While stores and shops have been around since ancient times, it wasn't until the late 18th c. that "shopping" became a verb, an activity that began to acquire as much importance as the object being purchased.
The Industrial Revolution created not only many more items available for purchase, but also a middle class full of customers with money to spend. Advances in printing technology also led to more imaginative ways for shopkeepers to advertise their wares. By the middle of the 19th c., savvy merchants were beginning to offer paper bags printed with their shop's names and addresses, a kind of walking advertisement that's still popular with today's shoppers in the local mall.
The early printed paper bag, left, from the 1850s is a rare survivor. The pleated-bottom bag must have carried home some sort of tasty treat: it came from a combined cook, confectioner, and caterer in Stamford, Lincolnshire, UK, who also promised "full-licensed dining and refreshment rooms."
But the illustration on the bag adds much more. A group of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen (plus a few equally well-dressed children) are shown playing croquet on the lawn of Burghley House, a grand Elizabethan country house built by Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, and later the ancestral seat of his descendant, the Marquess of Exeter. The other side of the bag is printed with the romantic poem The Lord of Burghley, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to further reinforce the connection.
Decorating a humble paper bag with an image of a nobleman's home might simply have been civic pride, for Burghley House is the most spectacular landmark near Stamford. But it might also be an early example of "aspirational" marketing, implying that the sweets inside the bag will magically confer on the customer a bit of the elegant life shown on the outside.
This bag is from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, and is included in their current exhibition of recent acquisitions (through December 13, 2013). Their blog post highlights some of the other fascinating items included in the exhibition, from a 1926 Tent Revival Banner to a 15th c. genealogical chronicle that's 37 feet long, and traces the Kings of England all the way back to Adam and Eve.
Many thanks to Mitch Fraas, Bollinger Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, for his assistance with this post. Above: Paper Bag:J.T.Holmes, (Late Dawson) Cook, Confectioners, & Public Caterer, Full-Licensed Dining & Refreshment Rooms, 7, St. Mary's Street, Stamford. Birmingham: Martin Billing, Son and Co., Printers, c. 1850s. Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.