Think of Market Day a hundred years ago, or two hundred, or three, in a farm town anywhere. The vendors arrive a couple of hours early in their trailers and wagons full of goods, to set up their market booths.
The one above is in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1878. Click the image to see the whole view on Houston Street.
It causes a fair amount of congestion as they unload their goods, visit a little, and help each other out to be ready for the arrival of the shoppers at opening time. As you can see in the 1797 painting below, by John White Abbot, someone is always crossing the road, looking for a parking place, catching children, setting up displays, or making quick deals before the market opens. Click to see the whole painting.
Some vendors bring livestock. This view is of the Caledonian Market in London, in the 1930’s:
Others bring made goods, knowing the shoppers will browse any attractive display. Here, potential buyers take in a display of china dishware in 1910 (click for a wider look):
It’s pretty much the same today. Those markets were the backbone of commerce in their time. Today, the little (and sometimes large) flock and fiber shows that still occur in farm communities all across the country support small farmers and businesses in ways that probably do not show up much in the Gross National Product, but are important in several ways to the participants. They still hold communities together. They support a network of growers and makers. They provide income to small enterprises that would collapse without them. One difference from days gone by: you can be certain that those who organized the market days then were compensated for their efforts; they owned the market. These days, the market event is a work of devotion and love by volunteers who put effort and hours into the planning. For the sellers and buyers, however, the sales and festivals are social events, very much like the ones of days gone by. These sellers and buyers know each other and they come together at pleasant, not to say joyful intervals, to exchange news and goods, sell a little, buy a little, eat together, envy the goods of their neighbor, or know silently that their own is a better product.
Yesterday was the Spring Fiber Festival in Oregon City. We had rain outside, but warmth inside.
The sale takes place in one of the old Grange Halls still dotting the countryside. Its wooden floors, the aromas from the kitchen downstairs (Minestrone soup, West African peanut soup, Sloppy Joes, chocolate chip cookies…), the scent of wool, the murmur of voices as buyers wander and negotiate, the sound of rain on the lot outside: it all makes for a comfortable, congenial day, profitable for those who sell and for those who acquire what they (feel they) need.
We are surrounded by natural tones
and gem tones
By the end of the day, we are steeped in scents and sights, tired from a good session of exchange on all levels, and a little richer perhaps. Some of my neighbor vendors bought as much as they sold, I noticed. But I was pleased to bring home a small purse filled enough to advance my stock a little for next time.
And I have a small sense of holding hands with those at market days of the past.