London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cacophony of sound in the Victorian streets was the chanting of the "Patterers", either moving or stationary. In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew devoted an entire chapter to an investigation of the artistry, lives and habits of these Londoners. In the next of our extracts we meet the sellers of the forerunners of the picture-postcard and of playing cards. The most popular "tourist" site seems to have been the Crystal Palace which was newly erected in Hyde Park But the Police moved in .
OF THE STREET-SELLERS OF GELATINE, OF ENGRAVED, AND OF PLAYING CARDS, etc.
There are yet other cards, the sale of which is carried on in the streets; of these, the principal traffic has lately been in "gelatines" (gelatine cards). Those in the greatest demand contain representations of the Crystal Palace, the outlines of the structure being given in gold delineation on the deep purple, or mulberry, of the smooth and shining gelatine. These cards are sold in blank envelopes, for the convenience of posting them as a present to a country friend; or of keeping them unsoiled, if they are retained as a memento of a visit to so memorable a building. The principal sale was on Sunday mornings, in Hyde Park, and to the visitors who employed that day to enjoy the sight of the "palace."
But on the second Sunday in February (in 1850)- as well as my informant could recollect, for almost all street-traders will tell you, if not in the same words as one patterer used, that their recollections are "not worth an old button without a neck" - the police "put down" the sale of these Exhibition cards in the Park, as well as that of cakes, tarts, gingerbread, and such like dainties. This was a bitter disappointment to a host of street-sellers, who looked forward very sanguinely to the profits they might realise when the Great Exhibition was in full operation, and augured ill to their prospects from this interference. I am inclined to think, that, on this occasion, the feelings of animosity entertained by the card-sellers towards the police and the authorities were even bitterer than I have described as affecting the costermongers.
"Why," said one man, "when I couldn't be let sell my cards, I thrust my hands into my empty pockets, and went among the crowd near the Great Exhibition place to look about me. There was plenty of ladies and gentlemen -say about 12 o'clock at Sunday noon, and as many as could be. Plenty of 'em had nice paper bags of biscuits, or cakes, that, of course, they'd bought that morning at a pastrycook's, and they handed 'em to their party. Some had newspapers they was reading -about the Exhibition, I dare say - papers which was bought, and, perhaps, was printed that very blessed morning; but for us to offer to earn a crust then -oh, it's agen the law. In course it is."
Some of the gelatine cards contain pieces of poetry, in letters of gold, always - at least, I could hear of no exceptions - of a religious or sentimental character. "A Hymn," "The Child's Prayer," "The Christian's Hope," "To Eliza," "To a Daisy," "Forget-me-not," and "Affection's Tribute," were among the titles. Some contained love-verses, and might be used for valentines, and some a sentimental song.
In the open-air sale, nearly all the traffic was in "Exhibition gelatines," and the great bulk were sold in and near Hyde Park. For two or three months, from as soon as the glass palace had been sufficiently elevated to command public attention, there were daily, I am told, 20 persons selling those cards in the Park and its vicinity, and more than twice that number on Sundays. One man told me, that, on one fine bright Sunday, the sale being principally in the morning, he had sold 10 dozen, with a profit of about 5s. On week-days three dozen was a good sale; but on wet, cold, or foggy days, none at all could be disposed of. If, therefore, we take as an average the sale of two dozen daily per each individual, and three dozen on a Sunday, we find that 180 was expended on street sold "gelatines." The price to the retailer is 5d. a dozen, with 1d. or 1 d. for a dozen of the larger-sized envelopes, so leaving the usual profit - cent. per cent. The sellers were not a distinct class, but in the hands of the less enterprising of the paper-workers or patterers. The "poetry gelatines" were hardly offered at all in the streets, except by a few women and children, with whom it was a pretext for begging. Of "engraved" Exhibition-cards, sold under similar circumstances, there might be one third as many sold as of the gelatines, or an expenditure of 60.
The sale of playing-cards is only for a brief interval. It is most brisk for a couple of weeks before Christmas, and is hardly ever attempted in any season but the winter. The price varies from 1d. to 6d., but very rarely 6d.; and seldom more than 3d. the pack. The sellers for the most part announce their wares as "New cards. New playing-cards. Two-pence a pack." This subjects the sellers (the cards being unstamped) to a penalty of 10, a matter of which the street-traders know and care nothing; but there is no penalty on the sale of second-hand cards. The best of the cards are generally sold by the street-sellers to the landlords of the public-houses and beer-shops where the customers are fond of a "hand at cribbage," a "cut-in at whist," or a "game at all fours," or "all fives." A man whose business led him to public-houses told me that for some years he had not observed any other games to be played there, but he had heard an old tailor say that in his youth, fifty years ago, "put" was a common public-house game. The cheaper cards are frequently imperfect packs. If there be the full number of fifty-two, some perhaps are duplicates, and others are consequently wanting. If there be an ace of spades, it is unaccompanied by those flourishes which in the duly stamped cards set off the announcement, "Duty, One Shilling;" and sometimes a blank card supplies its place. The smaller shop-keepers usually prefer to sell playing-cards with a piece cut off each corner, so as to give them the character of being second-hand; but the street-sellers prefer vending them without this precaution. The cards - which are made up from the waste and spoiled cards of the makers - are bought chiefly, by the retailers, at the "swag shops."
Playing cards are more frequently sold with other articles - such as almanacks -than otherwise. From the information I obtained, it appears that if twenty dozen packs of cards are sold daily for fourteen days, it is about the quantity, but rather within it. The calculation was formed on the supposition that there might be twenty street playing-card sellers, each disposing (allowing for the hinderances of bad weather, etc.), of one dozen packs daily. Taking the average price at 3d. a pack, we find an outlay of 42 The sale used to be far more considerable and at higher prices, and was "often a good spec. on a country round."
There is still another description of cards sold in the streets of London; viz., conversation cards; but the quantity disposed of is so trifling as to require no special comment.
Links to the other articles in the series.
The London Street Patterers
The Origins of Patterers
The Morals of Patterers
The Patterers' Street Literature
The Running Patterer
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Second Edition
The Standing Patterers: I
Pattering Religious and Political Dialogues
The sham of Indecent Street Trade
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part I
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part II
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part III
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part IV
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part V
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part VI
Of The Abodes, Tricks, Marriage, Character, And Characteristics Of The Different Grades Of Patterers - Part VII
The Street Card Sellers I
The Street Card Sellers II
The Street Card Sellers III
The complete text of London Labour and the London Poor can be found on-line as part of the Perseus Project.