[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LV | By Viveka Hansen]
To find evidence for how shoppers of delicate fabrics and other textile wares carried their purchased goods home or had it delivered to their door can be established and partly speculated from various sources. A few examples will be taken from my research of advertising in the weekly Whitby Gazette from 1855 to 1914, a reconstructed draper’s shop and census returns listing errand boys and others within the textile trade. This case study also includes comparable earlier documentation like informative trade cards and art works – which among other matters could illustrate parcels and boxes, often tied with a string for easier handling. To carry one’s purchase in a basket must in many cases have been the natural choice, but fine fabrics needed more protection to avoid staining, dust and dirt!
Boxes, barrels, hides or protective coarser fabrics had for centuries been the most important water-tight wrapping methods for keeping fine fabrics and other textile accessories dry during long transports, whilst paper was more widely introduced in the second half of the 1700s in shops. One such early observation about paper parcels can be studied from a publication printed in 1745 (The Harleian Miscellany…p 339), which stated that: ‘Brown or Wrapping-paper, unfit for Writing, and only used to make Covers for the other Paper, and to wrap up Goods, therefore called Shop-Paper’. Evidently wrapping paper was used during the whole period of the long 19th century – 1789 to 1914 – for parcels of drapery goods among many other forms of merchandise.
Bands or ribbons formed a noteworthy component for clothing during centuries in many cultures, which was not only used as decoration but also to hide and reinforce seams, or to tie together parts of garments, hold up stockings etc. Many of these ribbons were expensive qualities of silk with metallic threads or fine cotton, linen and woollen types. All needed to be protected during transport, not only by the individual customer in small parcels, but also by the seller/errand boy for the needs of the shop which this coloured illustration above is a unique example of.
There is evidence too for that “parcels” in advertisements during the late 19th century not only referred to a wrapped paper parcel, but sometimes rather to a bundle of fabric. Here a few examples of the different definitions from Whitby Gazette:
- In the spring of 1880 the draper John Wompra announced ‘Declining Business, A Rare Opportunity to Buy a Cheap Parcel [bundle] of Drapery… Whilst Mrs Peacock, in the same spring announced: ‘Wanted to purchase Cast-Off Clothing of any description in town or country. Parcels forwarded promptly acknowledged. Cash paid at once, by Mrs. J.E. Peacock, Church Street, near Cholmley School, Whitby’. How these parcels were wrapped is more unclear.
- In 1890 the linen & woollen drapers Wellburn Brothers instead advertised for a strong youth to work as an ‘Errand Boy’. Whilst the censuses of 1891, 1891, 1901 and 1911 from the Whitby/Ruswarp districts list a few errand boys within the drapery and clothier trade. One of their tasks must have been to deliver parcels to customers – local inhabitants and long-term hotel visitors alike.
- Another enlightening advertisement in this newspaper originate from 20 January 1905, describing a ‘Great Clearance Sale’ by ‘Dickson & Benson, Ltd., The Arcade & Linthorpe Road, Middlesbro’, with a detailed description of a wide variety of clothes, accessories and domestic linen. Readers from Whitby were offered a special incentive including a mention of parcels – probably wrapped in paper: ‘The whole advantages and opportunities offered at this Sale are available to residents in Whitby as though they were close neighbours in Middlesbrough. For ever purchase over £1 Single Railway fare is allowed. For over £2 Full Return Fare. Moreover, your letters get every attention. Carriage is paid on all parcels. Patterns sent of everything with Pleasure.’
A brief study of artworks, coloured prints and photographs depicting department stores, draperies and similar establishments in 19th century England also show that it is difficult to find customers actually carrying parcels of any sort when they were shopping. The same conclusion may be drawn from my earlier research into illustrations giving evidence for various angels of shopping and material culture. This is probably due to that relatively wealthy people who used to be the focal point for such depictions, rarely or never carried their own purchased goods in real life – caused by the widespread tradition in the Victorian and Edwardian periods of getting all sorts of purchases delivered in parcels or boxes to one’s home address by errand boys.
- British Museum, Collection online.
- Hansen, Viveka, The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 – A lively coastal town between the North Sea and North York Moors’, London & Whitby 2015.
- Oldys, William, The Harleian Miscellany, Or, A Collection of Scarce, Curious, and …, Volume 3, Oxford 1745.
PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
Hansen, Viveka, ‘Parcels & Boxes – “Textile Shopping” in the Long 19th Century’, TEXTILIS (February 4, 2016); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)