The Middlemen:

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.

66x152 - Winterthur Library Revealed

Lewis Deblois trade label
Engraved by Thomas Johnston
Boston, Massachusetts; 1757
Copperplate engraving
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.

65x695.3 - Winterthur Library Revealed

 

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

Textile length
Made in Norwich, England; 1770–85
Wool
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 1959.0095.004 - Winterthur Library Revealedcenter 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.

 

 

Folio 89 - Winterthur Library RevealedFrench peddler’s trade catalogue
Paris, France; 1806–13
Watercolor and gouache
64×68.2 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur

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.

80x5 - Winterthur Library Revealed

 

 

Peddler’s license
Albany, New York; 1829
Iron gall ink
80×5 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur

 

 

 

Folio 282 - Winterthur Library Revealed

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.

88x132 - Winterthur Library Revealed

Shopping game
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.

02x4.5 - Winterthur Library Revealed

79x123.1 - Winterthur Library RevealedStore interior
United States; 1920–29
Silver gelatin print
02×4.5 Downs Collection, gift of the Friends of Winterthur

Store exterior
Photographed by Alden’s
Boston, Massachusetts; 1890–99
Albumen print
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.

 

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