- Tours

In the 19th century, dance balls were a popular social event. In the course of the annual ball season, which usually began in autumn and lasted until spring, numerous dance events were organised. The cotillon as a dance became more and more the highlight of every dance party. This was mainly due to the fact that it was so entertaining for the dancers. The lead dancers presented their guests with so-called Cotillon tours from various dance figures, which had to be danced. The whole thing was supposed to be done with a lot of fun and light-heartedness. Laughter and small banter among those present were almost intentional. It is therefore not surprising that the tours were described as "highly amusing", "highly effective", "highly original", "cheerfully merry", "brilliant effect", "very funny", "great effect", "very lively tour", "entertaining and fun", "exhilarating", "interesting and funny".

Props for Cotillon Tours

Cardboard 'feet' that the men had to put over their shoes for fun while dancing.

Around the last third of the 19th century, the first manufacturers began to develop their own associated props for the Cotillon tours. The items used on the tours could be kept by the participants afterwards. They thus complemented a tradition that had become fashionable since the middle of the 19th century, namely that the organisers gave the visitors small souvenir gifts of the respective ball.

To make it easier for the organisers of the balls, manufacturers offered ready-made cotillion tours with accompanying instructions, decorations, masks and costumes for sale.

Dresden Ornaments as Part of Cotillon Tours

You may now be asking yourself what Cotillon tours have to do with Dresden ornaments. To answer this question, I would like to use an example to explain how Cotillon tours worked. The example I have chosen was offered in 1888 by the Erfurt company N. L. Chrestensen. What was special about it was that swallows made of cardboard were used.

The tour for six dancing couples was called 'Wenn die Schwalben heimwärts zieh'n' (When the swallows fly home). The ladies, previously selected from the guests, were given "6 fine swallow dummies, the gentlemen headdresses, representing wallcopings."[i] Each swallow had a ribbon with the name of a city in Africa (such as Tunis, Algiers or Cairo) around its neck. The gentlemen then put on the caps they had been given, each with a matching city name written on it. The couples whose city names matched danced together.

Many other tours were offered by the Chrestensen company in 1888.

The example of the tours illustrated on the sheet clearly shows that Attrappen (tobacco pipes, small bottles, gold and silver fish) were also used in the staging of the other tours.

The tours described in the illustration still belonged to the very short Cotillon tours. In the course of time, these became more and more elaborate, one could almost say they were downright staged. The extensive Cotillon tours with dozens of couples were almost like small theatre performances. Tours where the participants sometimes had to dress up grotesquely were also popular.

In addition to the ready-to-buy Cotillon tours, the producers also offered a wide variety of items separately in their catalogues so that the organisers could create their own productions from them or simply offer them to the celebrants as small souvenir gifts. The Cotillon gifts were gladly taken home by the guests to remind them of a successful and exuberant ball. Certainly, the memories of many a dance partner also contributed to the fact that the gifts, such as the Attrappen or Cotillon medals, were kept.

Advertisement of the Chrestensen company from 1880/81.

Manufacturer for Cotillon Props

The number of manufacturers who made items for the Cotillon or as general ball gifts grew steadily over time. According to their own information, one of the largest companies in this field was the firm Gelbke & Benedictus in Dresden. In 1912, there were about 100 companies in Germany and 13 in Austria that specialised in the production of Cotillon tours and objects. For most of the companies, the production of Cotillon objects was only one component of their large product range. They also produced, among other things, Attrappen, carnival items and costumes, crackers with various inserts, headgear of all kinds, masks, paper lanterns, hall decorations, sashes, place cards and much more.

The producers tried to draw attention to their range with ever more unusual pieces. This referred not only to the items for the Cotillon itself, but also to their presentation. The Dresden company Neumann & Co., for example, offered large 'decorative splendours' such as plaques, ships or elephants for hire.

Two decorative splendour objects by Neumann & Co. for the Cotillon from 1888/89.

Some of the objects were up to 3 m high and 2.5 m wide. As the pieces were large and bulky, a person familiar with the construction and operation could be booked as an alternative. Paper caps, medals, Attrappen, Candy crackers, artificial flowers or other pieces were then presented on such objects.

Cotillon tours with a motto

Around 1890, the fashion arose for the cotillon tours to put the dance balls under a motto. Producers quickly tried to adapt their cotillon arrangements to the new requirements. Extra painted and printed backgrounds up to 9 metres long were made of paper for this purpose. The decorations were designed according to the wishes of the customers. For example, the dancers were scenically transported to the Alps, to the sea, to a flower meadow or to a theatre of war. The decoration, such as costumes, hats and miniature dummies were specially adapted for this purpose. One example of such a tour was the 'Future War'. It was celebrated as follows:

"How the soldiers will protect themselves against the attacks from the airships is humorously depicted on the 6 paper bags, which 6 gentlemen receive; 6 ladies receive small airships; after the audience has sufficiently admired the new, highly important invention, the ladies tear the paper bags and dance with the gentleman in question. The colours bring the couples together".

The Zeppelin tours were also very popular and were also very elaborately staged.

Tours and decorative pieces from various suppliers around the year 1910.

On Zeppelin tours, small Zeppelin Attrappen embossed from cardboard were often part of the itinerary. These Zeppelins, whether in the small or the somewhat larger version, are today counted by us collectors as Dresden ornaments. I hope that the few examples I have given so far make it clear that many Attrappen made of cardboard, which we now count as Dresden ornament Christmas tree decorations, were originally nothing more than components and gifts for Cotillon tours. To illustrate this, I would like to give a few more examples.

At that time, there were Cotillon tours for which various moons and suns embossed from cardboard were needed. Today, these pieces are also counted as Dresden ornaments by some collectors. They are usually described as 'semi-plastic' because they only have an embossed front. The reverse side is supposedly missing. However, this is not true. The pieces always only had one front side.

The pieces were made by Kunze & Co. in Buchholz, Saxony. The Kunze company, founded in 1872, was, among other things, a specialist for flat and high embossed coffin decorations, cotillon medals and wall calendars made of cardboard.

However, the successful sale of Cotillon tours was definitely double-edged for the manufacturers. If many promoters bought the same tours in one season, they were no longer in demand the next year because the demanding dance public wanted to be entertained with new tours every year.

This created a situation, especially for smaller producers, that they could not afford to design and market countless new Cotillon tours every year. To get around this problem, tours from other producers were offered in their own catalogues. As a result, some Cotillon tours and the decorative elements used for them were either identical or very similar in the various manufacturers' catalogues.

The End of Cotillon Tours

Shortly after the beginning of the First World War, dance events in Germany came to an end. It was not appropriate in wartime to have merry social dances while men, sons and friends were dying in the trenches. This was also the view of the government, which is why a general ban on dancing was introduced in Germany for the duration of the war. The official ban on dancing did not fall until New Year's Eve 1918. The turn of the year and the new freedom to dance were celebrated extensively. On this night, there was more dancing in Berlin than ever before and more frenzied than ever before. [ii] The dances that were danced now, besides the waltz, were the tango and the 'wild' dances from America, such as the shimmy, the Charleston and the black bottom. They were danced in the big cities in dance halls and in the countryside in clubs. Large balls with the classical dances, which used to be the norm, now became a fringe event. While cotillions were always a fixed and popular feature at balls during the German Empire, after 1918 they were relegated to an insignificant accessory at dance events. Initially they managed to survive, but only on a very small scale, although the name changed somewhat. In the course of time, the cotillon tours became dance tours, which were used, among other things, at carnival balls. The tours were never again as popular as during the German Empire.

Advertisement for dance tours from 1939.

In summary, it can be said that the cotillon tours, which were so popular at dance events during the German Empire, were celebrated ntensively for almost 40 years. During this time, numerous finely embossed Attrappen and bonbonnieres were made of cardboard or paperboard. Even though we no longer know the original purpose of many Dresden ornament pieces, whether as Atrappen for Cotillon tours, bonbonnieres, gifts or as Christmas tree decorations, they still make our collectors' hearts beat faster today. In the end, it doesn't matter why a Dresden ornament was produced. The beauty of the piece with its fine embossing and the complex design is what counts.

[i] N. L. Chrestensen, Erfurt: Preisliste Ball= und Cotillon=Gegenstände 1888, Tour No. 264, p. 29.

[ii] Berliner Tageblatt, Jg. 1919, Nr. 1, 1. Beiblatt (Mittwoch, 1. Januar 1919).