Collecting: Etiquette Books

A few etiquette books displayed in a hutch.
A few etiquette books displayed in a hutch.

Somewhere along the way I have been told that people who collect things (such as rocks, stamps, first edition books, etc.) are smarter than the average person. Not that they are investing in a smart way, rather that smart people tend to have collections.

I don’t know if this is true and a quick internet search did not ferret any useful results. But I am going to believe it to be true because it will help me not feel as guilty for having collections.

One of my favorite collections is of etiquette books. It started in college with a class I took from Dr. Sarah Sienty titled Euthenics. Dictionary.com defines euthenics as

noun, ( used with a singular verb)
1. a science concerned with bettering the condition of human beings through the improvement of their environment.

I love this definition. Maybe I should rename my blog Euthenics because that, to me, is what my blog is about.

Euthenics was a summer course I took in probably 1987 that used the book, Social Usage, Second Edition, dated 1969, as the text. It was a really great class that should be mandatory in any college degree program. We learned social and business etiquette, including stationery, invitations, dress, table settings, eating, parties, etc.

The funny thing about using a twenty year old text book is that etiquette never goes out of style; it is not a fad or passing fancy. The brilliant thing about using it to teach an etiquette class to a bunch of college students is that when we graduated, our potential employers were of the generation when the book was written. We were going to be held to that standard when we went on interviews, so we might as well be familiar and comfortable with the rules.

My love of etiquette books and my collection started with Social Usage. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it back at the end of the semester for a few dollars. I still use it today, pulling it out every year or two and reading it cover to cover (it is a relatively small book) as a refresher or referring to it when a particular etiquette question needs answering.

I am not sure which etiquette book came next, but I feel like it was an Emily Post, Amy Vanderbuilt or Miss Manners book…all three authors being hallmarks for all things etiquette related. I have had friends give me etiquette books. My first college professor, and later in life a colleague, gave me an etiquette book when he was weeding out his book collection. He is now deceased, which makes the book even dearer to me.

Some of my collection deals with a particular topic, such as table settings, stationery etiquette, wedding etiquette, or sartorial etiquette, to name a few. Some are a bit hybrid, with recipes and etiquette, such as tea etiquette and recipes or entertaining etiquette and recipes. Some deal with the author’s rules for hosting and entertaining, such Lee Bailey or Lisa Vanderpump; both offering reflections on dinners and parties as well as the recipes they use. Maybe they fall into the genre of lifestyle etiquette books or maybe I just made that genre up!

Books on hosting displayed along with a book on linens and one on tea.
Books on entertaining displayed along with a book on linens and lace as well as a book on taking tea.

No etiquette book collection would be complete without at least one book on international etiquette. Mine is European Customs and Manners by Braganti and Devine. And being an Anglophile, I have a British book on etiquette. Most of my books are from the 1960s or earlier, which is when people really cared about using good manners and following the rules of etiquette. Some books in my collection deal with the history of etiquette (such as The Hatless Man: An Anthology of Odd and Forgotten Manners by Kortum) or the history of a particular part of etiquette.

For a more modern approach to etiquette, one must refer to a book by Leticia Baldridge. I too have added a few of her works to my collection.

Designer Kate Spade has a trio of books that I adore, one being an etiquette book titled Manners (my favorite is the one named Style; I read it yearly).

And yes, some of these books contradict each other. This only proves that your rules of etiquette may be based on your geography, era, and what you were taught.

None of my approximately 60 etiquette books have a value to anyone but me, but I adore them all. Thumbing through Social Usage a few weeks ago before my wedding, I saw hand written notes I had made in my college hand. I am as changed as my handwriting, in part due to my love of etiquette books. I think I can honestly say this collection has made me smarter!

Etiquette books in a barrister bookcase.
Etiquette books in a barrister bookcase.

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