December 9, 1852


Dressing case, mid-19th c.*

Thursday Dec 9th  Mrs Witherell & Mrs Ames

have been to Boston and Oakes A came

home with them  Mrs Norris has a present

from Mr Norris of a beautiful dressing case

Have got the forks & spoons &c from Bigelows

for which they charge 77 dollars 77 cts

Miss Alger brought Mother & Lavinia up

yesterday  Lavinia & Edwin & wife were here

and I went [to] Augustus after Mother this forenoon 


Evelina seemed to be in better spirits, perhaps because Oakes Angier returned from Boston. She was savoring every minute with him before he left for Cuba.

Her sisters-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames, had also been in the city. They returned with the news that Caleb Norris, son-in-law of Robert and Melinda Orr, had given his wife, also named Melinda, a dressing case for her 28th birthday. Norris was a dry goods merchant and the young couple lived with her parents on Columbus Avenue. Given Norris’s connections in wholesale and retail, he must have been able to procure his wife a fine box, perhaps at a friendly price. However he managed it, he impressed the Ames women mightily.

A dressing case was a fashionable item for women**, one that could be placed on a dressing table or clasped closed to travel. Most cases, such as the one in the illustration, contained bottles and vials to hold perfume and lotion, and brushes and combs for the grooming of increasingly complicated hairstyles. All items deemed necessary for the beautification and maintenance of a woman’s hair, face and hands were thoughtfully and expensively included, topped off in this case with silver lids.

Their friends weren’t the only ones spending money on luxury items. Evelina tells us what it cost to buy some new flatware and have it monogrammed: $77.77. In today’s dollars (2015), that would amount to approximately $2,430. The Ameses were becoming quite wealthy to be able to spend that amount. The purchase certainly overpowers that 75 cent crumb brush that Evelina received from her nephew Fred, but to her credit she seemed equally pleased with both acquisitions.


*courtesy of 

** There were also dressing cases for men, with different contents, naturally.

January 4, 1852



Sunday Jan 4th

Another stormy day and no one been to meeting

Mr Swain called & got some of Harpers Magazines

I have spent the day as I perhaps ought not in looking

over my accounts.  Have been taking off the boys accounts

for the last year and Susans.  Mr Ames gave me

one hundred dollars.  It has been a long dull day

with me  Mr Ames has been in part of the time

Evelina focused on money today, as she “perhaps ought not” to have done. It was Sunday, after all, and reviewing one’s personal account was too much like doing work on the day of rest. But she couldn’t get to church because of the weather, so she found a useful way to spend time in an otherwise “dull” day.

The gift (or allowance?) that Oakes Ames gave Evelina may have provided the impetus to examine the family finances. The $100 was most likely given in the form of specie, or coins. At this period in American finance, gold and silver coins contained their exact value in metal. Thus Evelina would have received precisely $100 in gold or silver, at least for the time being. That equation of value would soon change, as the influx of gold from California was upsetting the market. Gold prices would go down and silver would go up.

Paper money at this time was limited to bank notes, and the government-issued $100 “greenback” in the illustration above would only come into existence during the Civil War, when the U.S. needed to generate cash to fund the Union Army.  That $100 bill, controversial in its day, laid the foundation for a permanent U. S. currency not based on a silver or gold standard.