London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Miscellaneous articles.
I HAVE in a former page specified some of the goods which make up the sum of the -hand miscellaneous commerce of the streets of London.
I may premise that the trader of this class is a sort of street broker; and it is no more possible minutely to detail his especial traffic in the several articles of his stock, than it would be to give a specific account of each and several of the "sundries" to be found in the closets or corners of an oldfurni- ture broker's or marine-store seller's premises, in describing his general business.
The members of this trade (as will be shown in the subsequent statements) are also "miscellaneous" in their character. A few have known liberal educations, and have been established in liberal professions; others have been artisans or shopkeepers, but the mass are of the general class of street-sellers.
I will treat of the , giving a wide interpretation to the word "amusement."
The backgammon, chess, draught, and cribbageboards of the -hand trade have originally been of good quality—some indeed of a very superior manufacture; otherwise the "cheap Germans" (as I heard the low-priced foreign goods from the swag-shops called) would by their superior cheapness have rendered the business a nullity. The backgammon-boards are bought of brokers, when they are often in a worn, unhinged, and what may be called ragged condition. The street-seller "trims them up," but in this there is nothing of artisanship, although it requires some little taste and some dexterity of finger. A new hinge or , or old hinges re-screwed, and a little pasting of leather and sometimes the application of strips of bookbinder's gold, is all that is required. The backgammon-boards are sometimes offered in the streets by an itinerant; sometimes (and more frequently than otherwise in a deplorable state, the points of the table being hardly distinguishable) they are part of the furniture of a -hand stall. I have seen at an old book-stall, but most usually they are vended by being hawked to the better sort of public-houses, and there they are more frequently disposed of by raffle than by sale. It is not once in a times, I am informed, that secondhand "men" are sold with the board. Before the board has gone through its series of hands to the street-seller, the men have been lost or scattered. New men are sometimes sold or raffled with the backgammon-boards (as with the draught) at from to the set, the best being of box-wood.
Chess-boards and men—for without the men of
|course a draught, or the top of a backgammonboard suffices for chess—are a commodity now rarely at the disposal of the street-sellers; and, as these means of a leisurely and abstruse amusement are not of a ready sale, the secondhand dealers do not "look out" for them, but merely speculate in them when the article "falls in their way" and seems a palpable bargain. Occasionally, a -hand chess apparatus is still sold by the street-folk. man—upon whose veracity I have every reason to rely—told me that he once sold a beautiful set of ivory men and a handsome "leather board" (-hand) to a gentleman who accosted him as he saw him carry them along the street for sale, inviting him to step in doors, when the gentleman's residence was reached. The chess-men were then arranged and examined, and the seller asked for them, at once closing with the offer of ; "for I found, sir," he said, "I had a gentleman to do with, for he told me he thought they were really cheap at , and he would give me that." Another dealer in -hand articles, when I asked him if he had ever sold chess-boards and men, replied, "Only twice, sir, and then at and the set; they was poor. I've seen chess played, and I should say it's a rum game; but I know nothing about it. I once had a old gent for a customer, and he was as nice and quiet a old gent as could be, and I always called on him when I thought I had a curus old tea-caddy, or knife-box, or anything that way. He didn't buy once in calls, but he always gave me something for my trouble. He used to play at chess with another old gent, and if, after his servant had told him I'd come, I waited 'til I could wait no longer, and then knocked at his room door, he swore like a trooper.|
Draught-boards are sold at from to -hand. Cribbage-boards, also -hand, and sometimes with cards, are only sold, I am informed, when they are very bad, at from to , or very good, at from to street-seller told me that he once sold a "Chinee" cribbage-board for , which cost him "It was a most beautiful thing," he stated, "and was very high-worked, and was inlaid with ivory, and with green ivory too."
The Dice required for the playing of backgammon, or for any purpose, are bought of the waiters at the club-houses, generally at the dozen sets. They are retailed at about per cent. profit. Dice in this way are readily disposed of by the street-people, as they are looked upon as "true," and are only about a of the price they could be obtained for new ones in the duly-stamped covers. A few dice are sold at to the set, but they are old and battered.
There are but men who support themselves wholly by the street-sale and the hawking of the different boards, &c., I have described. There are , , or sometimes occasional participants in the trade. Of these held a commission in Her Majesty's service, but was ruined by gaming, and when unable to live by any other means, he sells the implements with which he had been but too familiar. "He lost everything in ," a man who was sometimes his comrade in the sale of these articles said to me, "but he is a very gentlemanly and respectable man."
The profits in this trade are very uncertain. A man who was engaged in it told me that week he had cleared , and the next, with greater pains-taking, did not sell a single thing.
The other articles which are a portion of the -hand miscellaneous trade of this nature are sold as often, or more often, at stalls than elsewhere. Dominoes, for instance, may be seen in the winter, and they are offered only in the winter, on perhaps stalls. They are sold at from a set, and I heard of superior set which were described to me as "brass-pinned," being sold in a handsome box for , the shop price having been The great sale of dominoes is at Christmas.
Pope-Joan boards, which, I was told, were years ago sold readily in the streets, and were examined closely by the purchasers (who were mostly the wives of tradesmen), to see that the print or paint announcing the partitions for "intrigue," "matrimony," "friendship," "Pope," &c., were perfect, are now never, or rarely, seen. Formerly the price was to In the present year I could hear of but man who had even offered a Pope-board for sale in the street, and he sold it, though almost new, for
"Fish," or the bone, ivory, or mother-o'--pearl card counters in the shape of fish, or sometimes in a circular form, used to be sold -hand as freely as the Pope-boards, and are now as rarely to be seen.
Until about years ago, as well as I can fix upon a term from the information I received, the apparatus for a game known as the "Devil among the tailors" was a portion of the miscellaneous -hand trade or hawking of the streets. In it a top was set spinning on a long board, and the result depended upon the number of men, or "tailors," knocked down by the "devil" (top) of each player, these tailors being stationed, numbered, and scored (when knocked down) in the same way as when the balls are propelled into the numbered sockets in a bagatelle-board. I am moreover told that in the same -hand calling were boards known as "solitaire-boards." These were round boards, with a certain number of holes, in each of which was a peg. peg was removed at the selection of the player, and the game consisted in taking each remaining peg, by advancing another over its head into any vacant hole, and if at the end of the game only peg remained in the board, the player won; if winning it could be called when the game could only be played by person, and was for "solitary" amusement. Chinese puzzles, sometimes on a large scale, were then also a part of the -hand traffic of the streets. These are a series of thin woods in geometrical shapes, which may be fitted into certain forms or patterns contained in a book, or on a sheet. These puzzles are sold in the streets
|still, but in smaller quantity and diminished size. Different games played with the teetotum were also a part of -hand street-sale, but none of these bygone pastimes were vended to any extent.|
From the best data I have been able to obtain it appears that the amount received by the streetsellers or street-hawkers in the sale of these -hand articles of amusement is weekly, about half being profit, divided in the proportions I have intimated, as respects the number of streetsellers and the periods of sale; or expended yearly.
I should have stated that the principal customers of this branch of -hand traders are found in the public-houses and at the cigar-shops, where the goods are carried by street-sellers, who hawk from place to place.
These dealers also attend the neighbouring, and, frequently in the summer, the more distant races, where for dice and the better quality of their "boards," &c., they generally find a prompt market. The sale at the fairs consists only of the lowest-priced goods, and in a very scant proportion compared to the races.