Tuesday, 11 March 2014

1 June 1889 - 'Our American Sale and How We Worked It' by T.B.W.

TL;DR (although as the banner image for this blog points out, there was no such thing in The Olden Days): an 'American Sale' is a jumble sale in which the donated goods are sold directly to the poor of the local parish, the proceeds of which sale go towards continued work for the good of said poor.

To those whose lot it is to work among the poor in London or any large city, it becomes a very pressing problem – How, with strictly limited resources, are we to meet the constantly increasing demand for aid in cases of sickness or poverty?  I am sure that all who do work of this kind – district visitors, Sunday-school teachers, and others, of whom there are many among the readers of THE GIRL’S OWN PAPER – have often wondered how they are to meet the demands made upon them. The visitor – the “visiting-lady” – as the poor call her – when she goes her rounds, finds that the cases of sickness or want caused by the bread-winner being out of work are, as a rule, far more than the slender monthly allowance for relief will enable her to help as she would like to do, and she feels that it is very hard to have to go on in the work without enough of money to supply the sick and needy. And then in every parish and district there are sure to be very deserving objects in want of funds. The “Mothers’ Meeting” may be in debt; the Sunday-school library may sorely need some new books; the Temperance Society may find it hard to make both ends meet; the day schools may want help of one kind or another. It does not always do to look to the same people over and over again for support, and it is always desirable to extend the circle of money-givers, and make all who possibly can help in good works.

An “American Sale” provides a most excellent method of raising money, and it has the advantage of drawing it from other than the ordinary sources of parochial revenue; and the poor have a direct interest in making it a success, as the larger the receipts are they directly or indirectly benefited.

Now some of my readers may naturally ask, “What is an American Sale?”  Well, the answer, shortly, is this: - An American Sale is a sale of all kinds of clothing, household requisites, furniture, carpets, etc., etc., which are contributed by kind friends to be sold to the poor of a parish. I do not mean new articles, but the clearing out of wardrobes and houses of many things which their original owners would never either wear or use again, but which prove very acceptable to their poorer neighbours. Why this should be called an “American” sale I know not; perhaps the idea originated there; but the scheme is a most excellent one, as our experience will show. It has been tried, I believe, in several places with very great success, and it is with the idea of making its usefulness more widely known, that I venture to describe it in this article. Some people may object, and say that the poor are not likely to buy these kind of things, or that it is only in certain places that it may succeed. All I can say is, just try it, and if your district is anything like the one I have in my mind, where our experience is gained (a parish within ten miles of London), I do not think you will find it fail.

Let me now describe how we set to work, and what success attended our efforts. First and foremost, it is necessary to get someone to act as secretary, who must be exact and methodical in the work; it will not do to go about it in a slipshod way. We were most fortunate in securing the services of a gentleman who entered into it most zealously and systematically. A committee of ladies, nearly all district visitors, was then formed to collect articles for the sale. Then a circular was drawn up by our secretary, stating the things most likely to sell well, and this, as you will see, was a most exhaustive one. Here is the substance of it. It began by stating that an American sale would be held on such a date, and in such a place, and requested contributions from friends of any of the following articles:

“Upper and under clothing for men, women and children, especially cloth clothes and flannel garments, socks, stockings, collars, scarves, handkerchiefs, gloves, neckties, boots and shoes (especially women’s and children’s slippers), hats, caps, bonnets, bed-linen, table-linen, umbrellas and parasols, pieces of floor-cloth and linoleum, and carpet in strips (if not too large to be sent in a parcel), mats, rugs, curtains and fittings, articles of furniture if in fair repair (but not large ones if sent from a distance), perambulators, bedding, and blankets; toys of all kinds, children’s picture books, Christmas, birthday and other cards (if not written on), pictures in frames or mounted on cardboard; razors, scissors, smoking pipes, purses, etc., etc.; crockery, china, glass (but not jam pots or ordinary bottles), old dinner, breakfast, and tea services, or parts thereof (but crockery and brittle goods should not be sent from a distance), hardware, kitchen utensils, brushes etc., kettles and scuttles, but these should all be in good repair (leaky saucepans are of no use); knives, forks, spoons, etc. N.B. – Iron or other heavy goods and very bulky things should not be sent from a distance. Small contributions of money will be gladly received from those members of _____ Parish and congregation who are unable to help in other ways.”

Such was the circular we sent out, and I think the reader will admit that it was of a fairly exhaustive character, and that there are few households which could not furnish some articles, useful or ornamental, to place upon the stalls.

In most places it would not be difficult to get together enough articles to attempt a sale, at least on a small scale.

When we had sent out our circular a reasonable time was allowed to elapse, and then the exact date was fixed. The next question which arose was with regard to the tickets of admission. We found that the poor in all the districts were very ready and willing to secure them. At our first sale we had two classes of tickets; those at twopence admitted the holders in the sales half an hour before the holders of tickets at a penny each; but we found after the first experiment that this did not answer, and we have since then only issued tickets at twopence each, and opened the door to all at the same hour. These tickets were bought up most eagerly by the people; the only restriction to the district visitors (through whom the tickets were sold) was that they should not sell them to any persons who had shops for the sale of “old clothes”.

A few days before the sale the things begin to come in, and they are received by various kind friends in the parish, who take care of them until the day of the sale.

When that important occasion arrives, the heterogenous collection of goods, consisting of all kinds of clothing, carpets, books, pictures, crockery, ironmongery, lamps, etc., which had been sent to the various centres, was collected and brought to the parochial schools, where the sale was held. This was done early in the day, and then the various stallholders came and commenced the work of pricing those things which were allotted to them. To this they were guided on the first occasion by an experienced hand in these matters, but the sellers quickly learned what the things were worth. As a rule to each stall we appointed two or three ladies and one or two gentlemen, whose duty it was to protect the sellers when the rush came. We generally divide our goods among the following stalls:-

1. Men’s clothing
2. Women’s clothing
3. Hats, bonnets and umbrellas (at this stall remember to have a looking-glass)
4. Fancy articles (this includes pictures, books, ornaments, toys, etc.)
5. Carpets and curtains
6. Crockery and china of all kinds
7. Ironmongery
8. Underclothing for women and children, and men’s collars and ties, etc.
9. Boots and shoes of all kinds
And last, not least, a refreshment stall where for a penny a cup of tea and biscuits or cake could be procured. This stall was very fairly patronised when our numerous clients had exhausted themselves and their purses, and met together to discuss their bargains.

These various stalls were ranged round the walls of the school rooms, and in front of them a stout barrier of timber and rope was fixed to prevent the crowd getting in the way of the sellers. It was found desirable to secure the services of two stalwart policemen, to prevent a rush at the first opening of the doors, and to watch over the proceedings generally.

Our hours were from 5 to 8 p.m., and, as we always hold the sales upon a Saturday, it seems to answer very well, it has never, however, been of so long continuance, as we are generally pretty well cleared out in a little over an hour. When the moment of opening draws near, every stallholder has to be at the post assigned to him or her. The moment the doors are opened the crowd, which has assembled outside some half hour previously, comes in with a rush. Like eagles upon their prey they swoop down upon the stalls, and the sellers have at first a very warm time of it.

The stalls which are at once most fiercely attacked are men’s clothing, women’s clothing, and the carpets. The last named is generally cleared out in about half an hour, which leads us to suppose that we, as a rule, price these things too low. Around a fairly good bit of carpet the battle of the purchasers rages very fiercely, and those whose duty it is to protect the fair saleswomen have no easy task of it. The rush on the men’s clothing stall is also very great, and in a marvellously short time it follows the example of the carpet and curtain stall, and the sellers are free to help others. It is quite a novel experience for those who are accustomed to ordinary bazaars, where every effort has to be made by the stallholders to attract oftentimes unwilling purchasers, to find themselves surrounded by a crowd who are only too anxious to buy, and whom it is necessary to repress in order that those who are not first in the field may have a chance of getting something.

The stall for hats, bonnets and umbrellas often affords no small amusement, and the looking-glass has a busy time of it, as all who try on the hats or bonnets must have a look to see how they suit the would be purchaser’s style of beauty. Among the men’s hats we found that silk hats were always a drug in the market; the British workman does not seem to care for such things, and often very good hats would not be taken on any terms. Felt or soft-cloth hats went very fast, but it is a curious thing that it was very difficult to find one to fit the working-classes. In almost every case the hats sent in by gentlemen were much too large. Whether this is due to a superior education and more reading, or not, it is hard to say, but in dozens of instances we found this was the case.

The boot and shoe stall is one which is much patronised; the articles there are often of a very miscellaneous kind, including wading stockings (sent in by some enthusiastic salmon fisher), dress boots, pumps, slippers, shooting boots, etc. Here there is apt to be a considerable congestion of purchasers, as it takes time to try on the boots, and it is necessary to have some space round the stall and some chairs or forms near at hand.

The ironmongery does not, as a rule, find so many customers, nor do we generally get in so many articles for this department, the reason being, I suppose, that while the things are fit for use, the owners do not part with them, and after that, it is not easy to find purchasers for a saucepan which, although it may be very clean and bright looking, yet refuses to hold what is put into it; and the same remark applies to kettles, coffee pots, tea urns, etc.

The refreshment stall generally gets a good many supporters when the people have spent what they have on clothing, for then they repair with their very miscellaneous bundles to refresh themselves with the harmless cup of tea, and to discuss their purchases before carrying them off in triumph.

It takes usually about two hours to clear out our stock, and at the very end of that time empty stalls and weary stallholders are to be found. We made a rule that no small children (except those in arms) should be admitted, but somehow this rule gets broken, and in the rush in at 5 p.m. we find that the wary mothers often manage to bring in a small boy or girl with them, and the sad boy or girl as often gets temporarily lost in the crowd, but quickly is brought back to the mother by either the kindly policeman or one of the staff of helpers.

So much, then for our sale, and its various incidents. Now it may be asked what profit is likely to be made by such efforts? That depends, of course, very much on the resources of the place, and the number of kind friends who will help in the matter of sending in articles for sale. There need be no fear of not getting buyers if the thing is properly made known in the parish. Ours is probably a very typical parishof which there are hundreds about London and any other big town, and we find the people most eager to purchase tickets to admit them, and ready, only too ready, to buy when they get there. There aer in every household heaps of things which the owners do not need, and which must be got rid of some way, and as a rule we have not found any difficulty, if the work is begun in time, and sufficient notice of the sale given (say three months or thereabouts) in getting articles sent in. The expenses need not be very heavy. Printing is the chief item, and the necessary help in getting the room ready on the day of the sale, and hte hire of, say, cups, etc., if the parish has not got a supply, as most parishes have. The expense of police and a mean to take tickets at the door complete the list, except where the carriage of articles has to be paid, but this will not always happen.

We have had three American sales, and we find that the net profit of these, after the payment of all expenses, comes to 118 pounds. This sum was taken from the people themselves, in a parish of under 8,000 in ten months!

Almost all of this money went back again to the people in the shape of extra relief, to the district visitors to meet cases of sickness, and to deserving people in misfortune. Some of it was given to mothers’ meetings, some to school repairs, and all, as I have said, to the direct benefit of the working people. It would not be wise to attempt these sales more than twice a year; there were exceptional reasons for our having had three in one year.

I hope what I have said in this paper, in calling attention to this means of raising money to help the poor, may be useful to some interested in that work, and that they (if they attempt an “American Sale”) will meet with the same success as we have done. 6

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