The Glaswegian mourning card reads, “In Affectionate Remembrance of John M’Millan, The beloved son of Duncan and Mary M’Millan, who died 20th November, 1882.” John was 30 years old. A letter accompanies the card, written by John’s sister, Kate, to a male cousin. The letter begins, “Dear Duncan, It is with a sad heart I now write to you…we have lost John. He was almost confined to bed for two months before he died but we did not expect the end would come so quick.” Kate goes on to recount the recent death of an uncle, as well as the deaths of two other relatives in the span of ten months. “It behoves us all to be ready. We may not get much warning,” she writes towards the end of the letter.
Both letter and card are bordered in black, an expected custom during the Victorian period. By 1927, the “rules” of mourning cards shifted, mostly in regards to the width of the black border. The Etiquette of Letter Writing reads,
Ostentatious mourning cards are today considered an expression of bad taste or ignorance. The card with the half-inch black border has gone the way of the deeply bordered handkerchief. Instead, the widest border one sees now is the quarter inch.
The M’Millan mourning card border measures just under ½”, while the stationary border measures a little over ¼”. The Etiquette of Letter Writing continues,
Widths vary according to the nearness of the relation. Brother and sister use the same widths for their parents, and husband and wife for their children; but, a man would not use the same width for his mother-in-law that his wife would use. In such a case, he would use a very narrow border, known as the complimentary border.
By 1927, the closeness of the deceased relation dictated the border width, as though mourning itself should be shortened. Black clothing might be briefly worn, but only for short duration. In 19th century Scotland, Kate would wear black dresses in mourning her brother’s death, refraining from any events of frivolity for some months afterwards. This custom, along with mourning stationary, would disappear from Britain within fifty years, showing a dramatic shift in mourning customs.
543 St. Georges Road
It is with a sad heart I now write to you. You will see by the enclosure we have lost John. He was almost confined to bed for two months before he died but we did not expect the end would come so quiet. Father noticed the change about four in the morning. He sunk rapidly untill 1/2 past ten when he expired. He could not speak for four hours but he seemed conscious all the time. There is another house of mourning. Uncle Scott was as well as usual untill the first of this month, when he took a severe attack of Bronchitits. He was unconscious on Sunday and remained so untill he died on Tuesday at 1/2 past ten. He had little warning, they telegraphed for Mother on Monday night. Of course she could not go until Tuesday. She did not see him alive. We feel our loss very great but they must be much worse with the bread-winner taken away, and so many left to fight their way in the world. One cannot tell who will be next. There have been four nearly connected to us taken away in about ten months. Aunt Bella headed the list then our Duncan's baby boy last June then John-and lastly Uncle. It behoves us all to be ready. We may not get much warning. I have paid the club but I won't send the card untill May when we will have the new one. We all unite in sending kindest love to Uncle and accept the same from your affectionate cousin.
Wishing you the compliments of the season.
P.S. Will you kindly forward a card to Aunt Agnes as I don't know her address.