I wonder who “got up” the first bazaar? “The world knows nothing of its greatest men” we are told, but if the inventor of bazaars can lay claim to greatness on account of having invented bazaars, I think it is just as well for him, or her, that the world knows nothing of them. The temptation of those who have suffered either as buyers or as sellers to curse their memories would be terrible in the extreme; in fact, awful as might be the consequences of indulging in a fierce string of invective, I do not think that the temptation so to indulge could be resisted; and then consider, not only the quality, but the quantity of vituperation, for who has not at least once during their life-time suffered from bazaars?
There is a society [in aid of the deserving poor] and all the ways of collecting money from said society have been “played out” as the Yankees say, and if something is not done the society will be “played out” too…
The “Meetings in Aid” talk to empty benches, and the plates at the door have only a few coppers upon them, the collecting cards show a nil return, the clergymen will not lend their pulpits, and at last some one as desperately energetic upon the subject of the [charity]… proposes the getting up of a bazaar!
How easy it is to write those words, with what volubility they slide from our tongues; but oh the difficulty, practically and actually, to “get up” a bazaar! Have any of you experienced it? Have you been surfeited with dolls, smothered with mats, plagued with pen-wipers, hung over with anti-macassars, and found your life a burden to you with pincushions? Have you ever known the torment of not only having to collect these things among your friends, but of having to make them up yourself? Every table in your drawing-room is strewn over with bits of cloth, shreds of silk, ends of ribbon, strings of beads, pieces of braid, and squares of cardboard! These are a small portion of the raw material waiting to be made use of; but besides these there are on other tables, and on chairs, on the top of the piano, on the chimney piece, everywhere and anywhere, undressed dolls of all sizes and shapes—from the large wax with the flaxen curls and the terribly vacant blue eyes, to the doll of wood with the stiff joints, and the hair and-the boots put on with a paint-brush!
Then in the drawers, or upon the shelves of your wardrobe, there will surely be stored articles contributed by friends, and of course ready for the bazaar. A twin-sister of the blue-eyed flaxen-haired doll, which you have to dress, is here, brilliant in white muslin over pink calico, with a gipsy hat and a scarlet opera cloak—congruity is seldom remembered in doll’s attire. Then there is the nun-doll, and the Normandy peasant doll, and the Newhaven fishwife, and the buy-a-broom girl, and Red riding-hood, and a bride and a bridesmaid, and an old grand-dame. The gentlemen dolls are comparatively scarce, but we have the negro minstrel…and we have a sailor, a collegian, a soldier and a policeman, and that is, I think, the sum-total of our “Mr. Dolls,” to quote Eugene Wrayburn, in “Our Mutual Friend.”
And then the pen-wipers! There is the cocked-hat shape and the flat-bottom boat, and the set of melon-shaped leaves worked with beads, and the other set of leaves, with a thing stretched upon them intended to represent a dog—it is like no dog that I ever saw—and dozens of others all equally ingenious and useless.
The pincushion family is even more numerous: they begin with the ambitious “Box”—that which once held fragrant ” Havannahs” is now trimmed with lace and ribbon—and the round affair, with the little glass in the centre for flowers, and go down to the smallest thing which can be made and stuffed. We have the Wellington boot and the Blucher boot, and the high-heeled slipper! we have the church-steeple, the belfry bell, and the kitchen-bellows! we have balls, hoops, and croquet mallets—these last are quite a new invention; we have pincushions for the workbox, for the pocket, and the belt; we have pincushions into which it is impossible to put pins, and pincushions from which it is impossible to take pins out! We have hard pincushions and soft pincushions, and pincushions which are neither hard nor soft—in short, pincushions enough to set you mad, and to make you wish that there were no such things as pins in the world!
And then the mats. Of all the rubbish which a bazaar collects together defend me from the mats! Mats of worsted-work and mats of beads, mats of crochet and of knitting, mats of shaded wool crimped to represent moss, and mats of shaded paper crimped to represent leaves! Mats of every size, shape, and colour; mats for the tea-kettle and the tea-urn, the lamps, and the jugs! Mats made of steel rings and—yes I have seen them—mats made of shirt buttons!
When I add to these the handsome pieces of worsted and patchwork (which rarely sell), cushions, slippers, tea-pot “cosys,” fender-stools, foot-stools, chairs, borders for table-covers, borders for chimney pieces, banner screens and hand-screens, sachets, what-nots, carriage-bags, travelling-bags, bags for nothing at all—when I enumerate the “anti-macassars” —why not call them “anti-trotter-oil pomades?” —in knitting, netting, tatting, and crochet, in braiding and applique, in everything that is possible and impossible—when I try to give even a faint idea of the assortment of children’s clothes, and of the hundred and one knickknacks for which I could not find either a name or a use, you will have some idea, if you have no personal experience, of the “matter” which accumulates when a “bazaar” is about to be got up!
But far be it for me to say that a bazaar is all work and no play; on the contrary, it is generally considered “delightful” and “great fun,” except perhaps by “papa,” who never can find a chair to sit upon while the bazaar mania lasts; and also by “mamma,” who, after the first few days, begins to think that the “girls” are wasting their time, and that the bazaar gives Mr. Verdant Green, the curate, too many opportunities for “dropping in.”
But “girls,” as a rule, like fancy work, they have a positive genius for slippers, and are in their element among mats; besides, won’t it be nice to appear in pretty new muslins and becoming hats on the day of the bazaar; and “won’t it be fun to act shop-maids!” Such a good excuse for a little “innocent flirtation.” Oh, yes; the young ladies are all sympathy for the [deserving poor]!
But the really hard work begins when it is announced that enough of dolls have been dressed, pincushions stuffed, and rubbish generally collected; then the day for the sale has to be fixed, placards have to be drawn out, printed, pasted, and posted! the room has to be swept and garnished, the tables have to be set and ornamented, and the wares have to be spread out! How joyfully the young ladies assemble the day before the bazaar to do the work of decoration, and how fagged they are before evening, how weary of the sight of pink and blue glazed calico of laurel branches and paper flowers, of hammers and of nails! But there are not—more is the pity—any fairy wands now-a-days, and if we don’t like looking at bare walls while we are dining or dancing in public, or while we are selling dolls for charity, we must just buy the hammers and the nails, the glazed calico and the paper flowers, and set to work to make the bare walls look smart. Indeed, a great deal of what I may collectively call “hammering and nailing” goes on in the world before we can dine or dance, or get married, or even see our friends in a quiet way: yes, and even when the child is born, and the man dies, we have the frosted christening cake, and the plumes upon the hearse.
But the decorations are finished at last, and the tables are arranged, and how difficult it was to arrange them in the most effective manner, and so to dispose the dolls, the pincushions, the pen-wipers, and all kinds of rubbish so as to prevent Mrs. Smith from fancying that her contribution was not thought so much of as the contribution of Mrs. James. The sale begins at one o’clock, and by half-past twelve the fair shopwomen, in the new muslins and the becoming hats, are in their places, with little cash boxes beside them, and little piles of small silver for change, and a little pencil to jot down accounts.
Lady workers at a charity bazaar, including a fortune teller in the front row, 1885
There is a great deal of variety about these amateur shopwomen: there is the timid seller, who either sits down behind her counter, or else shields herself behind a screen of antimacassars, or pinafores, which she has ingeniously suspended for the purposes of fence; she is always changing the position of her wares, and hoping that they look well from the outside; after everything she sells she counts her money, and she is the only one from whom, on the first day of the sale, any article can be got a bargain. She never asks any one to buy anything, but when people come up to her stall she gently puts some little thing that she fancies they may be looking for, more prominently in view. It is to her that children who have small sums, varying from one penny to six, to invest in behalf of the [charity], invariably resort; she is almost certain to cheat herself rather than disappoint the eager little buyers, and to give a shilling doll for sixpence; indeed I think it may be said that the timid seller does not make much.
Then there is the worrying seller: she is generally a “fast” young lady, and she keeps shop as though she had served her time to a “fancy business.” Her wares are arranged to the best advantage, she knows where everything is, and if she have not exactly what you ask for, she will give you something far nicer and prettier, she says, in every way; she is never at a loss for anything, from a sharp answer to a penny top; it is very hard to escape from her without buying: you feel that you are being taken in, but you have no power to resist; she tells you that the article you are looking at is really “ridiculously, shamefully cheap! that you never saw so pretty a “cosy,” so “lovely a fender-stool,” or such a “love” of a smoking cap; and then, if you are a gentleman, you probably buy the three articles, although perhaps, strictly speaking, you have no tea-pot for the “cosy,” no fender for the stool, and no head for the cap, for you don’t smoke! and having paid for them you are about to “move on,” trying to feel that you have not thrown away your money, when the worrying seller again attacks you to take a ticket for a raffle— “A splendid cushion, worked in beads, for sixpence! fancy that cushion for sixpence!”
Well, you think it would be cheap at the money, and although you never won anything at a raffle in your life, you give your sixpence, and you are allowed to escape for the present.
Then there is the quiet, lady-like seller, about whose table I think the steadiest trade is carried on; she does not force you to buy whether you like it or not, neither will she allow people who really want to buy to pass on to other tables, as the timid seller would do. She is generally a pretty girl too, and of course the gentlemen crowd about her, and the gentlemen attract the ladies, and so the world goes round!
Then there, is the seller great at expedients by which to get off the large unsaleable articles, and the small rubbishy articles, and from whom, especially on the second day, you can get the most wonderful and unexpected bargains. For the large articles, such as worked chair-covers, cushions, banner-screens, &c, &c, she gets up raffles, she charters unwary young gentlemen, and giving them the articles to be raffled for, and a piece of paper and a pencil, she sends them about through the room to collect names and shillings. Then, with the smaller things, actual rubbish, which no one in their senses would buy, she makes up a raffle in which there are no blanks! The name of the particular chiffon is written on a slip of paper, the slips are put into a “wheel of fortune,” you give your sixpence and draw your slip, and get your doll, your pincushion, your pen-wiper, or your mat!
There is always a great deal of excitement round this seller’s table; she is so full of fun, and tells you so pleasantly, if you lose in one of the large raffles, “to try again, and you will have better luck!” that you do try again, and if, as is very probable, you have not better luck, she will perhaps console you by telling you that “everyone can’t win.”
And among the buyers there is quite as much variety as among the sellers. I have often thought that if, of the people who go to an exhibition—say of pictures—those who go to see and to be seen, those who go to meet their friends, those who go because everyone goes, those who go because they may as well kill time by staring at pictures as kill it by not staring at them, were all turned out, the people who go to see the pictures from the pure and simple love of art, would be few indeed. And so with bazaars—of those who go for amusement, from curiosity, and from idleness were all turned out; those who go to buy, and especially those who buy for the sake of charity, would be a decided minority.
But among the actual buyers at a bazaar there is, as I have said, a great variety. There is the gentleman who declares that he intends to lay out exactly half-a-crown, and who lays out five pounds before an hour; there is the hard-to-be-pleased buyer, who is also determined to lay out a certain sum, who is equally determined not to be imposed upon, and not to be inveigled into putting in for a raffle, this buyer (generally a rich old maid) turns a deaf ear to the worrying seller, while she coolly examines almost every article upon the table, and probably ends by walking off to another stall without having opened her purse; she finally expends her money upon useful frocks and pinafores for her little nephews and nieces at home.
Then there is the reckless buyer—by far the more numerous class—who buys the most absurd and utterly useless things, and who, moreover, carries them about for the rest of the day, and finds them dreadfully in the way. And there is the buyer who is watching and waiting for bargains, and always asking “What is the lowest you will take for this?” These buyers disarrange the table sadly and take up the different articles and pinch them and pull them and squeeze them in a most tormenting way; they open everything in the shape of a box, and generally smell them too; they examine into the mysteries of the doll’s attire in a very impertinent, I might almost say indelicate, manner; they turn the “cosies” inside out, and count the needles in the needle-books; but the way in which they maltreat the mats is really shocking. Indeed mats generally at a bazaar have a bad time of it, there is no respect for them, dolls sit upon them, and they are flattened out of all shape by cushions.
Charity Bazaar in Aid of the National Hospital for Consumptives, 1871
I think the grand mistake of all in connexion with bazaars is in making them to last two days; when the second day comes the sellers are tired, the wares are tossed, and the whole affair is as flat as stale champagne. Of course there are exceptions, and I have myself been at bazaars which were better the second day than the first.
Finally, it has always been a perplexing question to me to know what becomes of the things which are not sold at bazaars! Do the dolls emigrate? do the pincushions and the pen-wipers and the mats melt? or is there a “Hades” for fancy work—a “Happy hunting ground” for Chiffons, into which they vanish and are heard of no more? Or are they returned to their original owners, or makers rather, to be pulled out of workboxes, or writing-desks after many years, and contemptuously thrown aside with the remark—”Look at that dreadful old thing which I made for the [Charity] Bazaar!” S. G.
The Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music & Romance, 1867
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has been reluctantly involved with several charitable jumble sales. Not only was it painful to see the waste of time and materials expended in inadequate fancy-work, one had existential questions about why someone would have deliberately dressed a pair of taxidermied rooks in 18th century costumes and posed them under a glass bell as if dancing a minuet. The misguided horrors that had once been the ornament of some suburban villa were truly shocking to contemplate. It is often said that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Mrs Daffodil fears that a great many people required a stomach-pump.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.