What Easter Means to the Egg (1902)

(Frank Leslies Weekly, March 27, 1902) Perhaps you don’t know that the egg, which is such an important part of the interest in Easter Day, the egg which is stained blue or scarlet or yellow or which is decorated with the face of a Chinaman or something of that sort, has gone through a long and tedious course of inspection before it reaches you. So that the dealer who sells the egg, if he is informed in his calling, can tell whether it is old, whether its shell is slightly cracked, whether it has been touched with the frost, or whether there is water inside. For the egg business, having become one of the most important industries of the country, has been the subject of great thought and study by men who have made huge fortunes from the product of the hen.

I visited, the other day, one of the largest egg houses in New York when the rush of their Easter business was on. The Easter time is the very busiest time in all the year for the produce men. In the spring, of course, the traffic in eggs is the heaviest, because it is then that the hens, delighting in the warmth of the first, spring sunshine, lay the largest quantity. And the biggest, day among the egg merchants of New York is always the Friday before Easter, when the grocers are buying their eggs for Easter Sunday. In the commission house where I called there was great hurry among the men, who were unloading cases of eggs from some of the wagons and loading other cases on to other wagons. Many of the eggs had come in by express and were delivered by the express companies. After they had been received at the office the new arrivals were sent at once to the inspection department.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

This was a most mysterious place. It was a large room entirely dark excepting for a half-dozen small dots of light which disclosed the dim outlines of men. I could not tell what they were doing until I had been in the room long enough to become accustomed to the dull light, and then I saw that each light came from an electric bulb surrounded by a cap, in the side of which there was a small round hole.

It was through this that the dim lights, which gave the room its eerie air, were shining. In front of each one of these lamps stood an egg inspector or “handler.” He would reach down into one basket of eggs, take three of them in his hand and then place them, one at a time, directly over the aperture in the sheath of the light. Thus the light shone through the egg, disclosing exactly the quality of what was within the eggshell.

If there were cracks in the hard cover of the egg, they were betrayed by the light. They looked like a river and its branches as shown on an outline map. The eggs with the cracked shells were put in a box by themselves. They might be fresh, but would not keep long. If the next egg contained water – this would be shown by a dark spot underneath. Perhaps the next egg would be filled with dark veins which would indicate that it had begun its growth.

Each of these eggs in different stages and forms of imperfection was put in a separate box and packed in different cases and labeled, so that the merchant could tell by a glance at the cases the exact condition of the eggs in each one of them. When these boxes go to the grocer he knows the grade of the eggs which he buys—and perhaps he has that information in his mind when he sells his eggs to his customers.

It has become a custom for the grocers of New York to sell as many eggs as possible at Easter time. To do this some of them make their prices very low in order to attract buyers. They advertise a certain number of dozen for a dollar, and often sell their Easter eggs at a price very much lower than that which they pay for them. But, you can depend upon it, they have a deep purpose in this—it is to entice buyers into their stores, and, having them once in his web, the enterprising grocer expects to sell them something else upon which, you may be sure, there is a profit.

It is estimated that about twelve million eggs are brought into New York City for the Easter trade. This would be nearly four eggs for every man, woman, and child in the city.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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