[No: XLVIII | November 18, 2015 | By Viveka Hansen]
One of my earlier historical essays includes some brief research of fashion and cloth trade-cards from The British Museum Collection online, dating back to the early 18th century. Once again the aim will be to study historical events from this fascinating and very extensive collection, now based on a search for “haberdashers trade cards”, to get a better understanding for what businesses within this trade sold/offered their customers in London. Additionally this post will focus on the hand written notes and receipts to get an idea of what the purchasing men or women paid for their goods. Whilst a number of representative images describe this multi-facetted textile trade in various contexts.
Sarah Sophia Banks (1744-1818) is regarded to be one of the original contemporary collectors, whilst Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959) had a historical interest foremost in 18th century trade cards. Many thousands of cards from these two collectors are kept at the British Museum, and 212 of the cards can be linked to haberdashers. Even if this is a random selection of haberdashers working over a period of almost 75 years (c. 1745-1818), the search is large enough for a general study of various business transactions and traditions of the trade in London.
Notice: A small number of these 212 trade cards originate from other English cities/towns.
A tradesman in this occupation was among other matters described as ‘One who sells small wares; a pedlar.’ by Samuel Johnson in A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. A myriad of “small wares” is also the overall impression of the haberdasher’s trade, whilst these men and women sold all sorts of minor goods. For many a basic assortment of fabrics included qualities of wool, silk, cotton and linen – frequently described as ‘Worsted & Silks of all Sorts’. Together with laces, needles, pins, ribbons, threads, stockings, dressings, linings, patches, knittings, canvas, yarns, silk bags, muffs, hats, gloves, handkerchiefs, whale bones etc accessories for dress and much more. Sometimes even if fifty or more goods were listed one can read ‘With Various other Articles, in the Haberdashery Trades, too numerous to insert in this Bill’.
Haberdashers or the “haberdasher of small wares” were also frequently mixed with all other sorts of textile trades: Glover, milliner, hatter, hosier, lace man, lace & warehouse, pattern drawers, linen drapery, thread maker, or described as selling cloaks, child- and bed linen, children’s clothes, muslins, riding habits, masquerade dresses or furs. Together with some establishments that combined the haberdashery with selling swords & cutlery, wire making, perfumes, hair powder or cleaned and dyed feathers. While other haberdashers sold ‘all sorts of Coffee Raw or Roasted’, chocolate, snuffs, green and black teas or ‘all sorts of fine Teas’, ‘Playing Cards’ or noted ‘Books Sold or lent to Read’.
Even if most of the haberdashers were men, they were often aiming directly for a female clientele. The words chosen could be: ‘Great choice of patterns for Lady’s work, Embroidery, Brussels lace, Quilting, Cross & Tent stitch, Work materials for Needle work, Pattern for all sorts of Needlework, Shades of Worsted & Silk for the same’ or simply ‘Patterns for Lady’s Work’. The mourning trade was another branch sometimes included on the haberdashers’ trade cards – for example in the words ‘Also Funerals decently Perform’d’ or ‘Family Mourning’.
Services for families or professionals with connection to the colonies of the British Empire was another specialised haberdashery service in 18th century London. On a few preserved trade cards in the collection one can read: ’Officers, Cadets, Gentlemen & Families going to the East or West Indies, supplied with Ready-made Linen’. (Hebbert – Haberdasher, Silk Mercer, Hosier & laceman, Millinery & Dress Warehouse, Strand London).
The collection includes many examples of trade cards which list imported qualities and various goods described in great detail or mentioned with its place of origin. For example: Dutch and Manchester Tapes, Fine India Cottons, India Cotton Stockings, Bengal Muslins, Hollands Cambrics, Irish Linen, French Quilting, French Threads, French Cambrics, English & Dutch Toys, English Velvets, Manchester Goods, Norwich Crapes, India Knitting Cotton, Dresden Point Brussels, French & English Gauzes etc etc.
Another important feature was to point at the favourable prices, fashion trends and other services – explained with slogans to emphasise the qualities of the establishment:
- Lowest Prices/ Very Lowest Prices
- Very Reasonable Rates/ At Reasonable Rates
- After the Newest Fashion
- For Ready Money
- The very Best Goods at the Lowest Prices
- Newest & most Genteel taste
- Sells the Best Goods and lowest Terms – Country Orders executed
- Very Cheap for ready Money
- Proper Allowance for Ready Money
- The Lowest Price Affixed to each Article
As shown from the haberdashery on the image above, it was not unusual to sell new as well as second-hand goods in the same shop. This was obviously a way to expand ones business, other financial transactions could be to accept long credits to known customers as well as cash payments. In other words the haberdashers often seemed to adjust to the customer’s financial circumstances and culture of credit. For example it could be stated: ‘The Public are served for present Cash upon such Terms as will insure their future favors’, ’Wholesale and Resale at Reasonable Rates’ or ‘Wholesale only’.
Most trade cards lack handwritten notes, but approximately 20% of the cards includes receipts – sometimes written on the back – here exemplified with a selection from haberdashery shops. However, the material is too small to draw any conclusions about prices on particular goods or inflation, but even so it gives an indication of the costs involved in ordinary purchases from 1744 to 1796.
- £1 15Sh (March 21st, 1744)
- 14Sh.11d (May 31st, 1754)
- 17Sh.6d (Oct. 12th, 1754)
- £1 10Sh.5d (March 29th, 1759)
- £1 7Sh.4d (Aug. 7th, 1764)
- 12Sh (Nov. 24th, 1764)
- 2Sh.6d (April 6th, 1765)
- 15Sh.6d (April 12th, 1766)
- £1 16Sh.4d (Dec. 2nd, 1766)
- £2 8Sh.0d (Dec. 12th, 1766)
- £1 12Sh.9d (1769)
- 11Sh.1d (1770)
- £3 12Sh.3d (Sept. 17th, 1770)
- 11Sh.6d (April 30th, 1772)
- 2Sh.12d (Oct. 23rd, 1773)
- 10Sh (June 6th, 1777)
- £1 7Sh (Nov. 17th, 1786)
- 10d (July 14th, 1788)
- £1 14Sh.0d. (May 20th 1793)
- £1 8Sh.0d. (May 20th, 1793)
- 15Sh.8d (June 7th, 1794)
- 15Sh.0d (June 20th, 1795)
- £3 9Sh.0d (Oct. 27th, 1796)
It can be concluded that haberdashery was often an “additional” trade to a habit maker or draper – or vice versa – when selling all sorts of fabric for clothing, to be able to serve their customers with as wide a selection as possible of accessories for the up-to-date fashion. There could be many reasons for such arrangements. For example, haberdashery goods though many times economically ‘unprofitable’ in themselves, could tempt the customer to buy expensive material for making her own clothes, or to order garments to be sewn. A close-related reality can be seen from the frequently modest or small sums shown on most preserved receipt/bills. Various economical matters were probably the main reasons for why haberdashers sold such a great number of various goods and often added their stock with desirable products like coffee, teas, snuffs and chocolate to be able to live on their trade.
- British Museum, Collection online.
- John Johnson Collection of Ephemera of Trade.
- Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, London 1755. (The Digital Edition)
- Hansen, Viveka, ‘A Selection of Early Fashion & Cloth Trade-Cards’, TEXTILIS https://textilis.net/ (May 29, 2014)
- Hansen, Viveka, The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914, London – Whitby 2015.
PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
Hansen, Viveka, ‘Haberdashers – 18th & 19th Century Trade Cards’, TEXTILIS , (November 18, 2015); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)