Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wedding Traditions: Silver Sixpences

One of the reasons that I fell headlong into the genealogy obsession is that at its root, it feeds a larger obsession of mine - research.  Who appeared in a certain film? What is the etymology of a word, or phrase? Ask me these questions, and my first instinct is to go online and search for the answers.

During our preparations for our wedding, I decided to research the origins of the wedding rhyme:
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a (silver/lucky) sixpence in her shoe.
Wikipedia doesn't have much on the origin, besides dating it back to at least 1883.  However, the sources used to back this up all are post-1980.  There is supposedly an English newspaper article from 1883 that contained the rhyme and attributed it to Lancashire.

The Phrase Finder says:
The rhyme was certainly in use by the late Victorian period and was printed in an 1894 edition of the Pennsylvania newspaper The Warren Ledger, where it was listed as a 'Puritan Marriage Custom'.
So I went to Google Books

There I found several references in sources from the 1890s to the rhyme without the 'sixpence in her shoe' ending, making me wonder if the newspaper articles from 1883 and 1894 referenced in the above sources contained the whole quote or not.

So I thought to myself "British Newspaper Article... I should check The British Newspaper Archive!" where I had found some newspaper articles mentioning some possible relatives back in March.

I found a reference in an 1881 edition of The Lancaster Times - once again, without the silver sixpence, and attributed as 'an old saying' from Allegra in Life.  Since it predates the current source for Wikipedia, someone could theoretically update the entry and cite this blog post. Ideally, they would cite The Lancaster Times, but Wikipedia editors seem to be fine with citing sources that cite earlier sources.

Where does "Silver Sixpence in her Shoe" come from? There are many old references to silver sixpences bringing luck - at all times of one's life, regardless of where one found the coin.  Several works of short fiction played on the theme:
I suspect at some point the luckiness of the sixpence got tied to the wedding rhyme, and it was placed in the shoe for poetic purposes. (Shoe rhymes with Blue and New.) This shouldn't detract from the custom, even if it wasn't originally part of the wedding rhyme, since sixpences have long been considered lucky. But unless someone can find a 19th century source for the entire rhyme, I suspect the melding occurred at some point in the 20th century, and possibly in America.  Emily Post in 1922 is the earliest definite citation I can find containing both halves.

1 comment:

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

My grandmother was from Yorkshire. When I was married my father gave me one of her silver sixpence to put in my shoe. I'm about to pass it on to my daughter who is being married soon. I'm glad I kept it!