The custom of making presents of eggs on particular occasions is of great antiquity. In Roman Catholic countries the custom prevails at Easter, where the allusion was evidently meant to be to the Resurrection. In process of time, although the custom still continued, its origin was lost sight of, and a present of eggs, no longer considered as a sacred memorial, became first a sign of friendship, and afterwards a token of affection from one young person to another. Our engraving is copied from an old drawing in the British Museum.
An Easter egg, which is sawed open with a fine instrument made for that purpose; the shells within are cleaned and dried, then lined with guilded paper, and adorned with figures of saints, made of silk and gold; they are made to open and shut, and are tied together with ribbons. Eggs of this sort are made for presents to ladies of quality. Fig. 1 is the inside showing the figures, and fig. 2 its outside. Two eggs of this description were presented on Easter-day, 1716, to the beautiful young Lady Manfroni, of a very ancient family, by Seignior Bernini, who soon after married her. In Venice, the Venetian noblemen present eggs to the ladies and nuns, adorned with their portraits curiously limned thereon ; and in Germany they have ways of adorning eggs with foliage and other devices, all in transparent work, which is cut out with aquafortis.
Figures. 1 and 2 are representations of an Easter Egg, very highly ornamented. Fig. 3 is an egg less carefully decorated, and not cut open; it is one of several others represented in the same volume, from which we have copied the foregoing; to these last eggs the following note is appended.
Eggs after the usage of Rome, painted of various colours, and adorned with figures and emblems. These on Easter-day, are carried to church to the parish priests, who bless them and sprinkle them with holy water. On that day at dinner, the cloth is adorned with sweet herbs and flowers, and the first thing that is eaten are these blessed eggs, which are painted by the nuns of Amelia, a small city about thirty miles from Rome. The common sort of these eggs are all of one colour, as yellow, blue, red or purple, which are sold in the streets till Ascension-day, or Whitsuntide. Anno 1716.
At the present day some remains of this custom are to be found in the north of England, some few of the adepts even taking the pains to saw the shells in half; but the greatest number are distributed among the younger branches of the family by their grandmothers and aunts, who provide according to their means against the occasion.
In Cheshire, children go round the village and beg eggs for their Easter dinner; they accompany it with a short song, begging for “an egg, bacon, cheese or an apple, or any good thing to make us merry,” and ending with “and I pray you, good dame, an Easter egg.”
In Cumberland and Westmoreland the same custom prevails, and parch or paste eggs are reciprocally sent from one friend to another. The mode of preparing the eggs is by plunging them in hot water for a few minutes, and then writing a name or drawing an ornament on the shell with tallow; the egg is then boiled in water containing any coloured dye in solution; this colour will not attach itself to the shell in any part which has been covered with grease, and consequently all the ornaments will appear white.
Another methed which requires more skill and labour, is to stain the egg of an uniform colour, and scratch out the ornament or name by means of a pen-knife.
The Easter eggs, which are stained of an uniform colour, afford amusement to the children; in a sort of game in which the strength of the egg-shell is tested. The boy holding an egg in his hand, challenges a companion to give blow for blow : one of the eggs is sure to be broken, and its shattered remains are the spoil of the conqueror, whose egg assumes a consequence in proportion to the number of times it has escaped unbroken. To obtain an egg which, when boiled shall be as hard as possible, the boys ire in the habit of watching the hen when she lays, taking the egg immediately from under her, and boiling it at once; by this means the white of the egg becomes harder than if it were boiled at a future time.
Source: The Saturday Magazine, 1839