London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Glass and Crockery.
THESE sellers are another class who are fast disappearing from the streets of London. Before glass and crockery, but more especially glass, became so low-priced when new, the -hand glass-man was of the most prosperous of the open-air traders; he is now so much the reverse that he must generally mix up some other calling with his original business. man, whose address was given to me as an experienced glassman, I found selling mackarel and "pound crabs," and complaining bitterly that mackarel were high, and that he could make nothing out of them that week at each, for poor persons, he told me, would not give more. "Yes, sir," he said, "I've been in most trades, besides having been a pot-boy, both boy and man, and I don't like this fish-trade at all. I could get a pot-boy's place again, but I'm not so strong as I were, and it's slavish work in the place I could get; and a man that's not so young as he was once is chaffed so by the young lads and fellows in the tap-room and the skittle-ground. For this last year or more I had to do something in addition to my glass for a crust. Before I dropped it as a bad consarn, I sold old shoes as well as old glass, and made both ends meet that way, a leather end and a glass end. I sold off my glass to a rag and bottle shop for , far less than it were worth, and I swopped my shoes for my fish-stall, and water-tub, and in money. I'll be out of this trade before long. The glass was good once; I've made my and a week at it: I don't know how long that is ago, but it's a good long time. Latterly I could do no business at all in it, or hardly any. The old shoes was middling, because they're a free-selling thing, but somehow it seems awkward mixing up any other trade with your glass."
The stall or barrow of a "-hand glassman" presented, and still, in a smaller degree,
|presents, a variety of articles, and a variety of colours, but over the whole prevails that haziness which seems to be considered proper to this trade. Even in the largest rag and bottle shops, the -hand bottles always look dingy. "It wouldn't pay to wash them all," said shopkeeper to me, "so we washes none; indeed, I b'lieve people would rather buy them as they is, and clean them themselves."
The street-assortment of -hand glass may be described as of "odds and ends"—odd goblets, odd wine-glasses, odd decanters, odd cruetbottles, salt-cellars, and mustard-pots; together with a variety of "tops" to fit mustard-pots or butter-glasses, and of "stoppers" to fit any sized bottle, the latter articles being generally the most profitable. Occasionally may still be seen a blue spirit-decanter, of a set of , with "brandy," in faded gold letters, upon it, or a brass or plated label, as dingy as the bottle, hung by a fine wirechain round the neck. Blue finger-glasses sold very well for use as sugar-basins to the wives of the better-off working-people or small tradesmen. man, apparently about , who had been in this trade in his youth, and whom I questioned as to what was the quality of his stock, told me of the demand for "blue sugars," and pointed out to me which happened to be on a stand by the door of a rag and bottle shop. When I mentioned its original use, he asked further about it, and after my answers seemed sceptical on the subject. "People that's quality," he said, "that's my notion on it, that hasn't neither to yarn their dinner, nor to cook it, but just open their mouths and eat it, can't dirty their hands so at dinner as to have glasses to wash 'em in arterards. But there's queer ways everywhere."
At time what were called "doctors' bottles" formed a portion of the -hand stock I am describing. These were phials bought by the poorer people, in which to obtain some physician's gratuitous prescription from the chemist's shop, or the timehonoured nostrum of some wonderful old woman. For a very long period, it must be borne in mind, all kinds of glass wares were dear. Small glass frames, to cover flower-roots, were also sold at these stalls, as were fragments of looking-glass. Beneath his stall or barrow, the "old glass-man" often had a few old wine or beer-bottles for sale.
At the period before cast-glass was so common, and, indeed, subsequently, until glass became cheap, it was not unusual to see at the secondhand stalls, rich cut-glass vessels which had been broken and cemented, for sale at a low figure, the glass-man being often a mender. It was the same with China punch-bowls, and the costlier kind of dishes, but this part of the trade is now unknown.
There is curious sort of ornament still to be met with at these stalls—wide-mouthed bottles, embellished with coloured patterns of flowers, birds, &c., generally cut from "furniture prints," and kept close against the sides of the interior by the salt with which the bottles are filled. A few -hand pitchers, tea-pots, &c., are still sold at from to
There are now not above men (of the ordi- nary street-selling class) who carry on this trade regularly. Sometimes stalls or barrows may be seen; sometimes , and sometimes none. Calculating that each of the dealers takes weekly, with a profit of or , we find expended in this department of street-commerce. The principal place for the trade is in , Whitechapel.