This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
"The host has a favorite hobby - con-chology - and a most superb collection of shells, corals, and algae, and the caterer pressed the whole into his service, and turned out what the hostess was pleased to term 'one of the most beautiful and novel table-dressings she had met with;' and her experience is wide.
"The huge masses of white, pink, and smaller clusters of red coral were disposed of down the centre of the table, seaweeds (dried, of course) clustering around their base. Chrysantemums - white, red, yellow, etc. - and their smaller brethren, the pompons, were arranged in groups on rocks to resemble sea-anemones, and in clusters on the base of the corals. Star-fish and similar Crustacea were of the greatest service. In the fountains and at the foot of the flower vases was a plentiful supply of gold and silver carp.
"There was not nearly enough coral branches for the design, so imitation clusters were formed by making wire frameworks, wrapping them evenly and regularly over with soft-finished hank darning cotton; then melting vermillion and pale yellow wax and dipping in the clusters. The separate groups required to be suspended by wire and to be dipped in when the wax is a little cool, then allowed to hang with the points of the sprays downwards. When nearly set, have a few fine needles or pins set in a cork and prick the whole surface of the wax over, so as to imitate the cells in the larger coral growths. Large clam shells, one nearly 3/4 yard across, served as flower vases, whilst their smaller polished confrhres of the sea, nautilus and cup-like bivalves, made excellent fruit-stands, in groups of three between each guest "They used a species of fairy-lamp, mounted on electro-silver stands, shading from pale yellow to deep orange, from pale blue to a very delicate Alexandra tint, and rose to damask. These in two and threes, with nautilus shells between, filled with delicate white sprays, gave a subdued and beautiful softness to the whole of the table decorations.
Nougat shells and rockeries helped out the mise-en-schne. Nor must I forget the mermaids, made from dolls' heads having long fair hair, and finished with fish-tails formed from wax, and tinted as one would shade wax flowers or fruit. The colors were laid here and there on silver and gold leaf, so as to shade from silver white to lead or steel grey, and from gold to deep orange yellow. A traditional looking-glass and coral spray as a comb completed the toilet, according to our Ay-toun's old ballad:
• For aye she cambed her yellow hair, And syne she sang sae sweet'.
Only, the dolls did not sing; but the string band in an adjacant chamber discoursed some very fine music, classical and otherwise, instead of the siren's song, which no doubt the guests appreciated highly." - Cordon Bleu in the British Baier, Confectioner and Purveyor.