Sunday, January 2, 2011

Union Scale in 1905; How much for a Private Dance? How much for a Whist Party?

I own a copy of the union scale guidelines for 1905. It belonged to a tuba player named Thomas Farrell who lived on 346 George Street in New Haven; between York and High Street. He signed the back cover in pencil.

More technically it is the constitution and by-laws of the 1905 The American Federation of Musicians. The Federation was not yet ten years old.

The local association was called "The New Haven Musical Protective Association." This New Haven branch of the AFM was formed on September 22, 1901 and met "every fourth Sunday of every month in room 24, Insurance building."

After 56 pages of the constitution and by-laws we get the good stuff: the "Schedule of Prices," and lists of the member musicians and their residences. The booklet ends with a systematic listing of numbered fire alarm telegraph boxes in New Haven. It was never boring to be a hustler.

The first page in the "Schedule of Prices" shows several kinds of events that have changed over the last hundred years.

There is a great deal of language that defines what it means to have a "private dance." The formal language is lovely: "if the money for said Dance be raised by subscription..." The meaning of what a private dance is all about has clearly changed.

A "German" was the old term for the style of waltz that we refer to now as Viennese.

"Whist Parties," would have been the serious card games, requiring an "analytical mind" like the one that is referred to in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", by Edgar Allan Poe. As the description indicates, no music would have happened during the card game itself--but afterward let the dancing begin!

These prices would make it tough for us to eat from the dollar menu. But if one keeps in mind the scale of the day the prices become quite attractive. Thomas Farrell could have bought a new tuba from the Sears catalog for $26.15 if he didn't mind the "highly polished brass" finish.

That means that at any given time George Farrell was just one "Ball," three "Germans," and two "Whist Parties" away from buying a new tuba.

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