project: The Challenge

 In this case, I knew I'd be dealing in automobiles as a central motif, and not moving far afield, so I didn't have to hit railroads in California or theatre in Chicago or riverboats on the Mississippi, though my library covers this.


Grace M. Mayer; Once Upon a City;: New York from 1890 to 1910; 1958; Macmillan Co, NY

Huge and relentlessly pictorial, a lap-breaker based on the Byron family collection of photographs. Mayer's research into what went on behind the pictures is heroic, and a load of fun to read.

1). A general history of the time, not over 200 pages.
Encyclopedia Americana, "Nineteenth Century"

2.) An "everyday life" book of the period.
Grace M. Mayer; Once Upon a City;: New York from 1890 to 1910; 1958; Macmillan Co, NY. This is gigantic, based on the Byron family photographs (so it's thickly illustrated) and researched to the point that the author has picked up an authentic period "purple prose" style. But there's also the period chapters of Everyday Life Through the Ages as well.

3.) General transportation
Transport Through the Ages will do, but I thought something more specific would help me picture New York traffic. That turned out to be the innumerable steet scenes in Mayer.

4.) General costume
Boucher, François 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, Harry N. Abrams, NY, with a lot of help from Costumers Manifesto.

5.) Specific transportation
Wise, David Burgess; The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World's Automobiles; 1979; Quarto Publishing, Ltd., Chartwell Books, Book Sales Inc, Secaucus NJ. I needed to find out what American automobiles were being built at this date.

6.) Etiquette, and I don't mean morals for maidens.
American Memory has a number of Victorian etiquette guides, and so does PG. Practical Etiquette (1899) by Cora C Klein: Chicago, A. Flanagan, or, Social Etiquette, or Manners and Customs of Polite Society: Containing Rules of Etiquette for All Occasions... (1896) by Maud C Cooke: London, Ont.: McDermid & Logan.

7.) Spectator entertainments, a general overview.
Grace M. Mayer; Once Upon a City

8.) Self-entertainments
Edmund Hoyle; Hoyle's Games; (1907; New York, The McClure company); cards, backgammon, dice, gambling, checkers, board games, chess. Hoyle starts in 1742 with A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. These whist rules were superseded in 1864, so you have to watch dating if you are going to describe games in detail. All those "Hoyle" books are publisher's collections in constant update. Of course, you want to get the older ones you can find as a PDF on line, so as to be closer to your period. At Internet Archive, your search is "Hoyle's AND games NOT Sierra NOT magazine NOT Bondi NOT Lyttleton NOT 2012 AND mediatype:texts" which leads to 38 of various ages (1814 forward), though the newest are borrow only. But also check the games and books in 1897 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue edited by Fred L. Israel, 1897; reprint from Chelsea House. These old catalogs are so comprehensive, selling everything from medicine and penny candy to farm equipment and sporting goods, that they should always be in your reference if you can get one near the date. You can learn a great deal about the common person's attitudes and period language just by reading the descriptions.

9.) Food and dining, including what sort of public dining was available.
Grace M. Mayer; Once Upon a City but also Commanders of the Dining Room; Biographic Sketches and Portraits of Successful Head Waiters (1904): by E. A. Maccannon: New York, Gwendolyn Pub. Co., was just too good to pass up. Sand for pearls: it gave me a restaurant scene.

10.) Recipes for period food.
You can pretty much get a cookbook for any year in the later 1800s that you need at PG or Internet Archive. William Harlan Hale, and the editors of Horizon Magazine: The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages; 1968, American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. gives me an overview. A Practical Dictionary of Cookery: 1200 Tested Recipes (1898; Ethel S. Meyer: London: J. Murray) gets down to the proper year.

11.) Marriage and family.
This is nineteen years later, but it's advice for adults rather than (literally) birds and bees for children: Woman, Her Sex and Love Life by William J. Robinson, MD, New York, the Critic and Guide Company, 1917.

12.) Specific dress styles, for your decade, including specialty costumes for clerics.
At this late date, you can go to Godey's Lady's Book or Peterson's Magazine PDFs and see what is in fashion for this exact season, let alone year.

13.) Religion for the time and place.
History of the ritual of the Methodist Episcopal Church, with a commentary on its offices
(1900: Cincinnati, Jennings & Pye) by Richard Joseph Cooke, Bp.

Yes, I know I suggest you research the history in case you are misremembering the period. 50 Books is based on you only have a vague idea, or you are tying into historical events like invasions so you must get the years right. In this case, I had the Spanish-American War (April 25 ­ August 25, 1898), annexation of Hawai'i (July 7), and an important election in the history of Tammany Hall. But I knew enough about the period to know this, and couldn't tell you the names of the books I had picked this up from over the years (trust me, it wasn't much from my college history classes).

14.) A fat history book of the area and century as an introduction.

15.) A history of the most influential country at the time (country A).

16.) A history of its rival (country B).

Politics could not possibly matter less, though a certain amount of wartime jingoism is in the air. America having just won the Spanish-American War, Europe is eyeing it askance. Imaginary War fiction of the period often makes Britain one of the sides, often the aggressor. British writers often conquer America, while American writers dealt with British aggression. So while France was obsessed with avenging the Franco-Prussian War, let's make it the United Kingdom and America.

17.) A biography of the leader of country A

18.) A biography of the leader of country B

This is still the reign of Queen Victoria, but really late in it.

William McKinley; A Biographical Study (1907; New York, Broadway publishing co.) by Corning, Amos Elwood, Volume 1 & Volume 2

19.) A history of the country you are setting in, general.
I wasn't going to adjust my era or place, because it was based too much on conditions in 1898, and NY was the right place.

20.) A history of the country you are setting in, that era.
A large encyclopedia article was about right.

21.) A biography of the leader of the country of your setting.
Because I was basing this on a factual challenge by Anna Held, I looked into show business via The Ziegfeld Follies by Marjorie Farnsworth, since Held was Ziegfeld's companion for years. It gave me a view of period show business.

22.) An everyday life for the commoner/lower classes of your time and place.
Mayer's section on immigrants and slums, with Jacob August Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, 1890, C. Scribner's Sons, NY. Also Thirty Years a Detective: A Thorough and Comprehensive Exposé of Criminal Practices of All Grades and Classes, Containing Numerous Episodes of Personal Experience in the Detection of Criminals, and Covering a Period of Thirty Years' Active Detective Life (1884: New York: G. W. Carleton) by Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884), a Scottish immigrant who made his name synonymous with "private detective."

23.) An everyday life for the upper classes of your time and place.
Mayer, Once Upon a City, augmented by MacColl, Gail & Carol McD. Wallace; To Marry an English Lord. The Victorian and Edwardian Experience; 1989; Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, London.

24.) An everyday life for the middle class of your time and place.
Mayer, Once Upon a City.

25.) An everyday life for women of your time and place,
Mayer, Once Upon a City, augmented by MacColl & Wallace. Did I mention I lived on this? It's huge.

26.) An auto/biography of someone like your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people like that.
Still looking.

27.) A book on houses and furnishings of the period, if possible.
Waddell, Roberta, ed; Art Nouveau Style in Jewelry, Metalwork, Glass, Ceramics, Textiles, Architecture and Furniture; 1977; Dover, NY, besides the usual Illustrated History of Furniture from the Earliest to the Present Time by Frederick Litchfield (1903; London: Truslove & Hanson Limited; New York:; illustrated by John Lane 1892-1903). As well, MacColl & Wallace, below, give some information.

28.) A book about courting, romance, and sex of the time.
The Mystery of Love, Courtship, and Marriage Explained by Henry J. Wehman; 1890; NY; Wehman Bros; also, The Modern Art of Making Love: A Complete Manual of Etiquette, Love, Courtship and Matrimony ... (1900) by James S Wilson: Chicago ; Akron, Ohio: Saalfield.

29.) A book for naming historical characters properly.
The Social Security site, but remember: you need to choose the decade or year, not by when the story is, but by when the character was born. A high school girl and her mother, let alone grandmother, can have very different kinds of names. By all means, latch onto ones near the top of popularity that aren't in use now: they make your characters seem less of today and very much of then. Also, these are only personal names, and characters need family names. For specific ethnic groups, Holly Ingraham, People's Names: A Cross-Cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40000personal and Familial Names in Over 100 Cultures, 1997, McFarland. The Victorian chapter will tell you that "Maude" was was fashionable. My people won't sound as if they were named in the 21st century.

30.) Medicine of the time and place.
The usual A History of Medicine, (1945 Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd;. London, Edinburgh, Paris, Melbourne, New York) was as much as I needed..

31.) Climate, weather, and seasons.
Between 2000 Miles and Mayer, I could get enough for my needs. I was only covering a couple of months in the best season. This is actually covered at the tail end of The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 by Brian M. Fagan (2001, Basic Books), but not in detail. One can always look at back issues of newspapers.


For an automobile race, necessary. Fortunately, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection had lots of state and city maps of the later 1800s.

Rand, McNally & Co.'s Complete City Railway and Street Number Guide of New York City (1896): Chicago and New York, Rand, McNally & co, was a big help to getting the city right.

32) Automobiles, driving conditions: 2000 Miles on an Automobile: Being a Desultory Narrative of a Trip Through New England, New York, Canada, and the West by "Chauffeur" (Arthur Jerome Eddy), gives 1902 driving experiences in New York and the vicinity. This was the closest I could get to my target year, and decided that I would not be driving to Philadelphia because I couldn't get information on the route. Massachussets and back it was! Always remembering that conditions would be even worse.

33) Humor: Peggy Edmund & Harold W. Williams, compilers; Toaster's Handbook: Jokes, Stories & Quotations; 1916; PG. Really, if you can find what period folks thought was funny, it's a revelation. Including reminding you that back then racism was the norm. Please notice the primary author is a lady.

34) Automobiles: Michael Sedgwick; Antique Cars; 1980; Grisewood & Dempsey ltd, London. This reminded me that something so expensive is not going to be Ford black.

35) Houses, furnishings, upper class life: Gail MacColl & Carol McD. Wallace; To Marry an English Lord. The Victorian and Edwardian Experience; 1989; Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, London.

36) Fashion: Julius M. (Julius Mendes) Price; Dame Fashion: Paris-London, 1786 - 1912; London: S. Low, Marston; 1913.

37) Fashion: Of course, there's still Norah Waugh, The Cut of Men's Clothes, 1600-1900, The Cut of Women's Clothes, 1600-1900, and Corsets and Crinolines, just barely.

38) Fast Food: Price List of Drug Store Goods: Including an Entirely New and Second Series of Menus for One Week of Each Season in the Year 1898 ... Compiled Especially for Them by Miss Fannie Merritt Farmer. (1898): Jaynes & Co. (Boston, Mass.)

39) New York: Guide to Greater New York (1900): Walker, George H. & co., pubs.: Boston, Mass., G. H. Walker & co.

40) New York: New York; A Guide in Comprehensive Chapters (1903): Childe, Cromwell: [Brooklyn] Brooklyn Daily Eagle

41) New York: The Greater New York Guide Book (1897): Ober, Corolyn Faville: New York, Boston [etc.] The Morse Co.

42) New York: A Visitor's Guide to the Greater New York, Jersey City and Suburbs; (1896): Gunnison, Herbert Foster,: [Brooklyn, N.Y., Eagle Press;

43) New York: Illustrated Guide to New York. Compliments of Hotel Jefferson, New York, 102-104-106 East Fifteenth Street, one door east of Union Square. John E. Chatfield, proprietor (1895): [New York]

44) Driving in Area: Rand, McNally & Co.'s Handy Guide to the Country around New York, for the Wheelman, Driver, and Excursionist. With Original Maps and Illustrations (1897): Ingersole, Ernest: Chicago, New York, Rand McNally & Co. Cross this with 2000 Miles and I was set.

45) New York Law: Constables' Guide; Containing a Full Exposition of Their Rights, Privileges, Duties and Liabilities, Giving the Statutes, Both Civil and Criminal of the State of New York, with Annotations, Decisions, Explanatory Notes, Forms, and a Digest of Their Fees (1904): Bender, Melvin (Melvin Thomas); Hinman, Harold Jay: Albany, N.Y., M. Bender. Close enough!

46) Martial Arts: Boxing; a Guide to the Manly Art of Self Defense (1900): New York, American Sports Publishing Co

47) Boston: Pictorial Guide to Boston and the Country Around (1902): Boston: G.W. Armstrong Dining Room & News Co.

48) Self-Entertainment: A Practice Guide to Whist by the Latest Scientific Methods. With the Laws of the Game (1891): Ames, Fisher: New York, C. Scribner's son

49) Boston: Rand, McNally Boston Guide to the City and Environs, with Maps and Illustrations ... (1900): New York, Chicago, Rand, McNally & company

50) Public Hospitality: Where and How to Dine in New York; the Principal Hotels, Restaurants and Cafés of Various Kinds and Nationalities Which Have Added to the Gastronomic Fame of New York and Its Suburbs (1903): New York, Lewis, Scribner & co.


If you need something else for your particular story around this time, maybe Historical Novelists Center can help with their Gilded Age pages.

copyright Holly Ingraham



50 Books for:

The Peloponnese, 396 BC 

 Early Viking, c. 850

The First Crusade, Outre-Mer 1098 

 The Hundred Years War, France1352

Richelieuan France, 1630

Pirate Caribbean, 1670 

 Napoleonic London Highlife 1803

Regency London Highlife 1817

Mexico, 1846-8

 London Low-Life 1870

 Gilded Age New York 1898

Check the Near History sample guides. There's more to read, but mostly lighter stuff, as well as lots more in video. A few appropriate movies from a year are much easier to get through than a detail biography of a president and will tell you more about ordinary life.

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