London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Curiosities.
SEVERAL of the things known in the street-trade as "curiosities" can hardly be styled -hand with any propriety, but they are so styled in the streets, and are usually vended by street-merchants who trade in -hand wares.
Curiosities are displayed, I cannot say temptingly (except perhaps to a sanguine antiquarian), for there is a great dinginess in the display, on stalls. man whom I met wheeling his barrow in , Camden-town, gave me an account of his trade. He was dirtily rather than meanly clad, and had a very self-satisfied expression of face. The principal things on his barrow were , and , with a pair of the very high and wooden-heeled , worn in the earlier part of the last century.
The coins were all of copper, and certainly did not lack variety. Among them were tokens, but none very old. There was the head of "Charles Marquis Cornwallis" looking fierce in a cocked hat, while on the reverse was Fame with her trumpet and a wreath, and banners at her feet, with the superscription: "His fame resounds from east to west." There was a head of Wellington with the date , and the legend of "Vincit amor patriæ." Also "The R. Hon. W. Pitt, Lord Warden Cinque Ports," looking courtly in a bag wig, with his hair brushed from his brow into what the curiosity-seller called a "topping." This was announced as a "Cinque Ports token payable at Dover," and was dated . "Wellingtons," said the man, "is cheap; that 's only a halfpenny, but here's here, sir, as you seem to understand coins, as I hope to get for, and will take no less. It's 'J. Lackington, ,' you see, and on the back there's a Fame, and round her is written—and it's a good speciment of a coin —'Halfpenny of Lackington, Allen & Co., cheapest booksellers in the world.' That's scarcer and more vallyballer than Wellingtons or Nelsons either." Of the current coin of the realm, I saw none older than Charles II., and but of his reign, and little legible. Indeed the reverse had been ground quite smooth, and some had engraved upon it "Charles Dryland Tunbridg." A small "e" over the "g" of Tunbridg perfected the orthography. This, the street-seller said, was a "love-token" as well as an old coin, and "them love-tokens was getting scarce." Of foreign and colonial coins there were perhaps . The oldest I saw was of Louis XV. of France and Navarre, . There was also of the "Republique Francaise" when Napoleon was Consul. The colonial coins were more numerous
|than the foreign. There was the " Penny token" of Lower Canada; the " quarter anna" of the East India Company; the "half stiver of the colonies of Essequibo and Demarara;" the "halfpenny token of the province of Nova Scotia," &c. &c. There were also counterfeit halfcrowns and bank tokens worn from their simulated silver to rank copper. The principle on which this man "priced" his coins, as he called it, was simple enough. What was the size of a halfpenny he asked a penny for; the size of a penny coin was "It's a difficult trade is mine, sir," he said, "to carry on properly, for you may be so easily taken in, if you're not a judge of coins and other curiosities."
The shells of this man's stock in trade he called "conks" and "king conks." He had no "clamps" then, he told me, but they sold pretty well; he described them as " shells together, fitting inside the other." He also had sold what he called "African cowries," which were as "big as a pint pot," and the smaller cowries, which were "money in India, for his father was a soldier and had been there and saw it." The shells are sold from to
The old buckles were such as used to be worn on shoes, but the plate was all worn off, and "such like curiosities," the man told me, "got scarcer and scarcer."
Many of the stalls which are seen in the streets are the property of adjacent shop or storekeepers, and there are not now, I am informed, more than men who carry on this trade apart from other commerce. Their average takings are weekly each man, about -thirds being profit, or in a year. Some of the stands are in Great Wyld-street, but they are chiefly the property of the -hand furniture brokers.