Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mall Chick

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Susan reports:

No matter how grim the economy may be, we Americans do love our shopping malls. (I'm no exception, living right down the road from the Mall-Heaven that is King of Prussia.) A mall is a bright, cheery place for seeing and being seen as well as for buying everything from soft pretzels to washing machines and designer dresses. All the must-haves from around the world are collected in one place for the convenience of consumers and the profits of merchants.

Yet as All-American as the mall may seem, it’s hardly new. Sixteenth-century Londoners would feel right at home at our local Galleria. Merchant Sir Thomas Gresham built the first Royal Exchange in 1566, as a lasting tribute to his generosity and wealth ––and, of course, to keep the coins flowing into the family coffers. Based on similar buildings on the Continent, the Exchange was a large quadrangle with two floors of shops surrounding an open courtyard. This courtyard was a favorite place for a rendezvous or a quick snack, as well as for spotting the next trend in starched ruffs. While visitors (“shopping” and “shoppers” are 19th century terms) could buy prosaic items like mousetraps, there were high-end shops, too, selling French lace, Italian gold necklaces, and hats made from New World beaver-skins. Nothing quite like Build-a-Bear or Wicks’n’Stix, but pretty close.

After being dedicated in 1570 by Queen Elizabeth I, the first Royal Exchange had a good long run as the center of mercantile activity in Cornhill until it became one of the victims of the Great Fire of 1666. It was also one of the first structures to be rebuilt, bigger and better, to survive until another fire in 1838. The present Royal Exchange still stands on the same lot that Gresham purchased for £3500.

The picture to the right is of the Royal Exchange in 1644, engraved by Wenceslas Hollar. Above left is a 17th century consumer (aka "Winter", also by Wenceslas Hollar), with the belltower of the Exchange in the background.

9 comments:

Loretta Chase said...

Love the mall chick.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yeah, I always go to the mall in a velvet mask and draped with furs.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Oh, man! That outfit is wild!

Sadly, I've never been to the Royal Exchange. Is it still used as a shopping mall?

Susan, the King of Prussia Mall is absolute heaven - I grew up in South Jersey, and it was always an exciting day when my mother and I made the trip up the Schuykill Expressway to the mall. DH and I dropped in last year on the way home to Canada, and it's even more fab than I remember. Plus, it's the best name for a mall in the world!

Thanks for a great way to start the day,TNHG!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Vanessa, here's the link to the modern Royal Exchange. The building may be nearly 200 years old, but I have to say the list of stores is pretty much the same as K of P:

http://www.theroyalexchange.com

I grew up in North Jersey, where all (shopping) roads led to the mecca of Paramus, so I totally understand.

King of Prussia IS a great name for a mall. It's named for the town, which was named for the 18th c. tavern, which was named for King Frederick the Great of Prussia. Whew. Anyway, if that's not enough info, here's more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_of_Prussia_Inn

ConnieG said...

Another fascinating post. Might I ask the purpose of her mask? Is it to protect against the cold, like a ski mask? Sort looks like a super-hero!

knitlit kate said...

the ninja mask creeps me out! but then again, so does mall hair. great post.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yeah, the masks are bizarro. They serve several purposes: first, they did help protect the skin against the cold. Second, they're a style-statement. Third, they 're to help hide one's identity. This can either be to protect yourself from the prying eyes of strange men for modesty's sake, so a "nice" woman can go with her friends to the playhouse. Or it can mean that you're anything but modest, and would rather not be recognized as you embark on an intrigue with a lover. In the later 1660s, there's a special kind of mask called a vizard that becomes so popular that the term itself becomes slang for the women who wear them. All of which is probably best saved for another blog.:)

But I do like the idea of a Restoration Ninja....

Vanessa Kelly said...

Thanks for the links, Susan!

Ditto on loving the Restoration Ninja.

ConnieG said...

Thank you for the follow-up. I hope you do a blog on masks in the future. They're a strange fashion & I'd like to hear more.
When I wrote super-hero, I must have been thinking "ninja" too because that's what she does look like.

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