we know today, people commonly carried:
Silver three-cent pieces
Three-cent pieces made from nickel
And gold coins (also known as Eagles) weren’t uncommon. They were minted in denominations of $1, $2.50, $5, $10, and $20.
Carried by both men and women, porte-monnaies were made of sturdy material, such as leather or silver. At home, women kept their porte-monnaie in the pocket of their skirt or apron. Outside the home, women would often tuck their porte-monnaie inside their purse or reticule.
Men kept a porte-monnaie in a desk drawer at home, and carried it in a pocket while out and about.
References to porte-monnaies date as far back as the 1850s but the term came into fashion during the American Civil War, when Americans considered anything French to be the height of fashion.
Which of the fashionable porte-monnaies pictured here do you think Dell Bronson would have carried? Cast your vote below