A Bit of Background...
I had the opportunity to participate in the Civilian Town of Purdy for the 150th Anniversary of Shiloh by the Blue Gray Alliance. This gave me a chance to explore a new method of civilian re-enacting at a large "battle event." I was impressed with the possibilities of this event model. When the opportunity to participate in the Civilian Town of Gettysburg at the Blue Gray Alliance 150th Gettysburg came up, I wanted to come up with something special.
One goal of these civilian towns was to give civilian re-enactors a chance to create a "camp" that was a bit more like a "town," only with canvas standing in for permanent buildings. A few hearty souls dared to select artisanal crafts and aid societies to "display", but most selected to feature a canvas home. With a firm belief that homes are only a start to creating a "town," I wanted to add some period commerce to Gettysburg.
I am a tailor of re-enactment attire "in real life" and recently added in a ready-mades line. I am often called upon to illustrate the various layers of civilian clothing worn by people of the mid 19th century. I have created clothing for several mannequins to demonstrate this. In short, at any given time, I have a lot of 19th century clothes I can call on.
A favorite topic of mine is how people of the 19th century acquired their clothing. Putting my clothing stash together with a desire to add commerce to Gettysburg and share how people acquired clothing... I chose to portray a second-hand clothing dealer.
Clothing Dealers of the 19th century:
In an era when clothing patterning was still in the hands of elite artisans, every garment produced must be used to it's full. The second-hand clothing markets answer this need in many ways. Modern folks tend to hear "second hand" and associate with inferior goods and inferior work, worn by inferior people. Such associations tell only one small part of the second-hand story.
How clothing becomes "second hand" in the 19th century:
- Garments produced by tailors or dress-makers that have gone unclaimed by the customers for whom they were produced might be sold to a second-hand dealer for re-sale.
- Wardrobe from someone who passed on might be sold to a second-hand dealer by surviving relatives.
- Garments might be sold to a second-hand dealer to off-set financial obligations or facilitate a new purchase.
- Prisoners, Asylum Inmates, and Poorhouse Inmates might have garments sold to a second-hand dealer to pay for their treatment. (There's a good reason second-hand dealers are known as "ghouls" and "vultures" in period literature.)
A person starting as a second-hand clothing dealer would begin with a pack basket of clothing and travel from town to town, stopping at farms along the way. When business picks up, he might acquire a cart or wheelbarrow and may decide to stay closer to an urban area. He would make a point to attend the Market Day given in most small towns. Some larger urban areas had a market building and clothing dealers were quick to rent stalls there. A few clothing dealers would acquire buildings of their own for their enterprises.
The occupation appealed to many recent immigrants.
|Canal Street Market in Cincinnati, Ohio ca. 1860 by Henry Mosler||Notice the clothing stall on the left, as indicated by the cage crinoline hanging from a fly peg|
We acquired the 1860 Federal Census for Gettysburg early in the research process. There was no market building listed, but quite a few listings of "clothing" in the "occupation" category. I knew from other census research that "clothing" as an occupation might mean two things, either a second-hand clothing dealer or a ready-mades dealer. Voila, I could be in Gettysburg as a second-hand clothing dealer and it's supported by the census.
What's the difference?
A ready-mades clothing store is filled with clothing that not been owned or worn before. Second-hand clothing has been owned and likely worn before. Ready-mades is like Old Navy, Second-Hand is like a thrift shop.
Because second-hand grew out of pack baskets and market stalls, some disorganization was needed. Clothing was sorted into loose categories and then displayed in piles. The customer sorts through for things they like, they hold them up to assess fit, and they buy or not. A few items might be featured on pegs along the wall.
|Piles of sorted mens' and boys' clothing on one of two tables|
|The two tables and a peg in between them|
My "shop" was a tent fly attached to a tent, so I had a ready supply of "pegs" for as long as my tent was supported. I added two tables (yep, modern plastic folding tables... period folding tables would have been ideal, but one works with what one has.)
|Tent Posts filling in as "pegs" for "better items"|
I chose a unique method of shop identification that may have been an "inside info" item missed by many. Painted lettering in the glass windows was used extensively in the 19th century to identify and advertise shops. We read accounts of damage to shops in Gettysburg due to vandalism and looting several days before we were to portray. I chose to "think like a 19th century person" and cover my "broken window" with a blanket and attach a paper identifying my shop. This let me get by with a less professional looking sign and added a conversational bit.
|Blanket covered "window" with paper shop sign|
Interactions with others:
I now had physical space, inventory, and background history... next up was customers. Shopping in the 19th century is different than shopping today in many ways. I put together both an introduction sheet and an FAQ to illustrate some of these differences for fellow participants.
One of my greatest failures in this was the confusion of my enterprise with a merchant of re-enactment goods (sutlers), like those seen at most events. "Is it *really* for sale?" was heard more times than I can count. To my great shame and embarrassment, I responded less than graciously to some of the latter friends who asked.
If I were to do this impression again, I would insist that all garments are "props for interaction."
Event organizers brought up how accounting and inventory control would be handled. We agreed the period method of credit accounts that must be settled up would work nicely. I created personal account books for this purpose. For inventory control purposes, we also agreed that only persons associated with "our town" would be allowed to make purchases.
A typical interaction:
The customer enters and expresses they are interested in a certain garment, say a girl's pinafore. They are directed to the pile of aprons and pinafores. They look through and find one they like. They ask, "how much?"
The haggling begins. (like a modern used car purchase, the quoted price is just a starting point for negotiation of the purchase price.)
We come to agreement on the price.
I list the purchase in the customer's account book and in my day book.
Off the customer goes with a new (to them) pinafore and their personal account book.
At the end of the day, I transfer the listings from my day book to the account ledgers (which are organized by customer's name.)
When the customer comes in to settle up, the personal account book and my account ledger must agree or we look for errors.
I greatly appreciated those who did attempt to interact with me appropriately. I regret the confusion for those who misunderstood the sales status. I hope fellow participants learned a bit about shopping in period.
Thanks to N.W. Briggs for the photographs of my display. Please do not mine without permission and credit. Thanks. :-)