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Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Volume 2, Issue 3
Most of the articles that appear in this special edition of the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing are drawn from a workshop on “Beyond the shop: acquisition and exchange outside the formal market”, which was held at the University of Wolverhampton in April 2008. This was one of the events that since 1999 have been organised at Wolverhampton under the auspices of the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution – more generally known by the acronym of CHORD. The Centre was established by scholars in the University’s History Department, who shared an interest in the history of retailing, commerce and internal trade, from the early modern to the contemporary period. Aware that a good deal of research was being undertaken in this area of history by scholars who worked in different disciplines and adopted different methodological and theoretical perspectives, and thus had few opportunities to come into contact with each other, they set-up a centre that would both act as a focal point for existing researchers, and encourage interesting and innovative new research.
Since its first conference took place in September 1999, a series of annual conferences and other workshops and seminars have been held. The remit of the conferences has been broad, in order to encourage the widest possible participation, not only among historians, but also among researchers working in fields such as design, architecture, geography, business, marketing and management studies, archaeology, media studies and sociology. Thus, the 2009 annual conference marked CHORD’s tenth anniversary by exploring “Retailing and distribution history”. Ten years of CHORD also seemed an appropriate moment at which to invite scholars from different disciplines to comment not only on the past and present, but also on the future of retailing history: these reflections are included in this journal’s “Explorations and insights” section. Thus, Nicholas Alexander considers the role of retailing history in a “management context”, questioning whether it should act as prototype, prologue or prequel. Jon Stobart suggests that a more thorough investigation and theorisation of shopping practices and identities would lead to useful insights into the relationship between changes – revolutionary or otherwise – in retailing and consumption. Andrew Alexander emphasises the value of approaches that combine cultural and economic elements, that consider wider supply chains, and that offer new ways of theorising the process of retail innovation – including through an engagement with current debates in the retail management literature.
While the CHORD conferences have explored broad themes, the workshops have sought to focus on specific commodities or trades, such as “Food shopping”, “Commerce and fashion” and “Health, well-being and commerce”. Other workshops have focused on specific themes, including “Retailing history: texts and images”, “Shopping: representations and experiences” and “Commerce and conflict”. The theme of the workshop on which this special edition is based developed out of a desire to explore further the varied commercial transactions and acquisition practices that have taken place (and continue to take place) beyond the boundaries of shops. Indeed, retailing history is most emphatically not only about shops: commodities of all types could (and can) be purchased, borrowed, stolen or given away across a market stall, on the roadside and other public areas, in pubs, homes, by post, in workshops and other workplaces – even in churchyards and church halls.
Focusing on England, all the articles in this special edition explore the acquisition of goods “beyond the shop”, from the fourteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The introductory article begins by surveying new and existing research, taking into account not only exchanges that involved money changing hands, but also others, such as gifting or charity, where goods were acquired via what can (cautiously) be described as “non-commercial” channels. The article questions whether we can come to any conclusions about the scale and changing nature of such transactions, before considering consumers’ attitudes both towards the acquisition of goods thus obtained, and towards the commodities themselves. Few definitive answers are reached, but the insights provided by existing research are acknowledged, and fruitful areas for future investigation are identified.
James Davis’s article opens the collection “proper” by exploring the second-hand trade in late medieval England. Using a range of sources, from edicts and guild regulations, to poems and archaeological evidence, Davis suggests that second-hand goods were an integral part of late medieval commercial life, with used goods re-entering the market by varied means, for example as the surplus of aristocratic households or as unredeemed pawnbrokers’ pledges, and apparently finding plenty of ready – if cautious – buyers. At the same time, dealers in second-hand goods were viewed with suspicion, as a potential threat to established, guild-controlled trades and as prone to sharp practices. Nonetheless, despite the vitriol often directed at these traders, the authorities seem to have recognised that they too had a part to play in the market place: they were marginalised and controlled, but rarely excluded.
Just as it is generally assumed that itinerant traders were common in medieval England, so it has often been supposed that markets were doomed to terminal decline by the onset of industrialisation. Ian Mitchell’s article, which explores the place of markets in the rapidly growing English towns and cities of the first half of the nineteenth century, argues that far from being somehow “anachronistic” and unable to compete with shops, covered market halls were among the most important retail innovations of the time. In “new” industrial towns such as Stockport, “improved” market facilities, with their connotations of order, commercial probity, cleanliness and, it should not be forgotten, profitability, were often central to visions of civic renewal and modernity – however frequently the reality fell short of the more grandiose aspirations.
Shelley Tickell’s article takes us back to the eighteenth century, and to the often unstable boundary between shops and the commercial activities that took (and indeed, take) place outside them. Tickell suggests that eighteenth-century London shops were highly porous, seemingly losing a steady stream of commodities to more or less ingenious shoplifters. Believing that all persons entering the shop might be tempted to turn to theft by the lure of attractively displayed fabrics, millinery or other goods, shopkeepers responded by introducing innovative measures seeking to anchor such commodities more safely to the shop, attempting to ensure that they left the premises only as a result of a profitable commercial transaction, and not of thieves’ light-fingered skills.
Alison Toplis’s article then takes us a step further in the distribution chain. Focusing on the informal sale of clothing among provincial working-class consumers in the first half of the nineteenth century, she shows how otherwise “honest” working people were only too willing to take advantage of any good deal that came their way, not caring to ask awkward questions about the provenance of the commodities on offer. As Toplis demonstrates, whether stolen, purchased or borrowed, garments were constantly changing hands among friends, acquaintances, family members or, indeed, strangers met by chance: stolen items quickly joined fast-moving working-class exchange networks, from which their original owners were rarely able to recover them.
Vivienne Richmond’s article concludes the collection by exploring late Victorian jumble sales. Using parish magazines as her main source, she sheds light on the role of church-organised sales in supplying goods to the poor: the large minority of the population for whom “consumption” meant a daily struggle to obtain the bare necessities. As Richmond observes, most of the jumble sales’ donors and organisers belonged to a very different social milieu from the buyers. However, the former seem to have identified a real need among the latter, whether for clothing that may have been old and worn, but still represented good value, or for bits of carpet that embodied aspirations to an elusive, yet often longed for, domestic comfort.
While this collection cannot claim to provide a final – indeed, scarcely a preliminary – word on the subject, all the contributions reveal the range and variety of commercial exchanges (licit and illicit) that took place outside the boundaries of shops. It only remains for us to express our gratitude to the contributors for their patience and hard work, to all the workshop participants for their comments and insights, and to Brian Jones and Stan Shapiro for their encouragement, advice and enthusiasm for this special issue of the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing.
John Benson, Laura UgoliniGuest Editors