Merchants and Traveling Salesmen
Distribution methods expanded as America grew, and increasingly, craftsmen turned to middlemen to assist in selling their goods. Merchants sold an array of craftsmen’s goods along with imported merchandise. Traveling salesmen and peddlers took merchandise to people in small towns and connected them with urban centers. Offering a variety of goods in one place led to the growth of department stores in the late 1800s.
Lewis Deblois trade label
Engraved by Thomas Johnston
Boston, Massachusetts; 1757
66×152 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur
Merchant Lewis Deblois imported goods from London twice a year. The reverse of this trade card doubled as an invoice for hardware, as was the custom.
Norwich worsted pattern book (sample page)
Norwich, England; 1794–97
Iron gall ink and textiles
65×695.3 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur
Made in Norwich, England; 1770–85
1959.0095.004 Museum purchase
Fabric pattern books were prepared by manufacturers for both local and distant merchants in the 1700s and 1800s. This book from Norwich, a center for worsted weaving, displays many pieces of the lightweight fabric used to make clothing, bed curtains, coverlets, and upholstery. These swatches and the textile length are examples of cloth exported to America.
In the early 1800s a group of storekeepers in Paris hired watercolor artists to produce illustrated catalogues of the personal and household goods they sold. Although these volumes have been called peddler’s catalogues, they may have been placed on store counters for customers to browse.
Albany, New York; 1829
Iron gall ink
80×5 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur
Scrimshaw sample book
United States or England; 1837–39
Ivory, hide, ink, paper
81×455 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur
Probably used as a bone engraver’s sample book, the panels of scrimshaw in this volume fold together for easy portability.
From Strawbridge & Clothier
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 1908
Rotogravure on cardboard
88×132 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur
Strawbridge’s marketed this children’s board game to encourage a young audience to develop the habit of department store shopping. Notice the children sitting at the soda fountain and reading in the juvenile book store.
Photographed by Alden’s
Boston, Massachusetts; 1890–99
79×123.1 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur
These early photographs document the variety of items offered by merchants and the displays that were intended to entice customers.