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The great new shopping idea: introducing self-service retailing in the British Isles

ABSTRACT There is a consensus that self-service shopping began in earnest in the British Isles in the late 1940s, following experimentation undertaken within the co-operative movement during the Second World War. This paper proposes that the novelty of these co-operative installations has been overstated. It reveals that self-service was implemented in the catering, womenswear and grocery sectors in the 1920s and 1930s. These three realms of trading, more than any others, provided opportunities for British retailers and consumers to experience the modus operandi of the self-service system, smoothing the way for its pragmatic acceptance at a time of national hardship. It is argued here that self-service formed part of the allure of American culture that pervaded British retailing between the wars. The co-operative installations of the early-to-mid 1940s are reinterpreted as the resumption of this existing trend, rather than as a new departure, albeit modified by challenging trading conditions. This shift in understanding has repercussions for analyses of the knowledge transfer and reception of self-service in the 1940s. The paper concludes by examining why self-service grocery retailing, having faltered in the 1920s and 1930s, took off around 1948, emphasising the proselytising role of American manufacturers and suppliers.

Transnational networks in northern European mobile trade in the late 1800s

ABSTRACT Peddlers of varying geographic, ethnic and cultural background played an important role for everyday consumption in late nineteenth century northern Europe. In the sparsely populated region, peddlers answered to a growing demand on consumer goods, spurred by industrialization and rising living standards. Many traders originated from outside the region, from Germany in the south to the multi-ethnic Russian Empire in the east. Their possibilities to succeed in the foreign environments largely depended on the networks that they established. This article examines the role that networks played for peddlers from the outside. First, we analyse the connections that traders from a certain region (Eastern Jews, Tatars, Russian Karelians, Germans) established between themselves to further their business in the Nordics. Second, we study the networks formed between peddlers from the outside and their local customers. And third, we examine the role of transnational, national and local networks for the acquisition and transport of goods over long distances. The article illuminates the various types of networks that characterized peddling in northern Europe as well as their functions. It also illustrates how the possibilities to study networks depend on the types of sources used and underlines the importance of analysing various types of sources to identify networks.

Open Access
A tool to help the honest poor: itinerant trading in great-Britain through the lens of late-Victorian legislation (1860–1900s)

ABSTRACT The last third of the nineteenth century was a turning point in terms of legislation surrounding itinerant trading in Britain. Liberal governments sought to adapt to what they perceived as the decline of peddling and encourage its transformation into a makeshift activity for humble labourers. This shift took place during the chancellorship and primeministership of William Gladstone. It reflected the popularity of self-help and the desire to improve the lot of the labouring poor in the late-nineteenth century. Encouraging peddling appeared to be an adequate tool to help poor labourers and subsidise working-class consumers, as itinerant traders supplied them with cheap goods. The period was thus marked by debates about the relevance of taxing hawkers: the Pedlars Act 1871 and Hawkers Act 1888 lowered the price of their certificates. Reformers and police constables, however, were also concerned by the ‘decline’ of peddling. They advocated for stricter control of the sellers, often likened pedlars to vagrants, and their salesmanship. The ‘self-help’ objective of the national legislation was furthermore debated and contested by local authorities, to which more powers were devolved in the late-nineteenth century. In some municipalities, it was mitigated by legislation related to urban planning, street cleanliness or shopkeepers’ interests.