Sites of Consumption: The Display of Goods in Provincial Shops in Eighteenth-Century England

Authors: Hann, Andrew; Stobart, Jon

Source: Cultural and Social History, 1 April 2005, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 165-188(24)


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Recent analyses have thrown open the shutters on supposedly dark and unappealing eighteenth-century shops and revealed them as complex social and economic spaces. This paper builds on such work to explore the ways in which the display of goods in provincial shops served a range of symbolic and practical functions. Drawing on detailed analysis of probate inventories, we argue that shopfittings were employed to assist in the process of selling wares by making them more visible to the customer. Displaying goods allowed shopkeepers to project appropriate images of their business as prosperous and themselves as knowledgeable. At the same time, the shop was shaped by and around the spatial practices of consumers as they browsed, selected and purchased goods. What is most striking, perhaps, is that these developments characterized shops from Kent to Lancashire, and from fashionable county towns to rural villages. Shops everywhere were becoming sites of consumption.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Coventry University

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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