Inside the Collection

History Week: the etiquette of food

Photograph of Book Book 'Decorum' (etiquette & dress)
85/2157 Book ‘Decorum’ (etiquette & dress), USA, 1879, Collection:Powerhouse Museum (photography Rebecca Evans;Powerhouse Museum)

The knife and fork were not made for playthings, and should not be used as such when people are waiting at the table for the food to be served. Do not hold them erect in your hands at each side of your plate, not cross them on your plate when you have finished, nor make a noise with them.

Place setting, 9 pieces, sterling silver/stainless steel
A10189 Place setting, 9 pieces, sterling silver/stainless steel, used by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Australia in 1954, Collection: Powerhouse Museum (photography Sotha Bourn, Powerhouse Museum)

I often wonder what people of the past would think about our contemporary eating habits. Sitting in any odd food hall I feel that past manners have been replaced with convenient and fast food. But, what were the manners of the past?
After a short look through our collection I came across some interesting books on manners and etiquette. For those who are etiquette unacquainted, here’s a brief run down of some of the dos and don’t of the past…

Wax model apple
D6423 Model apple, ‘Moss Incomparable’, wax, modelled at Sydney Technical College, probably opainted by Charles Tom, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Australia, 1900, Collection: Powerhouse Museum (photography Kate Scott, Powerhouse Museum)

‘Cheese’ must be eaten with a fork….Never bite fruit… Do not scrape your plate to get the last drop… Never use a napkin in the place of a handkerchief by wiping the forehead or blowing the nose with it…

Fountain Tomato Soup packaging design
94/235/1-10 Sheet of labels, Fountain tomato soup, consisting of four labels for 16 ounce cans, Collection: Powerhouse Museum (photography Scott Donkin Powerhouse Museum)

… it is considered vulgar to dip a piece of bread into the preserves or gravy upon your plate and then bite into it… Soup should be eaten with the side of the spoon, not from the point and there should be no noise… Never if possible cough or sneeze at the table…

Image of three bottles of wine, image taken by Max Dupain
90/501-1 Potographic print, black & white, imae of 3 wine bottles, max Dupain(photographer)/ Alister Morrison (designer), Sydney, 1958-63, Collection: Powerhouse Museum

…if anything unpleasant is found in the food, such as a hair in the bread or a fly in the coffee, remove it without remark…
Young ladies should not indulge in a variety of wines, nor indeed in very much wine … When drinking do not empty the glass at one gulp; it is very vulgar to do so..

Black and white image of ladies in a park on a picnic
94/63/1-57/10 Glass negative, quarter plate, Palmer’s Mystery Hike No 2, Tom Lennon, Sydney, Australia, 10 July 1932, Collection: Powerhouse Museum

… Eat neither too fast nor too slow… Never lean back in your chair nor sit too near or too far from the table.. food is to be eaten quietly and not ravenously .. It is not considered polite to eat up the last scrape of every food or every crumb of bread.’

‘Etiquette for Ladies’, Ward Lock & Co, Australia /England 1925
‘Decorum'(etiquette& dress), USA, 1879
‘Etiquette: A handbook for all occasions to suit Australian conditions’ Ross Bros, Pty Ltd Publications, Sydney, Australia date unknown
Pyke, L M ‘Australian Etiquette: Rules of Good Society’, Wilke & Co Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Australia, 1938

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