The Complaisant Silk Mercer: c. 1750

The triple sleeve ruffle of a silk 1750s court mantua.

The triple sleeve ruffle of a silk 1750s court mantua.

Mr. Lloyd the Complaisant.

About the middle of the last century resided Mr. Lloyd, a silk-mercer, on Ludgate-hill, who was almost proverbial for his complaisant and patient attention to his customers, so much so, indeed, that no frivolous or vexatious purchasing on their part would disorganize the equanimity of his temper. Some fashionable ladies, at the West end, determined to put his suavity to the test, and, drawing up to the mercer’s door in a dashing carriage, he was in a moment at the door ready to hand them out, and attend at the counter. Having placed chairs, he bounded to his proper station, and with the most winning smile awaited their commands. One of them then produced a remnant of silk, which she wished to have precisely matched in quality and colour. The mercer had no doubt of succeeding, and, in the essaying, unpacked nearly all the parcels in his shop without success, the ladies always taking some exception to every piece he produced. He declared he was sorry — he would send out; but the ladies would wait no longer, and were about to retire, when Mr. Lloyd’s shopman arrived with a piece of silk from the weaver’s, which even the most fastidious opinion could not but admit was the very facsimile of the pattern sought. The mercer’s countenance now brightened up, for he expected no less than a large wholesale order.—”How much shall I cut off?” said the obsequious shopkeeper. “Cut us off a shilling’s worth!” was the answer.— Without the discomposure of a muscle, or the least contortion of countenance, he begged the lady to favour him with a shilling, on receiving which, he placed it on the corner of the piece of silk, and cut off only the exact size of its circle. He then folded it up in the most genteel stile, placed it in the lady’s hand, and handed the ladies to their carriage, with an expression of gratitude for the honour they had done him, and a strong solicitation for their future commands.—The sequel however made him amends, for the ladies returned in a few days after, and ordered silks to a handsome amount.

The London Joke Book Or New Bon-mot Miscellany, William Heath, 1835

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  When highly-skilled Huguenot weavers fled religious persecution in France, they brought their technology to England, making Spitalfields an internationally-renowned silk centre.  Although Mr Lloyd does not have a French name, he possesses enough sang froid for a dozen Frenchmen.

A new book on the subject of silks and the silk trade has recently been published. It is called Selling Silks: A Merchant’s Sample Book, by Lesley Ellis Miller. One delightful feature of the book is how the author pairs early portraits of people wearing silk garments, with seemingly identical silks from the sample book.  Mrs Daffodil found the volume displayed at the local book-seller’s and leafed through it briefly, without perusing the text. From a visual point of view, at least, it is a beautiful book.


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