2014 CHORD Conference

'Retail Work - Historical Perspectives'

11 September 2014

University of Wolverhampton

 

Programme

 

Abstracts

 

Information

 

Registration

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PROGRAMME

9.00 – 9.30 Room MC331

Registration, coffee and welcome

 

9.30 – 11.00 Session 1

Room MC331

‘Selling Drapery’

Chair: Karin Dannehl, University of Wolverhampton

 

Deborah Wynne, University of Chester, ‘Representing the Draper: From Kipps, to the Flying Draper, to The Paradise’

ABSTRACT

 

Serena Dyer, University of Warwick, ‘Mr Calico and Mrs Pincushion: Man-Milliners and Gendered Retail Work in England, 1770-1830’

ABSTRACT

 

Angela Loxham, Lancaster University, ‘Cleric or Conman, Curate or Crook? Understanding the Victorian Draper’

ABSTRACT

 

11.00 – 11.30 Coffee break

Room MC331

 

11.30 – 13.00 Session 2

Retailing: class, gender and race

Room MC331

Chair: Richard Hawkins, University of Wolverhampton

 

Robin Price, Queensland University of Technology, ‘Racing slowly to the bottom: Wage fixation in Australia’s Retail Industry’

ABSTRACT

 

Katrina Maitland-Brown, University of Wolverhampton, ‘Synthesised Roles: Women’s Identity in Business’

ABSTRACT

 

Traci L. Parker, University of Chicago, ‘Race, Class, and American Department Stores’

ABSTRACT

11.30 – 13.00 Session 3

Business practices, cultures and aesthetics

Room MC301

Chair: Jane Holt, London College of Fashion

 

Oliver Heal, independent researcher, ‘Heal’s – Distinguished Retailing 1900-1940’

ABSTRACT

 

Sabine Chaouche, University of Oxford, ‘Attracting “Freshers”: Business Practices and Strategies in Nineteenth-century Oxford’

ABSTRACT

 

Ian Mitchell, University of Wolverhampton, ‘Ethical Shopping in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain: How Consumer Power was used to improve Conditions in the Workplace’

 

ABSTRACT

 

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

Room MC331

 

14.00 – 15.30 Session 4

Marketing and Salesmanship

Room MC331

Chair: Margaret Ponsonby, University of Wolverhampton

 

Rachael Richardson, Sheffield Hallam University, ‘Consumption and Communication: The Marketing Ingenuity of Mail Order Entrepreneur, J. G. Graves’

ABSTRACT

 

Hannah Scally, University of Cambridge: ' “Imagination in the Service of Business”: Commercial Education and Expertise, 1880-1910’

ABSTRACT

 

Heidi Egginton, University of Cambridge ‘“The Old and the Beautiful”: The Role of the Provincial Antique Dealer in the Marketing of Second-Hand Collectables, c. 1900-1939

ABSTRACT

14.00 – 15.30 Session 5

Retailer and Customers

Room MC301

Chair: tbc

 

David Shaw, University for the Creative Arts, ‘Retail Information Technology Turns from Friend to Foe’

ABSTRACT

 

Martin Purvis, University of Leeds, ‘Learning to Manage: Working Practices in Interwar Multiple Retailing’

ABSTRACT

 

Belle Stennett, Birkbeck, University of London, ‘The Staging of a Business Conversation. The Trade Cards of William Hogarth in the Eighteenth Century’

ABSTRACT

 

15.30 – 16.00 Coffee

Room MC331

 

16.00 – 17.00 Session 6

Shopgirls

Room MC331

Chair: Laura Ugolini, University of Wolverhampton

 

Fan Carter, Kingston University, ‘Shop Girls: Fashionable Femininities and Retail Work in 1960s Britain’

ABSTRACT

 

Pamela Cox, University of Essex, ‘Shopgirls, Disgust And Desire’

ABSTRACT

 

ABSTRACTS

 

Fan Carter, Kingston University, ‘Shop Girls: Fashionable Femininities and Retail Work in 1960s Britain’

 

The leading news story in the September 4 1965 issue of The Drapers Record, reported that despite the record levels of school leavers entering the job market, fewer young people were choosing retail work, leaving department stores short staffed. Low wages and low prestige were given as the main reasons why young women in particular were turning their back on shop work. At the same time, both the trade press, and popular journalism more generally, were regularly reporting on the rapid proliferation of boutiques and running features on the new fashionable figures of owner-designers and high profile fashion buyers.

 

This paper sets out to explore the ways in which the world of retailing reported in the trade and general press compares with the ways in which it was imagined and narrated within the pages of the popular young women’s magazine Honey (Fleetway, 1960-1986) during the 1960s.

 

Honey was renowned for its innovative approach to fashion, marketing and branding, going so far as to launch a series of ‘Honey boutiques’ in regional department stores where customers could be sure to find the clothes featured in the magazines and be served by knowledgeable, friendly and fashionable ‘honey girls’. The magazine was also keen to educate its readers on wide range of careers and jobs and ran features on retailing, fashion buying and retail management together with profiles of figures such as Vanessa Denza, the feted fashion buyer for Woolands of Knightsbridge. In contrast to the trade papers’ pessimistic forecast of young workers in retail the magazine constructs retail identities as modern, attractive and fashionable.

 

The paper proposes that an investigation of these contrasting images of retail work is revealing both of the rapid changes and transformations in the world of fashion retailing and also to lives of young women in the period and in particular the construction of the independent single girl as both shopper and sales assistant.

 

Sabine Chaouche, University of Oxford, ‘Attracting “Freshers”: Business Practices and Strategies in Nineteenth-century Oxford’

 

In 1877, Oscar Wilde, then student at Magdalen College, was summoned by the University of Oxford proctors to appear before the Vice-Chancellor’s Court concerning a £30 debt. Fashionable goods such as a felt hat, a superior suit, and silk scarves had been ordered from Joseph Muir, tailor and shoe maker, 34 High Street and not paid for. Offences by students at Oxford such as debts increased dramatically from the 1830s onwards. Debts suggest that students played an active role in the economic growth of Oxford in the nineteenth-century but also that retail strategies were most likely put in place by merchants to encourage students to buy constantly new products or goods.

 

The historiography of consumption―and even ‘mass consumption’ (e.g. pioneer works such as Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late 19th-Century France by Rosalind Williams, The Coming of the Mass Market, 1850-1914 by Hamish Fraser)―shows a plethora of works on women but a huge unbalance still prevails in the field since male consumption has clearly been overlooked. Hitherto, very few works entirely and exclusively devoted to the subject can be mentioned: The Hidden Consumer: Masculinity, Fashion and City Life 1860-1914 by Breward (1999) and Men and Meanswear. Sartorial Consumption in Britain, 1880-1936 by Laura Ugolini (2007). Both authors describe the stereotypes of class to which men were confronted, the specificities of male fashion and their impact on men’s relationship to clothes, as well as the menswear trade and advertising system.

 

This paper will essentially examine the relationship between town and gown from a social and economic point of view. It will mostly focus on the way in which tradesmen tried to attract unexperienced consumers, the “freshers”, and how they drove student’s consumption, channelling their demand. Based on a set of primary sources such as bills and ephemera (advertisement), as well as novels, this paper will therefore analyse the commercial practices and business strategies during the period, questioning the consuming process.

 

Pamela Cox, University of Essex, ‘Shopgirls, Disgust And Desire’

 

On May Day 1971, the Angry Brigade set off a bomb in Biba on Kensington High Street, one of Britain’s most iconic stores. They had Biba’s equally iconic sales assistants in their sights, declaring in a communiqué sent after the blast that ‘All the sales girls in the flash boutiques are made to dress the same and have the same make-up… In fashion as in everything else, capitalism can only go backwards - they’ve nowhere to go – they’re dead.’ In their view, ‘the only thing’ to do with these ‘modern slave-houses’ was ‘blow them up’, ‘burn them down’ and generally ‘wreck them’.

 

The Angry Brigade’s actions were extreme but they were certainly not the first to be disgusted by certain kinds of young women shop workers and the desires they embodied. From the mid-nineteenth century on, and for all her lowly economic status, the ‘shopgirl’ has exercised enduring symbolic power – and endured vitriolic critique from commentators as culturally diverse as G.K. Chesterton and Claude Lévi-Strauss.

 

In this paper, I explore the ideas behind these critiques and ask how far they might explain the wider neglect of this group of women workers by historians and social scientists. I draw on clips and archive footage from my BBC TWO series Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind the Counter.

 

Serena Dyer, University of Warwick, ‘Mr Calico and Mrs Pincushion: Man-Milliners and Gendered Retail Work in England, 1770-1830’

The character of the man-milliner was much maligned in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They were described as ‘half men’, who chattered and cajoled money out of their customers. They were accused of being untrustworthy, blamed for forcing women out of the millinery business and into prostitution and destitution, and mocked for their lack of masculinity. This negative portrait was consistently evident throughout contemporary moral essays, novels, plays, and graphic satire, although with differing levels of severity. This paper will explore this cultural representation of the man-milliner as amoral and ridiculous, grappling with the reasons behind this portrayal, and how it relates to broader ideas about gender, fashion, and business in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. It will compare the portrayal of the man-milliner with that of their female counterparts, considering which negative characteristics were unique to each gender, and which were more generally applied to the millinery trade.

 

This popular view of the man-milliner will be juxtaposed in this paper with an examination of the archival records of contemporary milliners, and those of their customers and visitors. This will utilise trade directories, business and personal accounts, and correspondence between retailers and clients in order to both trace regional and chronological fluctuations in the frequency of man-milliners, and to examine how the relationship between milliner and client functioned, and whether this altered over the period covered.  This evidence demonstrates significant shifts in where and when the man-milliner was most numerous. Finally, this paper will turn to men who worked in related fashion trades, in roles such as drapers, stay makers, and haberdashers.  It will consider whether and why these men escaped the mockery suffered by man-milliners, and why the gender dynamics in these trades differed from that of millinery.

 

Heidi Egginton, University of Cambridge ‘“The Old and the Beautiful”: The Role of the Provincial Antique Dealer in the Marketing of Second-Hand Collectables, c. 1900-1939

 

“The dust of the old curiosity shop clings lovingly to many a dealer in antiques”, sighed The Antique Collector in 1931. Taking the average dealer to task for neglecting to sweep away the metaphorical “cobwebs” from their business practices, the magazine bemoaned the lack of effort generally bestowed upon “publicity, collective effort, and propaganda” in the trade, and hoped that the present slump would drive out retailers whose idea of attracting customers was to “sweep dirt into their shops rather than out of them”.

 

In fact, dealers could be shrewd merchandisers and self-promoters. In recent years a number of scholars have started to investigate the ways in which independent antique shops and galleries played a part in spreading a taste for historic objects, as well as facilitating the formation of private collections. The late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries had seen a surge of interest in collecting second-hand goods, with the publication of dozens of cheap manuals and magazines giving advice to the middle classes on searching for, selecting, and selling all manner of bric-à-brac and old curiosities. Antique dealers contributed to this literature as collectors and experts, and their work in sourcing old furniture and decorative art objects for sale and exhibition created new categories of collectables and helped to fashion alternative collecting identities.

 

This paper will examine the nature of the influence of individual antique dealers on the market for second-hand collectables in south-west England before WWII. It will use printed sources, including dealers’ autobiographies, collectors’ memoirs, and periodical literature, to look in detail at the variety of ways in which small retailers marketed and displayed their antiques. Particular emphasis will be given to the career of Thomas Rohan, a Hampshire dealer who did more than most to remove the “cobwebs” from the promotion of what he affectionately termed “the old and the beautiful”. Not only did Rohan write three popular books on collecting and lecture frequently on the subject, his shop even inspired a lavishly-produced film revolving around the exploits of an antique dealer. The work of retailers of second-hand goods can thus be shown to have played an important role in shaping cultures of private collecting during this period.

 

Oliver Heal, independent researcher, ‘Heal’s – Distinguished Retailing 1900-1940’

 

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the successful growth of the Department Stores as the major means for the mass-distribution of mass-produced goods to rapidly increasing city-based populations. During the same period the Arts & Crafts Movement emerged as a reaction against the de-humanising effects of industrialisation. The Movement’s solution was to return to Medieval craft practices that were supposed to restore pride-in-workmanship to the makers and eliminate ugliness through fitness for purpose. Inevitably this led to the production of relatively expensive products that were only accessible to an affluent, discerning public. This paper will examine the case study of one retail business that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, sought to reconcile in practical, commercial terms, the ideals of the Arts & Crafts Movement with the needs of a growing middle-class for well-made, well-designed furniture and furnishings at reasonable prices.

 

The specialist retail furnishing business Heal & Son Ltd, founded in 1810 as mattress and bed makers, was transformed from the beginning of the twentieth century through the wholehearted adoption of William Morris’ dictum “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.  Archival research has revealed in greater detail than ever before how this philosophy affected every aspect of the firm’s direction. It became a deeply rooted conviction for staff as well as management that they were on a crusade to provide “people of moderate means” with original furniture “at a moderate cost”. This was reflected in merchandise design and selection; in the use of consistent, distinctive, intelligent advertising and publicity; and even the premises were rebuilt in line with the latest thinking on presentation and layout. The company also distinguished itself from its competitors by holding a series of avant-garde fine-art exhibitions at the end of World War One thus further blurring the distinctions between commerce and culture.

 

Heal’s also stood out from normal retail practice of the period in its employment policies. Edwardian department stores were notably harsh employers. Through the nineteen twenties Heal’s were amongst the leaders who improved staff conditions through consultative committees and encouraging employee shareholders.

 

This paper seeks to illustrate how, as result of the cumulative effect of these policies and philosophy, Heal’s was able to establish for itself a reputation (and a niche market) that was far greater than the size of the business might be expected to warrant.

 

Angela Loxham, Lancaster University, ‘Cleric or Conman, Curate or Crook? Understanding the Victorian Draper’

The figure of the middle-class female shopper of the nineteenth century that filled newspapers was that of a bewildered woman, seduced by the delights of the city and her shops. A once private, home-based creature now filled the streets where she would spend her husband’s hard-earned cash, or even resort to theft.

 

It is now recognised that such depictions often represented national fears, rather than any true phenomenon. However, not only women and the new shopping environments were targeted, but so too were the men who served in fabric shops: the drapers. Often depicted as figures of fun, lacking in masculinity, these men were also held up in the press as wielding an unhealthy influence over women, causing them to neglect proper ideals of thrift, and buy unnecessary trinkets.

 

Yet they were also shown as deceitful, selling short lengths and poor-quality items to women who remained ignorant, until it was too late. Indeed, for the Victorians, the draper embodied dishonesty. This paper will explore such characterisations, but will argue that the reasons behind them did not necessarily lie in the practices of the draper himself, but in the wider commercial climate of the time.

While much academic attention has been paid to fraud and adulteration in the food industry, this was also a feature of the fabric trade, which was arguably even more subject to laissez-faire ideals. A general lack of regulation allowed fraud and adulteration to flourish. Yet, so sacred was the creed of free trade, that it was the individual draper who was blamed, thus allowing an obvious problem to be addressed, yet also permitting the deeper, structural problem to be ignored, and for the status quo to be maintained.

 

However, in a final twist, drapers did not accept these representations. Using extracts from autobiographies, drapers’ memoirs, and the trade press, it will be argued that, to combat such depictions, they painted their profession in terms of a religious mission. They too ignored the laissez-faire spirit which allowed fraud to flourish, but in addition to this, to counter their portrayal as dishonest and manipulative, they increasingly styled themselves as serving in a role akin to religious ministers, tending to the needs of women and, importantly, operating as the most unquestionably moral men in the face of a dishonest commercial world. As a result of this, while both the public and the trade presented the draper and his work in two distinctly opposed visions, both furthered the same end, allowing the root of the problem to continue unchecked.

 

Katrina Maitland-Brown, University of Wolverhampton, ‘Synthesised Roles: Women’s Identity in Business’

 

This paper considers the role of the wives of entrepreneurial Midland families in retail and manufacturing in the period 1760-1860 and suggests directions for future scholarship in this area. Taking correspondence in two case studies, Annie Watt representing large businesses and Elizabeth Shaw, representing an emerging enterprise, the paper explores the construction of women’s identity in relation to business, considering how these two women may have seen their role, and how outsiders may have perceived it. Such correspondence, where found in business and industrial archives, has been well-mined by historians, but research has been centred either on the men as the drivers of business, or on the women in their domestic capacity or their marginalisation from business. This work argues that what is needed is a greater understanding of women’s synthesised, but no less important, role in which business and domestic responsibilities were symbiotic. Letters between husband and wife, for example, can reveal the way in which they prioritised business and domestic demands, maintained active communications with clients through the domestic hub, and managed a chain of communication. What is often read as domestic correspondence filed amongst business papers, can reveal that some women had a pivotal role in the family business, and that women’s agency could be central to its success and expansion. The paper suggests that a revisiting of business and industrial correspondence, in the light of this approach, will lead to a better understanding of the impact of female agency on the sustainability, expansion and success of growing businesses in a period when women were increasingly under social and cultural pressure to retreat into domestic anonymity.

 

Ian Mitchell, University of Wolverhampton, ‘Ethical Shopping in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain: How Consumer Power was used to improve Conditions in the Workplace’

 

In 1893 the Salvation Army announced the formation of a ‘British Match Consumers’ League’ whose members pledged that they would only buy matches which were of British manufacture, made entirely without the use of sweated labour and in conditions that were free from risk to the life and health of those who made them. Members were also to ‘worry their grocer, oilman, or other shopkeeper, who does not at present sell these matches, at least twice a week, until such a time as he shall do so’. This was far from being the only example of attempts to use consumer power to improve the working conditions of those who made the goods that were increasingly available in the shops of late nineteenth century Britain. A prospectus for a ‘Consumers’ League’ appeared in 1887 and the in the following two decades several local branches of the Christian Social Union (CSU)drew up whitelists of shopkeepers who could be patronised with a good conscience because they were not complicit in sweating, particularly in the clothing trades.

 

This paper explores the phenomenon of ethical shopping in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain. It looks at how this emerged out of a coming together of a growing awareness of poor working conditions, the increasing influence of trade unions and the co-operative movement, and a renewed  Christian engagement with social and economic issues. It then discusses in more detail the activities of the CSU in raising awareness, researching working conditions, seeking to agree appropriate hours of work and wage rates and encouraging consumers to use their power to force improvements. It argues that the CSU, although often dismissed as simply a talking shop, had a positive impact on attempts to improve working conditions and that its role in the formation of a broader consumer consciousness should not be overlooked.

 

Traci L. Parker, University of Chicago, ‘Race, Class, and American Department Stores’

 

In the late 1930s, when the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign proved that a separate black economy would not fulfill the labor and consumer needs of black America, African Americans began promoting the integration of department stores as the road to their economic prosperity. Department stores were targeted because they were democratic and Jim Crow spaces. African Americans were hired but only as maintenance workers and elevator operators; they were welcome to shop but refused service at eateries, beauty shops, and dressing rooms. For nearly forty years, blacks challenged racial discrimination in employment and consumption in the nation’s cathedrals of consumption and, in the process, nurtured a modern black middle class.

 

Historians have produced impressive work on department stores and their white architects, sales workers, and middle class clientele; but they have disregarded the experiences and contributions of African Americans. Using department store and civil rights records, this paper argues that black social mobility and modernity hinged on their relationship with consumer capitalism.

 

Through the lens of the department store campaign, a mixed-class, interracial movement that integrated white-collar work and consumption in this industry, this paper considers the growth of a modern black middle class at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It examines how participation in and benefiting from this movement propelled many African Americans – most of who were not of the talented tenth or professional class – into the middle class. On the picket line and later on the selling floor, blacks demonstrated through a pattern of behavior an interest in “getting ahead” and “living respectable.” Activists trained and educated workers of color and placed them in rewarding, quality jobs in sales, clerical, and management. Black workers, in turn, demonstrated that they were “capable” of holding white-collar jobs and that whites and blacks could work side by side without conflict. This paper also considers how the department store campaign provided black consumers – those firmly situated in and aspiring to be of the middle class – with material goods and services that conferred status and prestige to both the individual and the entire community.

 

This research is one of the most effective ways of understanding the African American experience in department stores and the struggle for black economic freedom in the twentieth century. Additionally, it intervenes in the scholarship on the labor-oriented civil rights movement and American capitalism.

 

Robin Price, Queensland University of Technology, ‘Racing slowly to the bottom: Wage fixation in Australia’s Retail Industry’

Australia has, since the federation of the colonies in 1901, developed a unique system of centralised wage fixation via industry-wide awards. From federation until a national system was created in 1996, wages and working conditions for the retail industry have been set at state level via the lodgement of ambit claims and made by the arbitrated award decisions of a tribunal tasked with balancing the competing claims of retail employer associations and the retail union. This arbitrated process has since inception been underpinned by the principle of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay for an unskilled labourer and his wife and three children, which became the de-facto minimum wage in the Harvester judgement of 1907.

 

The first award to cover the retail industry in Queensland was the Shop Assistants Award of 1916. This award set minimum working hours for senior male employees at 49 hours per week, for junior male employees at 51 hours per week and for female employees at 48 hours per week. The adult rate of pay – higher for males than females – applied at 24 years of age: the ratio of junior to senior employees was fixed at 2 juniors for 1, 2 or 3 seniors; and working hours extended between 8:00am and 6:00 on four days per week, 8:00am till 1:00 on the weekly half-holiday (Saturday) and 8:00am to 8:00pm on one other day (usually Fridays). Casual employees – who by definition have no legal right to on-going employment, akin to the UK zero-hours contract – were limited to no more than 3 days employment per week.

 

This paper explores the history of retail wages and employment until the advent of a national industrial relations system with organizational-level collective bargaining in 1993. It draws on documentary and statistical evidence to paint a picture of the evolution of retail employment and employment conditions under the centralised award system in Queensland over the twentieth century. The paper argues that the retail union favoured the protection of conditions for full-time workers – predominantly male – over those of part-time and casual workers – predominantly female – and were therefore complicit in the decline of wages and employment conditions in the retail industry, albeit unintended. Once removed, these conditions proved almost impossible to reinstate, thereby leading to a race to the bottom.

 

Martin Purvis, University of Leeds, ‘Learning to Manage: Working Practices in Interwar Multiple Retailing’

 

The successful expansion of multiple retailing in interwar Britain is often seen to rest, in part, on the inculcation of efficient and standardised working practices throughout a company’s branch network. Major multiple retailers often placed considerable stress on technical training for their staff, on the leadership role of store managers and on the creation of systems of supervision and inspection of local branches by staff directly responsible to the company’s head office. In many instances local managers were also required to submit frequent and detailed returns outlining the operational and financial performance of their stores.

 

In practice, however, there sometimes remained a significant gap between the best practice officially advocated by a company and the actual behaviour in store of its employees and local managers. It followed that even in the largest companies moves to standardise local practice often took place over an extended period. Material from contemporary sources, including the Marks and Spencer archive, is used to explore the methods used by major companies to promote the expected behaviour amongst store staff and managers. This reveals the importance of retail spaces and practices – such as stock rooms and stock control – which are sometimes overlooked in studies which concentrate on the face which retailing presents to the consumer. Archival sources also offer new insights into the extent to which local variation in behaviour persisted. This variation reveals the limitations of training and supervisory practice, the continued value placed in some contexts on local initiative, but also the ways in which pressures felt by local managers to meet the financial targets set for their store were sometimes at odds with company statements regarding expected standards of retail practice.

 

Rachael Richardson, Sheffield Hallam University, ‘Consumption and Communication: The Marketing Ingenuity of Mail Order Entrepreneur, J. G. Graves’

 

The development of Mail Order has played an important role in the evolvement of British consumer culture and practices; however, unlike other retailing outlets, it has received little attention from historians.  Yet arguably, its introduction during the late Victorian period secured a new purchasing power for many working class consumers, including the growing number of modernising urbanites seeking to improve their lifestyles.  This paper will explore the marketing ingenuity of one of Britain’s earliest mail order entrepreneurs, J. G. Graves of Sheffield.  Graves relied upon the medium of advertising to sell his commodities, enabled through the mass production and distribution of the company’s mail order catalogues.  These catalogues, with their plethora of enticing commodities seeking to satisfy every need, want and desire, and circulated across Britain and the Empire, earned the company a large and loyal group of customers.   In addition, the company’s programme of credit, a system designed to distance itself from the activities of money lenders, pawn brokers and tallymen added an air of respectability to the issue of lending and borrowing.

 

Relying upon the medium of advertising, the catalogues were constructed to attract and hold the attention of the customer through its carefully chosen rhetoric, narrative and imagery.  Furthermore, the catalogues also acted as lifestyle guides, advisors, educators and as a source of social interaction and communication.  As the catalogues grew in circulation, Graves enjoyed a national platform by which to promote both the sale of the tangible commodity and a range of meanings and messages.  These messages, sometimes appearing within the advertisement for the tangible commodity, at other times through the inclusion of articles, features and editorials, promoted a series of values and concepts ranging from patriotic sentiments, imperial ideologies and constructed identities to the promotion of Smilesean philosophies of self-help, social betterment and the adoption of respectable middle class practices.  As such, this paper will suggest that the business endeavours of one of Britain’s earliest mail order entrepreneurs engaged in a symbiotic marketing activity, one that simultaneously promoted the consumption of both the tangible object and a series of socio-cultural and ideological messages, enabled through the innovative publication and distribution of the mail order catalogue.

 

Hannah Scally, University of Cambridge: ' “Imagination in the Service of Business”: Commercial Education and Expertise, 1880-1910’

 

For most of the nineteenth century, apprenticeship and practical wisdom were guiding principles of commercial training. Successful traders emphasised their character, experience and perception: personal qualities cultivated during adolescent years of employment. From around 1880 however, in the face of increasing economic competition from abroad, a new vision of commercial expertise emerged. The new movement for commercial education championed formal training establishments at all levels of the occupation, from basic evening classes to higher-lever institutions like the LSE. This has been generally characterised as an ineffective and naïve movement, which failed to garner support from within the occupation: certainly, many employers strongly doubted the usefulness of classroom training for their daily practice. Yet key members of the distributive trades were also central to the movement, and the London Chamber of Commerce was an early and vocal advocate of education reform. Increasing numbers of employees in the distributive sector took skills-based courses in languages, book-keeping, and economic theory.

 

This paper discusses the ensuing debate, about what skills and traits were desirable in traders, and how they could be cultivated. How did economics become a professional qualification for commercial occupations? How did these traders understand their own work practice, and its role in Britain's economic performance? With particular attention to the relationship between economic science and other models of commercial expertise, this paper examines how the commercial education movement was instrumental in defining the modern man of business.

 

David Shaw, University for the Creative Arts, ‘Retail Information Technology Turns from Friend to Foe’

 

One of the great enabling forces for retailing was the historic development of Retail Information Systems (RIS. From their very start (e.g.  The LEO project pioneered by J. Lyons);  highly specialised and expensive information technologies were originally only embraced by the large-scale retailers of the 1970's.  They were able to leverage competitive advantage by simply knowing what was selling and then getting the right stock in the right quantities back to their outlets faster than their competitors.  Many retailers thrived and survived, whilst RIS laggards vanished into obscurity.  As the costs of retailer focused information technology fell - it is now within the price reach of even the smallest and usually less efficient retailers.  The competitive advantage once offered by RIT no longer holds true.  Retail Information Technology empowered the retailer to quickly learn how to dominate their then rather naive consumers.  However, there has been a new paradigm shift, which now suggests that instead of helping and enabling retailers, newer consumer held technologies e.g. The Smart Phone are nor empowering the consumers and enabling them to dominate the retailer through their new found ability to understand and take advantage the retailer's shortcomings - e.g. poor ranges, poor value, poor product availability and/or poor service proposition.  Many retailers are continuing with massive and classic  Retail Information Technology Investments; forgetting that these technologies and associated systems alone, are not the only weapons required.  Instead hyper-intelligent customer insight using a range of retail information technologies will be the new battle ground.  The much heralded Social Networks,  are now seen as the new Jerusalem of Retailing.  However, there is little hard evidence to suggest that they are as yet providing a really powerful competitive advantage.  The current reality is that customers are now questioning the usefulness and rationale of existing bricks and mortar outlets; as increasingly they fail to satisfy even the most basic consumer needs and wants. This paper examines the causes of this sea change of power, the retailers myopic use of customer information, as well as suggesting how this fundamental change in the balance of power will need to be addressed  to avoid even more famous High Street retailers from biting the dust.

 

Belle Stennett, Birkbeck, University of London, ‘The Staging of a Business Conversation. The Trade Cards of William Hogarth in the Eighteenth Century’

 

“I have endeavored to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer, my picture is my stage and men and women my players, who by means of certain actions and gestures exhibit a dumb show”. William Hogarth, Autobiographical Notes (1753)

 

Hogarth’s corpus of trade cards is sparse in comparison to his plethora of prints and paintings; produced during the 1720s they offer an undeveloped area of primary research, this form of advertising is imbued with a rich visual imagery, and when combined with textual descriptions provides a narrative for commercial enterprise within the period. Trade cards were costly items, being small copperplate engravings produced by shopkeepers to distribute amongst their customer base. Delicate and appealing they added a certain cachet to a business as a more personal method of publicity than a newspaper advertisement.

 

In this paper I posit that a new genre of business emerged during the first half of the eighteenth century, an amalgam of artifice and posturing - essentially a hybrid -as evidenced in both Hogarth’s theatrical and conversation pieces and reinterpreted in his trade cards. He captures business and social mores by potent period references to symbolism, staged scenarios and representations of emerging global markets. Analyzing both Hogarth’s trade card for Mrs Holt’s Italian Warehouse and that of Richard Lee at the Golden Tobacco Roll, I demonstrate that his consummate skill as an engraver and designer were articulated in this new form of business literature. Hogarth’s burin, the tool for engraving, acts as a pen in the hand of an inspirational writer.

 

Deborah Wynne, University of Chester, ‘Representing the Draper: From Kipps, to the Flying Draper, to The Paradise’

This paper sets out to demonstrate the ways in which drapers have been represented in literary and cultural texts. Focusing on the drapery trade between 1890 and 1930, a period when textile retailing was a major contributor to the British economy, the paper examines how the draper’s work with fabrics and clothing, and his service for an almost exclusively female clientele, were depicted as unsuitable labour for men. The draper’s assistant William Paine recorded in his book, Shop Slavery and Emancipation (1912), the long hours he endured, describing himself as ‘the poorest slave that creeps and crawls for daily dole and nightly rest’. Yet despite these hardships the draper was almost invariably represented as comic during the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods. Subsequent depictions of male drapers have occasionally been more positive, particularly in two recent television series, The Paradise (BBC) and Mr Selfridge (ITV).

 

This paper assesses the historical shifts in representations of men in the drapery trade. It begins with an analysis of the work of H.G. Wells, who was apprenticed to a draper as a teenager. His three comic ‘draper’ novels, The Wheels of Chance (1896), Kipps (1905), and The History of Mr Polly (1910), depict draper protagonists trapped in unfulfilling, meaningless work. The paper then considers Ronald Fraser’s attempt to rewrite the draper as a hero in his fantasy novel The Flying Draper (1924); his draper is far removed from the model offered by Wells, presented as a transcendent, even god-like figure, a ‘massive-shouldered man’, with ‘sensitive and fierce’ mouth and ‘eyes dark with old tempests’. Yet Fraser’s hero also delights in fabrics, explaining, ‘I enjoyed the shop, enjoyed living in that world of tissues and ready-made garments.’ Finally, the paper examines the reasons for the emergence of the late-Victorian and Edwardian draper in the contemporary media, focusing on The Paradise and Mr Selfridge. Both series present the feminised space of the department store as an appropriate realm for the male draper.

 

INFORMATION


The conference is open to all interested participants.

 

The conference will be held at the University of Wolverhampton, Millennium City Building, rooms MC331 and MC301 (the two rooms are on the same floor). Registration and refreshments will be in Room MC331. The Millennium City Building is located on City Campus Wulfruna (South), a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations. For directions see http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=6856

 

Access to the building is via Main Reception in MA Building (also located on City Campus Wulfruna (South).

 

The fee is £26

 

To register and pay the fee, please complete the on-line registration form, available here

 

If you prefer to pay by cheque, lease use the paper registration form, available here.

 

For further information, please e-mail: Karen Dannehl: k.dannehl@wlv.ac.uk or Laura Ugolini: l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk 

 

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Page author: Laura Ugolini
Last updated: September 2014