Category Archives: Conferences

Conference – ‘Retailing and Distribution in the Eighteenth Century’

13 September 2018

University of Wolverhampton

Belly piece shop

Cestina Warehouse or Belly Piece Shop, attrib. Isaac Cruikshank, 1793, Accession no. 59.533.475, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959, Image courtesy of https://www.metmuseum.org/

PROGRAMME

10.00 – 10.30     Registration, coffee and welcome by Pauline Anderson, Head of School of Social, Historical and Political Studies, University of Wolverhampton

10.30 – 11.00    Steven Sanders, Oxford Brookes University

The Upholder in the Age of Thomas Chippendale: Upholders as Appraisers, Brokers, and Auctioneers

11.00 – 11.30   Anna Knutsson, European University Institute

Selling British Contraband in Eighteenth Century Sweden

11.30 – 12.00  Jenni Dixon, BCU

From Cabinets to Toy-Shops: Curious Spaces in the Eighteenth-Century

12.00 – 12.30   Aidan Collins, University of York

Defining ‘Traders’ in Bankruptcy Proceedings, 1700-1750

12.30 – 13.30     Lunch

13.30 – 14.00    Elisabeth Gernerd

Fancy Feathers: the Feather Trade in Britain and the Atlantic World

14.00 – 14.30    Jessica Davidson, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

‘Here mirth and merchandise are mix’d’: Buying and selling at the English provincial fair reconsidered

14.30 – 15.00    Matthew Mauger, Queen Mary University of London

Grocers’ Trade cards and the Cultural Imaginaries of China

15.00 – 15.30     David Fallon, University of Roehampton

Bookselling, Sociable Retailing and Identity by Distribution: The Case of Thomas Payne

15.30 – 16.00   Coffee

16.00 – 16.30    Serena Dyer, University of Warwick

Stitching and Shopping: The Material Literacy of the Consumer

16.30 – 17.00   Clare Rose, The Royal School of Needlework, London

Quilted petticoats in eighteenth century London: genuine and imitation, bought and stolen

17.00 – 17.30   Jon Stobart, Manchester Metropolitan University

Clothing the countryside: textiles and haberdashery in English village shops, c.1660-1720

Belly piece shop

INFORMATION

 The conference will be held on Wolverhampton City Campus, University of Wolverhampton, a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

For maps and directions, please see:

http://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/contacts-and-maps/all-maps-and-directions/map-and-directions-for-city-campus-wolverhampton/

The fee is £ 22

To register, please complete the registration form available here (The link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store, at http://www.estore.wlv.ac.uk/)

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at: l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

Belly piece shop

ABSTRACTS

Aidan Collins, University of York

Defining ‘Traders’ in Bankruptcy Proceedings, 1700-1750

During the sixteenth century, bankruptcy legislation was introduced in an attempt to tackle the dishonesty and immorality of failure in the wider economy. In trying to distinguish between the honest and unfortunate insolvent, and the deceitful and fraudulent debtor, certain professions were excluded, as only ‘traders’ who made their living by ‘buying and selling’ were within the scope of the statutes. However, by the eighteenth century the expansion of the market and the widespread use of credit networks meant that the implementation of this stipulation created certain practical difficulties.

 

By analysing the ways in which this trader distinction was investigated in the court of Chancery, this paper will show how the assumptions surrounding the nature of buying and the purpose of selling adapted and changed throughout the early modern period so not to cripple the system. Such an exploration will illuminate the disparities between legal ideals established in statutes and the practical realities of the marketplace. This will not only clarify the changing nature of a range of professions during this period, but will also enable a fuller understanding of the specificities and actions of traders in their day-to-day activities. Ultimately, Chancery suits provide a glimpse into ongoing negotiations between debtors and creditors, as well as the changing attitudes of both the legislature and the wider trading environment to the regulation of markets within debt recovery.

Jessica Davidson, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

‘Here mirth and merchandise are mix’d’: Buying and selling at the English provincial fair reconsidered

The provincial fair has been consigned to an almost perpetual decline in much existing historiography, made commercially unnecessary on the one hand by innovations in distribution networks and the fashionable space of shops, and on the other hand overtaken by socially stratified, commercialised leisure activities which replaced the ‘traditional’ festive role of the fair in the patterns of work and rest of the pre-industrial economy. This paper will draw on my doctoral research, now nearing completion in its fourth year, which has sought to re-evaluate the place of these events in the century between 1750 and 1850. It demonstrates that both the number of towns holding fairs as well as the number of individual events grew until the mid-nineteenth century, and seeks to explain the apparent disparity between these numbers and other markers of vitality, and the obsolescence we might expect to find in the age of industrialisation, urbanisation and commercialisation. Like so many social histories, the story of the fair is one of continuity and adaptation, rather than abrupt change. From a commercial point of view, many fairs remained a desirable place to do business because they were an established part of the provision of provincial financial services, acted as a nodal point where business relationships could be maintained face-to-face, and provided a lower risk environment to build new enterprises. Thus, fairs continued to play a role in the circulation of currency, communication and connections that enhanced the conduct of commerce even if instances of buying and selling were increasingly happening elsewhere. A study of the fair draws attention to areas of the economic landscape that have been pushed to the periphery by the prominence of the retail purchase in much recent scholarship on buying and selling. The fair is only one piece of the puzzle, but by reincorporating it into the commercial history of the eighteenth century, I hope to open up avenues of renewed enquiry into the patterns and practices of distribution, the way in which the market for goods was linked to the market for services, entertainment, or agricultural products, and an opportunity to reevaluate the spaces and strategies governing all of these transactions.

Jenni Dixon, BCU

From Cabinets to Toy-Shops: Curious Spaces in the Eighteenth-Century

(NB: In the eighteenth-century toys were generally not for children but were trinkets and small articles of adornment.)

Cabinets of curiosity displayed items of, what we would now call, natural history, anthropology, as well as historic artefacts, and had gained popularity from the 1500s. They were spaces filled with objects for expanding knowledge and for seeing the wider world in one view.

When toy-shops opened from the early 1700s they bore several similarities to traditional cabinets. George Wildey’s London premises, for example, sold and displayed both ‘Natural and Artificial Rarities’ in the 1720s, and even in the 1800s James Bisset, a Birmingham toymaker, merged his toy-shop with a cabinet of curiosities. Toys themselves were frequently termed curiosities, and a French toy-shop was a magasin de curiosités.

This paper will consider the consumer appeal of toys as curiosities, before examining how a culture of curiosity was utilised for their retail in toy-shops. It will explore three aspects: firstly, how curiousness was promoted in the street and shopfront; then, how modes of display were utilised in toy-shop interiors, such as the theatrical technique of the ‘slow-reveal’; and lastly, how print culture promoted toy-shops and the articles they sold, including using the newest printing methods to promote ingenuity. The paper will juxtapose London and Birmingham toy-shops, which both sold similar goods, but the former emphasised elite consumer experience, whilst the latter often framed toys in context of curious methods of manufacture. Both appealed to consumers in different ways.

In the eighteenth-century, curiousness was an important aspect of consumer appeal; it was interconnected with novelty, but also, as the paper will show, ideas of quality and skilled making. The toys themselves were already curious articles, but this was enhanced through the way that they were presented and represented in the physical spaces of toy-shops and printed promotion.

Serena Dyer, University of Warwick

Stitching and Shopping: The Material Literacy of the Consumer

 

In 1790s York, soon-to-be clergyman’s wife Elizabeth Woodhouse paid a local milliner, Miss Volans, to train her in her art. Woodhouse’s acquisition of practical making skills was part of a lifelong practice of gaining and maintaining material knowledge of fashionable dress construction. The housekeeping and œconomy skills, and craft and handiwork ability, of genteel and aristocratic women has been a focus of attention in scholarship. However, non-professional women’s material knowledge of garment construction has often been overlooked. In the eighteenth century, consumers of dress engaged in a dynamic process of personal and practical interaction with the goods they consumed, which transformed the material characteristics of the object from fabric to garment. Most garments acquired by genteel and aristocratic women continued to be made bespoke, utilising the services of a mantua maker or dressmaker. These relationships have traditionally been characterised as a producer/consumer binary. However, this paper contests that such interactions should instead be read as production partnerships, and that garment manufacture was a fluid collaboration between professional makers and skilled consumers. This paper examines the transformative process of turning textiles into garments, and the complex array of skills and making knowledge possessed by genteel consumers in the eighteenth century.

Genteel consumers played the role of judge, facilitator, collaborator, or indeed maker during the process of garment construction. Women were trained from girlhood to be practical participants in the making process, and pedagogical materials and practice emphasised material knowledge. This chapter traces how genteel women acquired and deployed making skills throughout the life-cycle, from girlhood to adulthood, and attests that material literacy was framed as a key skill for consumers. Knowledge of production enabled the consumer to effectively collaborate with and judge the craftsmanship of the producer, and engage with the broader discourses on taste, judgement, and fashion. Drawing on the diaries and accounts of genteel and aristocratic women, correspondence between mantua makers, milliners, and their clients, as well as material evidence of consumer knowledge and collaboration, this chapter will bring making into the marketplace, and reveal consumers of dress as skilled, active, and knowledgeable makers.

David Fallon, University of Roehampton

Bookselling, Sociable Retailing and Identity by Distribution: The Case of Thomas Payne

This paper will examine the retail space of the bookshop in eighteenth-century London, focusing on the emergence of the bookshop as a social space comparable with the coffee house. Thomas Payne’s shop, at the gate of the King’s Mews close to Charing Cross, became renowned not just as a publishing imprint and retail bookseller but also as an environment in which literary and antiquarian writers and thinkers met, discussed, and debated, with these activities blending into the business activities of the shop.

This paper will seek to recover the social life of the bookshop, examining its connection to Payne’s retail and publishing activities as well as to the retail and social life of the immediate environment. They shop’s retail profile among fellow London bookshops will be recovered with reference to contemporary ledgers and its adaptation to market trends in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries will also be considered.

Elisabeth Gernerd

Fancy Feathers: the Feather Trade in Britain and the Atlantic World

While feathered plumage saturates the visual landscape of eighteenth-century portraiture, appearing on hats, in hair, in hands and on the dress of Britain’s elite, the means by which those feathers came to inhabit such pronounced places of ornamentation has yet to be fully explored. Over the second half of the eighteenth century, the British, and subsequently Atlantic, feather industry evolved from one seemingly incorporated into the general sartorial trades to one with its own specific branch.  Known by various names, including plumassier (after the French), feather-man, feather merchant, feather dealer, and feather manufacturer, this profession fashioned a distinct place, separate from the haberdasher’s and milliner’s domain.

This paper delves into the lifecycle of the feather and, in particular, in whose hands it was traded, dyed, worked and sewn before appearing in its now immortal position on the painted canvas or printed page.  Tracing its importation, manufacture, sale and ownership, this chapter examines how the industry developed and was shaped by the rising fashionability of the feather over the latter half of the long eighteenth century.  Though a natural material, sourced from around the globe, feathers underwent a skilled transformation from bird to ‘plume a la mode’.[1]  Like many sartorial trends, the material knowledge of these makers and manufacturers were not limited to the professional, but extended also to the amateur hand at home.  Featherwork was a popular craft in an eighteenth-century household, one that highlights a further dimension of this feather-focused material literacy. A staple of fashion and craft, the feather, and its ecological to fashionable evolution, has long been overlooked in eighteenth-century historiography, despite its ubiquity and often flagrant prominence on the British silhouette.  This paper seeks to distinguish the makers of feathers, shedding a greater a light onto the process and material knowledge of their construction in order to better understand their pervasive plumed presence in dress and representation.

[1] London Chronicle, or Universal Evening Post, April 15, 1775- April 18, 1775; 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

Anna Knutsson, European University Institute

Selling British Contraband in Eighteenth Century Sweden

This 20 minute paper explores the circulation of global goods in a protectionist market. The 1770s saw a peak in Swedish mercantile control with 871 types of wares being prohibited for import. A large part of these prohibitions stretched back to the 1730s and were meant to support the infant industry developing in Sweden at the time. Meanwhile Sweden’s largest trading partner, Great Britain, consumed the main part of the Swedish iron production without being able to balance it out through (legal) export. However, a study of the Customs archives and other sources on consumption reveals that British goods were far from absent from the Swedish market. This paper will thus consider the role of British goods in the Swedish market place, how they could be circulated and sold despite the prohibition against most British manufactures which spanned the whole century. This paper strives to nuance our ideas about how selling contraband actually worked, and also who consumed contraband and what role British manufactures in particular came to have in the development of the Swedish consumer society.

The contraband goods appear advertised in newspapers, sold from under the counter in established shops in the big cities and in the pouches of itinerant traders knocking on the doors of far removed peasant dwellings. Looking at the distribution networks contributes to an understanding of the widespread interconnectivity of the material world despite the reigning regulation.  A few types of goods will be discussed in depth such as worsteds, porter and pocket watches. Each type of good had an individual trajectory dependent on various factors such as the current state of Swedish industry, which import substitutions existed and the current economic climate. However, it is important to note that the contraband trade was extensively formed by various state needs and for this reason the British-Swedish contraband relationship was different from the French-Swedish. This paper thus strives to offer a preliminary outline of one type of contraband relationship and what role it played in Swedish economic life.

Matthew Mauger, Queen Mary University of London

Grocers’ Trade cards and the Cultural Imaginaries of China

The exquisite detailed designs of eighteenth-century trade cards harnessed the precision and artistry of copperplate engraving to the cause of metropolitan retail advertisement. Shopkeepers passed these elaborate printed handbills to consumers both on the retail premises and when sending orders for delivery: as beautiful and aspirational objects associated with the visit to a shop; as stationery on which a retailer might make out receipts or invoices; even as wrappers in which loose goods might be contained. Long dismissed as the artefacts of a niche economy serving a fashionable London clientele, there is a growing academic interest in these intricate, artistically-complex survivals of eighteenth-century retail.

This paper focuses on the trade cards associated with eighteenth-century grocery, with a specific interest in their near-ubiquitous trade in Chinese tea. The techniques adopted in the attempt to drive customers to particular establishments to purchase dried tea leaves is revealing both of the techniques used to create a demand for new and unfamiliar products, and also of the prevailing cultural attitudes that they assume. By focusing on the advertisements associated with tea consumption, we can discern the development of practices concerning trade card design, and the evolution of retail attitudes towards a fashionable exotic commodity. The designs popular in the earlier decades typically employ a symbolic focus on the appearance and use of tea as a commodity, a series of stock representations woven into the artistic flourishes of a card’s border along with other items of the grocer’s stock-in-trade. Increasingly, however, these coded references to tea consumption become instrumented as a part of a deliberate engagement with popular imaginaries of China, ranging from the supposed ‘Chinese’ lettering adorning tea chests, to exquisitely constructed Chinese gardens echoing the designs found on porcelain tea sets.

Stepping into a grocer’s shop in the eighteenth century was to enter, however vicariously, the most significant eighteenth-century British site for transcultural exchange between east and west. To what extent do the grocers trade cards facilitate that encounter? How do they stage the terms of that exchange? Do they naturalise the products of the east, or exoticise them? By reading some of the cards in detail, this paper asks how the assumptions about consumer experience that we see at work in these advertisements can shed light on the meanings of tea retail as a cultural phenomenon in the eighteenth century.

Clare Rose, The Royal School of Needlework, London

Quilted petticoats in eighteenth century London: genuine and imitation, bought and stolen

Quilted petticoats played an important role in the development of the ready-to-wear clothing industry in Britain, as Beverly Lemire has shown. They had a tie-on construction that made them easy to manufacture, and easy to fit on most customers. They could be made in a range of fabrics, from heavy wool serge to delicate silk satin or crisp linen, to provide warmth and fullness under a gown. Quilted petticoats worn with open-fronted gowns or short jackets could add to the ensemble through colour contrasts or decorative stitching.  Petticoats made from corded quilting from Marseilles or yellow silk embroidery from Bengal could add an exotic touch to the wardrobe. Trade cards from London and provincial shopkeepers in the British Museum and London Guildhall Collections confirm the importance of quilted petticoats in retail practice, sold by traders describing themselves as mercers, linen-drapers, haberdashers, or milliners. The consumption of quilted petticoats by women at all social levels can be seen in the trial records of the Old Bailey, which note over 230 thefts of these garments between 1688 and 1805.

A closer analysis of these sets of documents reveals the subterfuges and double dealing used to increase sales of these standardised garments. Retailers promoted their petticoats as ‘finest’ or ‘most neatly worked’; they offered them in a wide range of fabrics at a wide range of prices. Imported quilting from Marseilles and Bengal was imitated in British workshops, and sold as the real thing. By the 1760s, loom quilted petticoats (double cloth with a padding weft) were on sale as ‘marcella’, confusing them with French imports. Hand-quilted petticoats were often made by outworkers, who were vulnerable to exploitation both by their employers and by their peers. As standardised garments, petticoats were both desirable to thieves, and hard to prove ownership of in a court of law. Quilted petticoats with pocket slits at the sides might even be used as an accessory to theft, with their bulk concealing high-value items lifted from shop counters.

Steven Sanders, Oxford Brookes University

The Upholder in the Age of Thomas Chippendale: Upholders as Appraisers, Brokers, and Auctioneers

My proposed paper focuses on upholders’ involvement in appraising, brokering, and auctioneering. Upholders were responsible for the ‘fitting out’ of residential interiors. Along with upholstery, they were involved in cabinet-making, brokering used goods, auctioneering, and undertaking. Originally associated with upholstery, upholders had their own livery company and, during the age of Chippendale, c. 1750 to 1790, participated in England’s expanding commercial business activity. R. Campbell recognized upholding as an important trade in his 1747 apprenticeship guide, The London Tradesman, where he wrote that the upholder was his “chief agent in furnishing his house with fashionable furniture” and “the man upon whose judgment he relied in the choice of goods”.[1]

Upholders were a part of increased consumerism during the last half of the eighteenth century, when the middling class had more choices in spending their disposable income.  What E. P. Thompson called the ‘moral economy’ lessened in importance, and a ‘political economy’ emerged, where the marketplace set prices based on supply and demand.[2] Upholders expanded their business lines after 1760 through using private credit, which was financially dangerous if economic confidence fell.[3] This expansion created competition and gave consumers more choices in spending.

Using City of London broker records, my research found that upholders increasingly became licensed brokers and appraisers after 1760.[4] Analysing newspaper advertising by decade found that upholders also became increasingly involved in the unregulated auction business after 1760. The correlation between upholders becoming brokers and upholders advertising auctioneering is a nearly perfect .97. Upholder bankruptcies also increased after 1760, indicating that upholders adding business lines and increasing inventory were taking on additional financial risk. These indicators were also present in my research of upholders expanding into the undertaking business after 1760.

[1] R. Campbell. The London Tradesman (London: T. Gardner, 1747) 169–72.

[2] E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.” Past & Present No. 50 (Feb. 1971), 78-79, 129–31.

[3] Julian Hoppit, ‘Financial Crises in Eighteenth–Century England’, The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Feb. 1986), 52-54.

[4] London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Reference Code: COL/BR/02/074-075. Index to Brokers’ Bonds A-H and I-Z and COL/BR05. Broker Sureties 1752-1813.

Jon Stobart, Manchester Metropolitan University

Clothing the countryside: textiles and haberdashery in English village shops, c.1660-1720

Village shops remain the poor relation in studies of the history retailing, largely overlooked in favour of their better documented and apparently more enterprising urban counterparts. Retail change was rapid in post-Restoration towns – part of a wider urban renaissance and fuelled by an influx of new colonial goods and innovative selling practices. In contrast, when village shops are considered at all, it is often assumed that they were the archetype of the ‘pre-modern’ shop: generalist, un-enterprising and filled with a few essentials or the detritus of slow-moving stock. This stereotype reflects contemporary perceptions, although these were often based on a particularly urban-centric and metropolitan view of retailing that saw village shops as unregulated competitors or signs of rural backwardness.

My paper offers a different view of English village shops, one that highlights the rich and varied nature of the goods stocked. Rather than focus the colonial goods highlighted by Shammas, I concentrate instead on their stocks of textiles and haberdashery to examine the extent to which they offered their customers the kinds of things necessary for the production of clothing. Analysing a small number of inventories in detail reveals the remarkable range of such items offered by some rural shopkeepers and the extent to which they were able to provide their customers with choice and with desirable clothing materials. Comparisons are drawn with urban shops to assess the extent to which there were quantitative or qualitative differences: could village shops in this sense compete with their counterparts in town? I argue that the range and quality of stock in village shops challenges the assumed self-sufficiency of rural households and suggests that village shopkeepers were able to respond to and perhaps shape growing demand for clothing and other consumer goods.

The fan shop

The Mieidō Fan Shop, Utagawa Toyokuni I, c. 1785–93, Accession Number: JP2725, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936, Image courtesy of https://www.metmuseum.org

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Conference Call for Papers – Retailing and Distribution in the Eighteenth Century

13 September 2018

University of Wolverhampton

The Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution ­invites submissions for a conference that aims to explore retailing and distribution in the eighteenth century.

Belly piece shop

Cestina Warehouse or Belly Piece Shop, attrib. Isaac Cruikshank, 1793, Accession no. 59.533.475, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959, Image courtesy of https://www.metmuseum.org/

Papers focusing on any geographical area or topic are welcome. We invite both experienced and new speakers, including speakers without an institutional affiliation. Potential speakers are welcome to discuss their ideas with the organiser before submission (please see details below).

Some of the themes that  might be considered include (but are not limited to):

  • Shops, shopkeeping and shopping
  • Novelties and fashion
  • Imported commodities and imitations
  • Commercial ideologies and representations
  • Transport and distribution
  • Markets and itinerant traders
  • Retailing and production
  • Displays and advertising
  • Urban and rural retailing
  • Regulation, trade organisations and legislation

Individual papers are usually 20 minutes in length, followed by 10 minutes for questions and discussion. We also welcome shorter, 10 minute ‘work in progress’ presentations, also followed by 10 minutes for discussion.

To submit a proposal, please send title and abstract of c.300 to 400 words, specifying whether you are proposing a 10 or a 20 minute presentation to Laura Ugolini, at l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk by 4 May 2018.

If you are unsure whether to submit a proposal or would like to discuss your ideas, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

The conference will be held on Wolverhampton City Campus, University of Wolverhampton, a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at: l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

The fan shop

The Mieidō Fan Shop, Utagawa Toyokuni I, c. 1785–93, Accession Number: JP2725, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936, Image courtesy of https://www.metmuseum.org

 

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2017 Conference blogs – ‘… in the self-same manner and form’: the Dublin goldsmiths’ guild’s emulation of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London, in 1637’

Jessica Cunningham, Maynooth University, Co Kildare, Ireland

‘… in the self-same manner and form’: the Dublin goldsmiths’ guild’s emulation of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London, in 1637’

book-13-assay-f-2.jpg

Detail from 1638 assay record, Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin which includes the names of immigrant master goldsmiths: George Gallant, William Gallant, William Cooke, Gilbert Tonques, James Vanderbeck and Peter Vaneindhoven.
Image courtesy of Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin, Assay Office, Dublin Castle.

In 1637 the Dublin guild of goldsmiths was incorporated by royal charter and, thereafter, was named the Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin. The wording of this extensive document which set out the structure, governance, jurisdiction and functions of the corporation is notable for its regular reference to the guild’s London counterpart.[1] The Dublin goldsmiths were keen to articulate their desire to replicate the ‘power and authority’ of their company in Ireland as they understood their London contemporaries enjoyed in England:

‘And all and every man or men of them for ever, in the self-same manner and form as the Wardens and Company of the said mystery of Goldsmiths of our said city of London within our said Kingdom of England, … may choose that the said Wardens of the said mystery within our city of Dublin … have the self-same, so much, such, and the like power and authority of Goldsmiths of the Company aforesaid.’

Several questions arise from this: how was it that Dublin’s goldsmiths were so well-acquainted with the London goldsmiths’ ‘manner and form’? Why was it that the Dublin goldsmiths laid claim in their charter to replicate this power and authority in Ireland? Why was the London guild perceived by the Dublin goldsmiths to be worthy of such emulation? Who were the goldsmiths in Dublin articulating these rights and demands in 1637? How successful were they in achieving their ambitions for a company which they desired to be the ‘self-same’ as the London model? How did the foundation of the Dublin Goldsmiths’ Company impact on the production and consumption of silver in seventeenth-century Ireland?

These questions formed the root of my enquiries into the history of the development of the goldsmiths’ craft in early-seventeenth century Ireland. Taking as a starting point the discovery that the majority of the goldsmiths whose names undersigned the charter were recent immigrants to Dublin – from England and the Low Countries, mainly – it became apparent that the Dublin guild was reinvented in the 1630s by a group of ambitious and opportunistic craftsmen.[2] In founding the new Dublin Company of Goldsmiths these men were simultaneously answering the issues hampering the goldsmiths’ craft in Ireland at this time – namely, the absence of a system of authentication and regulation – while capitalising on the nascent consumer culture for luxury goods. In explicitly articulating their operational structure and authority in parallel with the London Goldsmiths’ Company, Dublin’s goldsmiths adroitly claimed the necessary means to achieve their intersecting goals for independence, power and consumer confidence in the silver they produced. It signalled the beginning of an extraordinary period of exponential growth in the craft and in the production of silver in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ireland.


[1] The complete charter is reproduced in: C.J. Jackson, English Goldsmiths and their Marks (1921), pp 565-74.

[2] The following goldsmiths were listed in the charter as the founding corporation of Dublin’s goldsmiths: William Cooke, John Woodcocke, William Hampton, James Vanderbeck, William Gallant, John Banister, Nathaniel Stoughton, James Acheson, Clement Evans, George Gallant, Sylvanus Glegg, William St. Clere, Gilbert Tonques, Edward Chadsey, Peter Vaneinthoven, Matthew Thomas, William Crawley, Thomas Duffield, John Cooke and John Burke.


Jessica Cunningham completed her PhD at Maynooth University’s History Department in 2016. Her thesis is entitled ‘Craft and culture: the design, production and consumption of silver in seventeenth-century Ireland’. Her research was supported by Maynooth University’s John and Pat Hume Scholarship award and by an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship. Recent publications on Irish silver and goldsmiths include ‘John Cuthbert: a portrait of a late-seventeenth century goldsmith’ in Silver Studies (The Journal of the Silver Society), vol. 32 (2015).

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7 September 2017 – CHORD Conference – Retailing and Distribution in the Seventeenth Century

7 September 2017

University of Wolverhampton

trade-card


Trade Card of Samuel Spencer, Furniture Maker, late 17th/early 18th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 47.71.3, Gift of Bella C. Landauer, 1925. Image courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org/

Programme

10.00 – 10.30     Coffee and welcome

10.30 – 11.00     Alex Taylor, University of Sheffield, UK

Bristol’s first tawny age: the tobacco trade to Bristol in the seventeenth century

11.00 – 11.30     Tom Rusbridge, University of Birmingham, UK

Innovations in Tanning in Early Modern Britain and Europe

11.30 – 12.00   Glynis Hughs, independent researcher, UK

‘What Do You Lack?’ The Role of the Itinerant Trader in Seventeenth Century England

12.00 – 12.30   Jessica Cunningham, Maynooth University, Co Kildare, Ireland

‘Establishing excellence and consumer confidence: Dublin’s goldsmiths’ guild in the seventeenth century’

12.30 – 13.30     Lunch

13.30 – 14.00     Laurie Lindey, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, UK

The London furniture trade, 1640-1720

14.00 – 14.30     Evana Downes, University of Kent, UK

Balancing the urban ‘stomach’: the impact of regulation on London’s food vendors

14.30 – 14.50     Mabel Winter, University of Sheffield, UK

The Case of Thompson & Company: commerce, banking, and politics in the late seventeenth century

14.50 – 15.30   Coffee

15.30 – 16.00 Sébastien Pautet, University Paris Diderot (Paris VII), France

Make It Come True. Far East Product Imitations in Parisian Shops at the End of the Seventeenth Century

16.00 – 16.30     Charlie Taverner, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Marginal no more: selling food on the street in seventeenth-century London

trade-card

Information

 The conference will be held on Wolverhampton City Campus, University of Wolverhampton, a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

For maps and directions, please see:

http://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/contacts-and-maps/all-maps-and-directions/map-and-directions-for-city-campus-wolverhampton/

The fee is £ 22

To register, please complete the registration form available here (The link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store, at http://www.estore.wlv.ac.uk/)

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at: l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

trade-card

Abstracts

Jessica Cunningham, Maynooth University, Co Kildare, Ireland

‘Establishing excellence and consumer confidence: Dublin’s goldsmiths’ guild in the seventeenth century’

This twenty-minute paper will explore the development of Dublin’s goldsmiths’ guild over the course of the seventeenth century as it transformed itself from a small, unregulated organisation into a large incorporated company sanctioned with the authority to regulate the production and retail of silver, gold and jewellery throughout Ireland.

The paper will examine the motivations of the early-seventeenth century goldsmiths in Dublin who consciously strove to establish excellence and autonomy in the manufacture of Irish silver. It will analyse the demographic diversity of the guild and how this impacted on the transformation of Dublin’s goldsmiths in this period. Furthermore, it will demonstrate how these goldsmiths – Irish, English, Dutch, French, German – drew on contemporary European guild practices in their vision for Dublin’s guild and the craft in Ireland. Ultimately, as it will be shown, the desire by Irish consumers for material authentication generated this decisive shift in seventeenth-century Dublin.

In addition, this paper will identify from the documentary and object evidence the methods employed by the organisation throughout the century in regulating the metalworking craft in Ireland and will evaluate whether its aims were realised or merely aspirational.

This paper’s findings, drawn on recent doctoral research, will illuminate new avenues of primary investigation and analysis into a luxury craft in seventeenth-century Ireland.

Evana Downes, University of Kent, UK

Balancing the urban ‘stomach’: the impact of regulation on London’s food vendors

Early modern vending and market regulations indicate that food vendors occupied a central role in urban hierarchies. Their practices and wares contributed not only to the continued health and stability of the individual body, but the urban body as a whole. By influencing urban diets, victuallers could help reinforce social status, positive social behaviour, and general health. By maintaining a steady supply of food (particularly during periods of dearth), and distributing it honestly, they could contribute to social stability. The activities and movements of some food vendors could also shape the urban landscape, contributing to the prosperity of some spaces, while potentially polluting others.

From the 1500s, the English Crown and Corporation of London began to emphasise the need to maintain and protect urban public health. This concern grew as the sixteenth century progressed, advancing into the seventeenth. Though ostensibly formulated to curb the spread of disease, legislation concerned with public health increasingly equated the wellbeing of the individual body to that of the body politic. As a result, early public health laws in England were tinged with a moral aspect, pitting the danger of biological contagion alongside that of social pollution.

While the effect of public health regulation on physicians and other health-workers has been well-researched, less has been written about how shifting concepts of medicine and public health impacted upon the working lives of other occupational groups. Less still has been written about the lot of London’s food vendors, whose production and distribution of nourishment to civic populations had been monitored by local authorities since the Middle Ages. This paper will discuss aspects of a new project that aims to address this gap in research. Using sources such as The Lawes of the Markette (updated throughout the seventeenth century) and sessions books and papers, it will investigate ways in which new and adapted market and vending regulations reflected and affected the experiences of victuallers in seventeenth century London. It will focus particularly on how diverse groups of victuallers – through their physical presence, occupational practices, and wares – were thought capable of negatively affecting the health of other civic members. Finally, it will consider the implications of these associations, with reference to how victualling groups were integrated into – or kept to the margins of – London’s urban hierarchy.

Glynis Hughs, independent researcher, UK

‘What Do You Lack?’ The Role of the Itinerant Trader in Seventeenth Century England

The seventeenth century itinerant trader was an elusive character, in spite of the attempts by state, local authorities or even literature to make them to conform to a narrative, they refused to comply.

Often depicted in picaresque literature and cheap print as a source for spreading immorality and criminality, they were accused of destroying the financial stability of the towns and cities and acting as a threat to local trades and companies. State legislation and civic records paint the itinerant trader as a social pariah, detrimental to all society and liable to punishment and repatriation, and frequently, such as in John Ivie’s account of the administration of Poor Relief in Salisbury, seen as a danger to the wellbeing of the settled poor. However, examination of local records such as the Salisbury Constable’s Book and the Manchester Constable’s Accounts show a different image, and in many cases the itinerant trader was not only tolerated but also provided a necessary service to the poorest in the community.

Historians have most often placed the itinerant trader within a history of Vagrancy, using such terms as “unsettled, “outcast” or even “masterless”.   However, work by Margaret Spufford has called this view into question, demonstrating through the use of wills and inventories that the role of the pedlar or petty chapman often provided a necessary service to rural communities and also acted as a bridge between the local population and the gentry. Those who left wills and inventories were likely to be licenced peddlers rather than itinerants.

In examining the entries in Hall Books, Constable Books and Quarter Sessions records, I intend to demonstrate that many itinerant traders also exhibited a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial skills. Far from being “victims of circumstance” or simply adding to the “economy of makeshifts” I consider that they added a vital component to the nascent consumer society and their presence allowed all levels of society access to the pleasures of consumption.

Laurie Lindey, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, UK

The London furniture trade, 1640-1720

This paper examines the London furniture trade in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a period which witnessed dramatic transformations in the designs, styles and construction of English furniture. While this topic has been addressed in detail in terms of object-based analyses, it has never been examined from a social, economic and cultural perspective.

Given that this presentation is limited to twenty minutes, the following topics will be briefly discussed. The paper begins with the evolution of decorative design in England in the early modern period and the effects of burgeoning consumerism. It then defines the various types of specialised artisans and craftsmen who produced new forms and styles of furniture, and the ways in which the chain of production was structured. Thereafter we identify where London furniture makers were situated. Where was furniture manufactured and where was it sold? Were particular types of furniture sold in specific areas of the metropolis? This paper identifies the geographical location of the trade in the City of London and its spread into the fashionable West End. Finally we are introduced to two London furniture makers: we discover what a Covent Garden cabinetmaker in the post Restoration period manufactured and retailed, and who his clients were, and then we explore the workshop and manufacturing network of a caned chair maker in St. Paul’s Churchyard at the close of the seventeenth century.

Sébastien Pautet, University Paris Diderot (Paris VII), France

Make It Come True. Far East Product Imitations in Parisian Shops at the End of the Seventeenth Century

The ‘Taste for China’ is probably one the most surprising and durable fashion phenomenon of the Ancien Régime. The installation of European Jesuits and merchants in China during the 17th century, the stabilization of commercial connexions between Europe and the Far-East and the great embassies between Asian and European monarchies stimulated a great consumption of Asian luxuries.

Nevertheless, the Taste for China was not only based on Asian products. Craftsmen and manufacturers have tried to produce locally some global luxuries imported from the other side of the world. Imitations and hybrids from China or Japan were encouraged by the authorities and by commercial networks (Berg, 2015). While many historians of consumption and economics have raised the interest for Asian trades and its impacts on European consumption (Berg, 2005, 2015; Coquery, 2008, 2009), the question of Asian products is now central to scholarly investigations on technology as well (Riello, Parthasarathi, 2009), and historians have emphasized the question of ‘imitation’ in the process of product innovation (Berg, 2002).

This talk aims to understand the question of imitation and invention in a global context from a technical point of view. I will focus on products sold in Parisian shops and on imitations of Chinese and Japanese products in order to understand the construction of a market for fake Asian products at the end of the seventeenth century, and its impacts on both technical and commercial cultures.

Tom Rusbridge, University of Birmingham, UK

Innovations in Tanning in Early Modern Britain and Europe

The seventeenth century in Britain marked an important crucible in which the fundamentally medieval industry of tanning – taking raw animal hides and using a series of processes and botanical materials to create leather – underwent highly significant change. On the one hand, such innovations were driven by the invention of local tanners who responded to environmental changes to generate new methods of manufacturing leather, and on the other by the outward investigation and reporting of those who travelled to Europe to observe the practices of tanners in France, Germany and Denmark, among other countries. Both ‘home-grown’ innovations and those based on foreign observation were underpinned by quotidian and domestic responses to change materials, craft and manufacture, especially as an increasing range of types of leather were released into the consumer space.

This paper will examine documentary evidence of changing tanning practices through tanning manuals and reports and assess how they represented multiple types of innovation within a single framework of understanding, as early as 1583. It responds to the conference themes by analysing new and unique methods of craft and manufacture with the context Britain’s seventeenth century and its relationship with Europe, and contextualises these developments within the print culture, trades, industry and intellectual interest which were at once both motivations for their development and vehicles through which these changes were communicated to a public audience. Ultimately, it shall argue that seventeenth century innovations in tanning had long-standing impacts for British manufactures and crafts, and seeks to undermine the notion that such innovation was confined to the eighteenth century and rise of mechanized production.

Charlie Taverner, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Marginal no more: selling food on the street in seventeenth-century London

Lower and middling Londoners relied on informal retail for their food, but the practicalities and personalities of small-scale selling in the early modern city have been hard to recover. Most histories have marginalised urban hawkers, who traded on the move, beyond fixed sites like markets and shops. Work on women’s labour, poverty, and the growing metropolis has also sketched these figures as poor nuisances, selling awful food and switching between several badly paid jobs. Recently historians have begun to suggest hawkers, across Europe, could be substantial retailers and a force in a city’s society and economy, in which the informal sector, for food especially, was substantial. This paper proposes a methodology and theoretical approach for writing focused accounts of selling food on the street in early modern London. It shows how historians can use a broader set of sources, which break away from the reliance on judicial material – which typically shows hawkers in trouble – and representations – in which they are idealised as picturesque or comical. Using sources ranging from samples of ward records to incidental mentions in depositions, it is possible to show a fuller picture of the hawking experience. The paper also shows how considering space, as an approach, can open up our understanding of these hard-to-get-to retailers. Rather than focus on preconceived themes, a historical narrative can follow street sellers through the spaces of their day, starting with their home and closing with when they were lifted from life into art. Also, their place of work, the street, set them apart from other traders. Hawkers both contributed to and were impacted by the space’s materiality, with its traffic, noise and smell, and its conception, in the minds of Londoners. I argue that, by examining hawkers in the spaces in which they worked, we can see more clearly how they were central to the city’s food supply and retail landscape. More than that, they were central to changing ideas of metropolitan life.

 Alex Taylor, University of Sheffield, UK

Bristol’s first tawny age: the tobacco trade to Bristol in the seventeenth century

This paper explores the significance of the colonial tobacco trade in seventeenth-century Bristol. It begins by assessing the evidence for tobacco commerce in the pre-Civil War period before providing quantitative data for the levels of tobacco imports between the 1650s and 1680s. I address the occupations and affiliations of those who imported tobacco as well as some of the industry’s day-to-day practicalities. Attention is also given to the incidence of illicit trade, whether through customs fraud or direct smuggling. Available evidence derived from the Bristol wharfage books show that tobacco imports reached a zenith in the 1670s, pointing towards something of a golden or ‘tawny’ age before a decline in tobacco imports thereafter and into the eighteenth century.

Mabel Winter, University of Sheffield, UK

The Case of Thompson & Company: commerce, banking, and politics in the late seventeenth century

This paper intends to outline and discuss the social network of a seventeenth century merchant-bankers joint-stock company. The company was formed of four merchants, who had previously conducted trade in pairs but in 1670 decided to pool their resources and form a joint-stock bank, designed to loan out money at interest. The profits from which would be put into a general bank upon which the merchants could each draw on for their own individual trading ventures, provided they repaid the loaned money with interest. This venture relied on a variety of interpersonal relationships, as well as relationships forged through intermediaries and those forged purely on reputation. However, these relationships were not only commercial in nature, but political, familial, friendly, and conflicting, demonstrating the wide-ranging exploits of the four protagonists. Their wide web of credit, which spread across political, religious, geographical, familial and mercantile boundaries, created a complex and tumultuous situation once the partners went bankrupt in 1677.

The collapse of the bank in 1677 will receive particular attention due to the political manoeuvrings that aided its downfall, including interference from London city government, the East India Company, and even direct relations with the King; with the identification of at least two out of four of the main protagonists as early Whigs adding yet more intrigue to the plot. Set against the backdrop of the financial revolution, the stop on the exchequer, the early formation of party politics and the beginnings of the popish plot, this paper aims to highlight the difficulties and risks involved in early modern commerce, as well as demonstrating the depth and breadth of the relationships required to initiate such a venture. More than any other early banking venture, the bank of Woolchurch Market illuminates the complex intertwining of commercial and political identities in a society experiencing religious and political turmoil, as well as implicating an earlier start date for the English Financial Revolution.

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Conference call for papers – Retailing and Distribution in the Seventeenth Century

7 September 2017

University of Wolverhampton

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The Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution ­invites submissions for a conference that explores retailing and distribution in the seventeenth century.

Papers focusing on any geographical area or topic are welcome. We invite both experienced and new speakers, including speakers without an institutional affiliation. Potential speakers are welcome to discuss their ideas with the organiser before submission (please see details below). Some of the themes that  might be considered include (but are not limited to):

  • Craft, manufacture and retailing
  • New commodities and old
  • Religion, charity and commerce
  • Markets, shops and shopping
  • Transport and distribution networks
  • Regulation, guilds and trade organisations
  • Chapmen, pedlars and hucksters
  • Advertising, reputation and print cultures
  • Commerce, war, disease and famine
  • Fashion, leisure and shopping

Individual papers are usually 20 minutes in length, followed by 10 minutes for questions and discussion. We also welcome shorter, 10 minute ‘work in progress’ presentations, also followed by 10 minutes for discussion.

To submit a proposal, please send title and abstract of c.300 to 400 words, specifying whether you are proposing a 10 or a 20 minute presentation to Laura Ugolini, at l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk by 27 April 2017.

If you are unsure whether to submit a proposal or would like to discuss your ideas, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

The conference will be held on Wolverhampton City Campus, University of Wolverhampton, a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at: l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk

or see the conference web-page, here: http://home.wlv.ac.uk/~in6086/conf2017.htm

Image: Trade Card of Samuel Spencer, Furniture Maker, late 17th/early 18th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 47.71.3, Gift of Bella C. Landauer, 1925. Image courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org/

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2016 Conference blogs – Medieval Markets and the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Michael Lewis and Eljas Oksanen, Portable Antiquities Scheme

Medieval Markets and the Portable Antiquities Scheme

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was set up in 1997 to record small archaeological finds made by members of the public, mostly by metal-detecting. Managed by the British Museum and with a network of Finds Liaison Officers, interns and volunteers across England and Wales, the scheme’s online database (finds.org.uk) describes over a million objects with more than 80,000 being added every year. These finds cover a vast range of material culture from neolithic arrowheads to medieval coins and post-medieval candlesticks. The ‘medieval’ (1066-1540) dataset is the second largest by chronological period, and contains some 165,000 objects with more added every day. The medieval portion of the dataset has not been examined as thoroughly as, for example, the Roman. Consequently the GIS-led project Placing Medieval Markets in their Landscape Context through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Data at the British Museum aims to evaluate it in the context of studying the emergence, growth and decline of medieval commerce, markets and fairs.

As a national dataset the PAS finds are evidence of the use and availability of metalwork objects across long periods of time. For example, Figure 1 shows the chronological breakdown of some 65,000 medieval PAS non-coin finds that have been dated to within 200 years. A substantial increase in the numbers of finds to the fourteenth century is followed by a period of clear decline, before finds start to pick up again in the sixteenth century. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PAS data therefore reflects both the population and economic growth across the Central Middle Ages, and the demographic catastrophe of the Black Death (first arriving in 1348 to England). The difficulty in the close dating of these objects is a challenge to any temporal investigation of the PAS database, of course, but it is lent greater credence through comparative analysis with other independent datasets. Martin Allen’s research on the amount of coinage in circulation, and Carenza Lewis’ ceramics data from 1,700 test pits dug in eastern English rural settlements, reflect a very similar decline from around the mid-fourteenth century. Together these speak for a more maximalist interpretation of the impact of the Black Death on economic and consumer activity.

Figure 1

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An area of particular interest to our project is the relationship of the PAS data to rural market sites. These served as a point of access to commercial networks for the vast majority of the medieval population, while at the same time being poorly served by documentary sources. Weekly markets were a key component of peasant economy through the Middle Ages, and over the last few decades there has been a growing awareness that local village economies were often connected to broader networks of exchange at an early stage. Already by the twelfth century there had emerged commercial networks that linked weekly markets and small towns to regional urban centres, which in turn served as nexus-points of long-distance trade.

There is a general geographic association between the PAS data and medieval settlements that possessed markets. One-fifth of all medieval finds were made within 1 km of a known medieval market town, or a land area that is only about one-twentieth of the total area of England. Likewise, on a national level there are differences between the compositions of PAS finds near market towns and the total population of all finds. Statistical analyses of the data shows that some objects are much more likely to be found near settlements that had hosted a market, in particular those successful and long-lived medieval markets that survived to the Early Modern Period, which is helpful for establishing distinctions between the material cultural profiles of urban and rural sites. For example pilgrim badges are found in average three times more commonly in the vicinity of a market, or over six times near a market that survived to the Early Modern Period. Such information can offer insight on the religious life, or indeed the opportunities for long-distance travel enjoyed by different populations.

The spatial and temporal distribution of PAS finds can also be used to investigate varying intensities of economic activity. Figure 2 maps the broad national pattern of marketing that had emerged by the mid-thirteenth century, based on market charters or direct evidence of market activity. (S. Letters, Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516, 2002, radius = 16 km) While nearly everywhere in England was within a day’s return journey of at least one market site, regions of high or low density activity demonstrate how populations in different areas enjoyed varying degrees of access to multiple, presumably competing franchises. The medium-to-high density region around London, for example, must have been connected to the economy of the city. But the three ‘hottest’ areas were, from left to right, at the Somerset Levels, where the London-Exeter road meets of the Foss Way near waterways discharging into the Bristol Channel; at the upper navigable reaches of the Thames, at a place which the Droitwich Saltways had marked since the Anglo-Saxon period as a major stepping stone between the water highways of the Thames and the Severn; and finally near the intersection of the Icknield Way, the Watling Street and the river Great Ouse.

Figure 2

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These unusual densities of local markets are located around intersections of major cross-country long-distance routes, and also at places that mark the transfer from one form of transportation to another, such as a boat or a ship to a cart or a packhorse. Such zones are evidence that many successful local markets were integrated into broader networks of interregional and perhaps even international exchange, and also highlights their key role in the development of the British medieval economy. The PAS data supports this argument: a high concentration of coin finds indicates that a markedly high level of commercial exchange along the Icknield Way in eastern Midlands dated back to the Anglo-Saxon period, long before significant written records on formal market activity had become available.

The PAS data holds the potential to fill in gaps left by the often very limited documentary evidence on local commerce. Owing to the industriousness of local metal-detectorists, there is high yield of PAS data from around the medieval vills of Saltfleetby and Skidbrooke in coastal Lincolnshire. Saltfleetby was an old economic centre attested in Domesday Book of 1086, but its commercial pre-eminence was usurped by the neighbouring Skidbrooke by the fourteenth century. The pattern of single finds of coins made in the vicinity of the two settlements in Figure 3 starkly illustrates Saltfleetby’s economic decline. In this case it was possible to confirm the changing fortunes of the two vills from written sources, but what our project aims to demonstrate is how a critical approach to the PAS data offers the opportunity to map long-term trends unattainable through other means – ideally including in places not covered by written evidence. The power of the PAS data is founded in its extraordinary spatial and temporal reach across England and Wales, enabling the study of historical developments equally at local and national levels.

Figure 3

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Michael Lewis – mlewis@britishmuseum.org

Eljas Oksanen – e.i.oksanen@cantab.net

For more on the project and the PAS see:

‘Medieval Markets and Portable Antiquities Scheme’, E. Oksanen and M. Lewis, in Medieval Settlement Research 30 (Medieval Settlement Research Group, London, 2015), 54-9.

‘Exploring the Commercial Landscape of Medieval Saltfleetby and Skidbrooke, Lincolnshire, through PAS Data’, E. Oksanen and M. Lewis, in Medieval Archaeology 59 (forthcoming).

Project website: medievalmarketsites.wordpress.com

PAS: finds.org.uk

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2016 Conference blogs – Materiality and Meaning: Goods as Legal and Cultural Currency

Kate Kelsey Staples, West Virginia University, US

Materiality and Meaning: Goods as Legal and Cultural Currency

Medieval people exerted actions on things – they bought and sold; they reused and repaired; they stole. They stored value and meaning in goods. Yet, to what extent can we know how these goods acted on people? And, what can we learn from that action? Medieval court records reveal that material objects, commodities in many cases, shaped lives and tied people in bonds of obligation, real, proclaimed, or denied.

In 1540, Richard Flower sued Edmund Backeton in the Court of Chancery over a wall-hanging, a secondhand saye cloth, for his house in Fletestreet in London (TNA C 1/987/13). Saye was a popular type of cloth used for a variety of purposes by the sixteenth century, and wall-hangings were not uncommon in burgess households. The image in figure 5 in ‘Ways of Seeing Early Modern Decorative Textiles’, in Textile History (47:1, 2016) by Catherine Richardson and Tara Hamling (available on Open Access here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00404969.2016.1144672?src=recsys) suggests how such wall-hangings in the sixteenth century may have functioned.  Flower and Backeton disagreed over the amount charged, in a classic he-said, she-said equity case. When we read these records, we tend to focus on the business contacts, networks, and disputed amounts. Yet, the saye cloth physically marked the contract between businessmen and it served as a constant point of reference throughout the court record. I argued in this paper for the CHORD conference that by considering this material object we can unlock some new meaning to this case and others like it.

In this record, we have a decidedly one-sided version of the truth. However, the saye cloth as a ‘thing’ served in this case as a buttress of that truth. Without the detail about where the cloth came from, how it was negotiated for, and even where it was hung, Flower’s case against Backeton may have foundered. It allowed the judge to envision, materially, the nature of the dispute and how Flower was wronged. The saye cloth had a value, but it also had a cultural and legal currency. It served as the glue for a business contract, and it provided leverage in a legal setting. Finally, as this material object was a secondhand good, these court records bring the trade in used goods into sharper focus.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the audience of the 2016 CHORD conference for their thoughts on the paper I delivered at ‘Retailing and Distribution before 1600’. Thank you, too, to my research assistant, Morgan McMinn, who worked on analyzing this case with me.

For additional publications by Kate Kelsey Staples, please see:

‘The Significance of the Secondhand Trade in Europe, 1200-1600’, History Compass 13:6 (June 2015): 297-309.

Daughters of London: Inheriting Opportunity in Late Medieval London. Brill Academic Publishers, 2011.

‘Fripperers and the Used Clothing Trade in Late Medieval London’, Medieval Clothing and Textiles, 6 (May 2010): 151-171.

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