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Stories of Strand-Aldwych

Strand Life in Trade-cards and Receipts

The British Museum’s collection of bills, receipts and trade cards, many of them bequeathed by the collector Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), are goldmine of information about the commercial life of our stretch of the Strand. Here is a selection of examples from the first half of the nineteenth century, which tell us not only about the range of goods traded, but also about the strategies used to advertise them, and in some cases also the ancillary craftsmen involved in producing the publicity.

A first, relatively plain example is provided by this blank receipt for the watch and clock makers George Yonge & Son, who traded at 156 Strand (still standing) between 1821 and 1850. Yet even this has its tales to tell.

<span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Calibri, sans-serif;">George Yonge & Son receipt</span>George Yonge & Son receipt

The imposing typeface, combining richly curlicued italics with gothic type and shadowed block capitals reflects the fact that the Yonges offered engraving as well as clock-making services: ‘Mourning rings, Coats of Arms found & neatly Engraved on the Shortest Notice’. And the whole was striking enough for the engraver from whom the Yonges commissioned their publicity, Samuel Neele of 352 Strand, to feel it worth while to add his maker’s signature, under the mention of mourning rings and coats of arms: ‘Neele sc[ulpsit] Strand’.

Notably more picturesque is the label provided by the Soho engraver and printer John Girtin for the lace manufacturers Barker & Co. who sold their Bedford-produced wares at a series of fairly temporary London outlets in the second decade of the century.

Barker & Co LabelBarker & Co Label


In this design the list of products (‘Thread Lace … Veils, Scarfs, Tippets, Caps &c’) and the central London address (the long vanished 161 or 161A Strand) frame a reassuringly wholesome picture of honest rustic industry. A Bedfordshire countrywoman at work at her lacemaking sits outside her humble cottage with trees around her and open fields in the background; flowers bloom beside her, a dog slumbers contentedly at her feet, and chickens scratch around for their food. At the foot of the design both the honesty and the rustic roots are reaffirmed in the assurance that ‘Country Dealers’ will be ‘supplied on the lowest terms.’


Still busier, though undeniably less picturesque, is the anonymously produced receipt for the ‘Hardwareman, Stationer, &c’ William Dobson, who traded at 166A Strand (also long gone) from 1797 to 1847.


Hardwareman, Stationer, &c’ William Dobson receiptHardwareman, Stationer, &c’ William Dobson receipt


In this almost impossibly crowded design, the central space highlights Dobson’s prestigious address and, below that, his possession of Royal Letters Patent (the nineteenth-century version of ‘By Appointment To …’); but already crowding into the same field are lists of the unbelievably wide range of goods he has to offer: ‘fine Cutlery … Pocket Books, Writing Desks, Shaving Dressing cases &c’, plus ‘Portable Machines to ventilate & circulate the Air in Rooms, disperse Fumes, Effluvia &c. Also to Chase away Dangerous & troublesome Winged Insects & other Useful Purposes.’ And the catalogue continues in the fan- or canopy-like fields that occupy the four corners of the receipt. To reproduce just the top right hand corner: ‘Elegant Plain Opera Glasses. Curious [i.e. ‘finely crafted’] Sporting Instruments. Excellent Warranted Razors. Silver Pens and Pencil Cases. Silver Blade Knives.’

Quaintest of all, perhaps, is the card (again anonymous) for Robert and William Maltwoods’ trunk and case emporium at Number 168, which traded from around 1803 until its bankruptcy in 1845.

Robert and William Maltwoods cardRobert and William Maltwoods card

Once again the range of goods on offer is underlined, along with the excellent customer service (‘on the Shortest Notice & most Reasonable Terms’), but it is the hopefully extravagant design that most catches the eye. Round the text field runs a plaited laurel wreath, like that of a triumphing Roman general; classical (slightly wonky Ionic) columns, twined with ivy, rise on either side, supporting specimens of the Maltwoods’ trunk-making expertise; rococo curlicues as if from a piece of fine furniture connect the columns and the central wreath. The surprise is the unaccountable bucket, hanging prominently at centre top – is this really another prestige product, or just a charmingly clumsy attempt to avoid leaving an awkward space at a key point in the design?


More seriously, with its mention of ‘Camp Trunks for the Army’ and ‘Imperials’ (large roof-boxes for coaches and carriages) this advertisement reminds us of another side to trading on the Strand – its deep and various engagement with the conquest, defence, administration and exploitation of the British Empire. But that is yet another (Strand) Story.


By Professor Michael Trapp


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