Monday, October 06, 2014

Mail Order Meanderings on Monday

I shop via the internet a lot: e-bay, shoes, clothes, and general items just not available in our neck of the woods - well, not without a lengthy car journey, and much time and effort spent finding whatever. Online shopping is really just an extension, or evolution, of Ye Olde Mail Order.

Mail order catalogues proper have been mostly elbowed out in the 21st century by a blossoming internet offering shopping online. In their heyday, though those hefty mail order catalogues were big business, and a boon to anyone living far from urban stores, or with limited time to go shopping. Nowadays there are still mini-catalogues issued by individual retailers, sent often as junk mail once a prospective customer's mailing address is discovered. These catalogues are different from the old style ones, where it was possible to buy items of clothing, household linens and appliances, or toys, and spread the cost over several weeks.

While Americans assume Aaron Montgomery Ward to have been the original pioneer of mail order, in the late 19th/early 20th century, people in Britain consider their Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones thought of it first. Actually, neither was first. A book publisher in Venice beat them to it by around three centuries, and an English gardener, selling seeds, by two centuries. Pryce-Jones began his business in 1861, and Montgomery Ward in 1872, on their respective continents. They were, indeed though, the first to make a thriving industry of mail order.

I grew up with easy access to an old style mail order catalogue. My maternal grandmother ran what she called a "club" in her tiny village. She took orders from a mail order catalogue; anyone in the village who needed "stuff" borrowed the catalogue for a few hours then let Grandma know what they wished to order. She sent a combined order to the company, by mail, once a week, and the following week she would receive a huge brown paper parcel containing the ordered goods. Villagers would then call to collect their goods, and make their weekly payments. Payments were recorded on cards held by the buyers, and in a ledger held by grandma. She continued this popular service for many decades, through my mother's young days and into my own adult-hood. It used to be fun for me, as a child, to watch the opening of the huge parcel. The catalogues themselves were a never ending source of interest and fun to me; those from previous years served as sources for cut-out fashion illustrations for scrap books. In later life I was seldom without my own, personal, copy of some firm's mail order catalogue.

I wonder if the two pioneers, Montgomery Ward and Pryce-Jones will bear any resemblance to one another astrologically? First glance, just at the chart shapes, says not likely. Both charts are set for noon, times of birth are unknown. Exact Moon degree, and ascending sign/degrees not as shown, though Moon would likely have been in the sign as shown in each case.

Pryce Pryce-Jones was born in Llanllwchaiarn, just outside Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales on 16 October 1834.

Aaron Montgomery Ward was born on February 17,1844, in Chatham, New Jersey, USA.

In Pryce-Jones' case the indication he'd gravitate towards innovation is reflected by his Libra Sun in close harmonious trine to Uranus (invention, innovation) in its own sign, Aquarius. There's a Yod (Finger of Fate) linking Pluto (and possibly Moon) to Jupiter by sextile and linking both to Mercury by quincunx - at the business end - the apex. It might be a stretch, but Mercury could be seen as representing the mail, also I think Mercury represents trade; Jupiter represents expansion.

Montgomery Ward's very tightly bundled chart tells of a much more single-minded, single focused character. This man was always going to pioneer something! A veritable surfeit of Aquarius and Aries, the innovator and the pioneer!


mike said...

Your post reminds me of the "this year's college freshman" list, "have never mailed-in a catalog order!".

I remember those days fondly. Browsing a catalog, selecting the item(s), writing a check or obtaining a money order, mailing the order, then waiting so long that the order was somewhat forgotten by the time it arrived, usually six weeks later. Quite often, the contents of the package were disappointing...the picture and description in the catalog over-stated the quality or features.

I do like the modern, internet version of shopping. I become annoyed and paranoid if the online retailer doesn't send me the UPS or FedEx tracking numbers by the next day. Half the time, I wish I had added-on that extra item I contemplated, but mentally declined. It seems that most online retailers have better descriptions of their items, as I'm not usually disappointed...but, I've typically compared the identical item on a multitude of websites for pricing and alternate descriptions. Online ordering feels empowering...LOL.

Your post reflects the much older version of shopping in a department store, like "The Paradise" PBS program we've commented. Way back then, going to a mercantile that had a wide array of exotic goods right in front of you was a novel concept with a huge appeal. I grew-up with a Woolworth department store in my town, with its soda fountain side-section for weary shoppers. Then came Katz Discount...a brightly lit, very modern, humongous store with everything imaginable at a cheap price...the forerunner to WalMart.

I never imagined back then that I would be able to shop and order "stuff" from the comfort of my own home using the 16 digits off of some plastic card as payment.

Sonny G said...

I enjoy shopping online , particularly for items I know the quality of in person.

We also had a woolworths and having lunch there was a monthly treat my Dad gave me. Cheese burger, pickle n ketchup only- shared a plate of fries and always ended with a dr.pepper float.
above is what I miss most when online shopping:-) but since Dad isnt here to share it I might as well shop online.

mike (again) said...

Sonny - I remember having Green River soda at my Woolworth and occasionally extended that to cherry flavored cola (a squirt of cherry syrup before dispensing the fountain cola)...thought I was sophisticated.

Twilight said...

mike ~ There's some thought-provoking stuff in the list you linked - a good read!

I often wonder what my grandma would think about the way we online shop nowadays, and how like sheer "magic" would today's cyber devices, computers, microwave ovens, smartphones etc would seem.

In her day, in her village, some of her food shopping was done at her front door, as the butcher, fishmonger, baker and grocer would all call, weekly or more, with goods either as a regular order, or for villagers to choose from what was on board the van. Milk was delivered early mornings by the daughter of the farmer across the road - villagers left a jug outside their doors to be filled with the freshly obtained milk (often still warm!)

Such a different life-style, and all within my own life-span.

We had a Woolworths in our town in England too - but it didn't have a cafe, it was just a store selling the usual mix of all kinds of "stuff". LOL - the worst threat/ prediction anyone could make to a girl was something like this: "If you don't study and do your homework you'll end up working in Woolies!"

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ The only drawback of online shopping is having to guess at sizes for shoes and clothing. I tend to stick with the same brands to avoid having to return stuff.

Sizes these days are so random, especially shoe sizes. Whereas in a shoe store I might try on half a dozen or more pairs, online I must pick a pair, hope for the best and return if not right, which can become frustrating.

So your remark about knowing the quality of an item from previous experience is to the point!

LB said...

Having lunch at the Woolworth's counter downtown used to be a special treat! I can still remember the warm smell of popcorn.

I also remember the Sears catalog, think my grandparents may have shopped from it since they lived out in the boonies where next to nothing was available.

With a packed 2nd house, I did my own fair share of catalog (and every other kind of) shopping as well - back before I knew the 2nd was about more than that.:)

These days if I find a product I love, I try to find it locally or else encourage one of our local shops to carry it rather than shop online. I've had mixed results so honestly, there are still a few products I reluctantly order from the internet. Wish I didn't have to - living in an urban area you wouldn't think it'd be such a challenge, but sometimes it is. So many businesses have closed up shop, not able to compete. Now whenever I find something I like I try to buy as many as we can store.

Thanks for the chocolate recommendation, mike. Though it's been a while since I've bought Taza chocolate, if I remember correctly the prices of the two brands are comparable. One disk (or bar) of chocolate usually lasts me a long time, making it a more affordable (special) treat. Most of the time I eat fruit.

It's an expensive world! At the risk of beating a dead horse, unless I'm shopping second-hand, I find it generally costs a bit more to shop more ethically - which as I've said, I understand not everyone is able or willing to do.

LB said...

In case my last sentence wasn't clear, like most folks I sometimes buy things I don't really need but want anyway. These days I may be tempted less frequently and by fewer things than I used to be, but I'm not immune.

Sonny G said...

Mike, we're changing your name to
Mr. Sophisticated:-) .. yum cherry coke.. I make those at home sometimes
because they remind me of my Uncle Rocco. That was his favorite..

LB,, I am ashamed to admit the unnessesary shopping I've done since last nov. when we moved into this new home.. its shameful and wasteful. In march I took a good look at what I was doing it and have stopped it.
My fingers clicking the "Pay Now" button isnt a good thing.

my feet are all wrong for buying online because 1 foot is a 1/2 size smaller than the other.

LB said...

Sonny ~ I've been to your site and your home is beautiful.:) My much smaller home is decorated as well, so I understand and relate. I'm not judging.:)

I'm a recovering shopping addict, having wasted a great deal on items produced by underpaid, overworked laborers in third-world countries or sweatshops. When we downsized to a much smaller apartment (without a bedroom closet), I donated most of it and have never looked back.:) Wish I knew then what I know now. What a waste.

Now I mostly shop for food! For special occasions, like Christmas or birthdays, I try to buy second hand and follow the one-in, one-out rule so we don't get overwhelmed.

LB said...

P.S. Isn't it amazing how whenever we move -even if it's to a much smaller place- we always need different stuff?

If my husband and I ever have to move again, I'm sure we'll face similar challenges. Yesterday we were talking (more like fantasizing) about the possibility of building a tiny, energy-efficient home at the back of a family-owned property located in a walkable area:

We agreed 400 sq. feet of well-planned space with lots of additional outdoor space is probably about as small as we could comfortably go. We live in around 470, 480 now, with no problem.

Twilight said...

LB ~ When I lived and worked in a big city in England I loved nothing better on Saturday afternoons than to go around the department stores trying on fashions, shoes - or sometimes just surveying what was available, stopping at half-time to give feet in high heels a rest and have a coffee and pastry. But that was long ago, and far away.

I agree that it's amazing how "stuff" reproduces itself over time.
I've had to start from scratch at least twice, once after a major fire, then after immigrating here.
And still I have more than I truly need. As I'm sure most of us in the western world do.

I could easily live in one large well-equipped room - and have done so before now. That does keep the acquisition of "stuff" down ! Those mini houses are interesting, I've looked at articles about them several times.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Shoe and even slipper buying on line for me is a sore point (in more ways than one) just now. A problem with left foot has recently reared its head (or foot) - old wound causing trouble, or skin around it anyway, very tender, can't wear shoes because of the dressing and compression bandage needed. I've spent hours and hours looking for something to put on my left foot.
One "fail" already had to be returned. Dang!!

mike (again) said...

Catalogs were usually recycled in outhouses, so they were very much welcomed back then. Both sets of grandparents had outhouses...paternal until her death in 1956 and she lived in town...maternal until grandpa died and grandma moved into town in the 1980s.

Sonny - thanks for the "Mr. Sophisticated" designation...finally, after all these years! It was "in" to act sophisticated back in the 1950s...the Holly Golightly thing, with "Moon River" playing in the background...LOL.

James Higham said...

A book publisher in Venice beat them to it by around three centuries


Twilight said...

mike ~ Yikes! The catalogue pages I recall were a bit shiny for outhouse duty! :-D

My grandparents had, for the early years of my childhood, what they called " the petty" right at the end of their long narrow garden. If one needed to partake during the night or in a snowstorm, it was a long cold/dark trek! :-)

Twilight said...

James Higham ~
In 1498, the publisher Aldus Manutius of Venice printed a catalogue of the books he was printing. In 1667,
Wiki - Mail Order