This section is from the book "The American Woman's Cook Book", by Ruth Berolzheimer. Also available from Amazon: The Domestic Arts Edition of the American Woman's Cook Book.
White linen damask is the classic covering for the dinner-table. Linen and lace are often combined and sometimes elaborate all-lace table-cloths are used. When a lace cloth is used, it is placed on a bare table.
In the colored damasks every woman will find an opportunity to vary her table setting effects occasionally with a harmonious combination of pastel shades in table-cloth and glass and china and flower-centerpiece. But the conservative woman still uses white damask for her formal dinners, and undoubtedly will continue to do so.
Have in mind a definite plan.
Consider carefully the artistic height for your table decorations: table decorations that are too high are awkward, and those that are too low become monotonous to the eye.
No table decorations should obstruct the view of the guests (although at large, formal dinners, when the conversation cannot be general anyway, they may be tall).
All tall decorations should be narrow (e. g. candles).
Avoid over-decoration and inappropriate decorations. Don't crowd your table or make it look heavy.
Discriminate between a formal party and an informal party, and adapt your decorations accordingly.
Keep in mind the color-scheme of your room, and the colors of the food in your menu, and harmonize the color of your table decorations with these.
Adapt your flowers to the type and proportions of your flower-container.
Centerpieces are of infinite variety, their beauty and distinction being limited only by one's imagination and one's budget. Flowers are still - and probably always will be - the most lovely decoration for the center of the table. The fashion of supporting a few flowers in flower-holders in low silver or glass bowls makes possible simple and very effective arrangements. Unusual effects may be obtained with central mirrors and with mirrored tables, with fruits, with formal combinations of flowers and fruits, with crystal trees and flowers, with delicate figurines, and even with amusing accessories of simple or elaborate kinds. But one must be careful that the designs built with unusual accessories are beautiful and appropriate and not simply bizarre.
Place cards are used at formal dinners and luncheons for convenience in seating the guests. A place card should be simple (plain white ones are best) of about the size of a visiting-card. It is sometimes engraved with the hostess ' monogram or crest embossed in plain white. Sometimes at feature parties, such as Hallowe'en or Valentine's Day, decorative place cards are used to carry out the motif of the entertainment. The name of the guest is written on the card, the title - Mrs., Miss, or Mr. - before the name. Place cards are usually placed above the cover so that they do not conceal the beauty of either the place plate or the napkin.
Salts and peppers may be tall, gold or silver ones, or they may be low silver or crystal ones, or a silver pepper shaker accompanied by a low salt cup lined with old blue glass. For breakfast use, they may be of china or pottery, consistent with the informality of the breakfast table or tray.
It is customary to place a set of salts and peppers between every two covers if the party is large, or a pair at each corner of the table, if few are dining, or at two corners of a small table. Individual sets are sometimes placed. "Whether salt shakers or salt cups are used is a matter of choice, but with salt cups small salt-spoons should be provided.