The history of retailing in the early modern England has found new evidence of the advanced nature of retailing during the period, challenging the conventional view of James Jefferys (1954) that regards the mid-nineteenth century onwards as the starting point for modernisation of retailing systems and the development of stores. Instead of showing a development of shopping space and advertising, this article focuses on the role of showrooms as a space for discussing a long-term use of products and London furniture-makers' pursuit of quality and durability in the 1840s and 1850s, using showroom account books and advertisements.
Recent studies of luxury shops in eighteenth-century London emphasise the separation of production space and retailing space to explain the existence of ‘modern’ spaces for retailing. However, as some furniture-makers' trade cards emphasised, having workshops and showrooms in the same premises or in close proximity was furniture-makers' strategy to support the originality and quality of their products and to attract visitors.
Furniture-makers provided a wide range of services, partly because they were aware that the services formed lasting relationships with customers. This is proved by the existence of regular customers shown in the use of the customer number system introduced in Gillow's London showroom account books. Records of house-letting also suggest the role of the London showroom as an information centre.
Heal and Son made the best use of advertisements, which offered convenience for customers and brought about more standardised taste. Nevertheless, the words ‘large workshops’ came together with ‘showrooms’ in their circulars, and ‘quality’ and ‘workmanship’ sometimes appeared in circulars and price lists to prove the genuineness of the products. Thus, behind sophisticated showrooms and growing advertisements of ready-made items for middle-class markets, both furniture-makers and consumers continued to care about the expected longevity of domestic goods and houses.
Historical changes in the social relationship between Jews and Christians are an important factor behind the formation of large-scale businesses by religious minority entrepreneurs. Jews in Berlin were politically emancipated in 1869. But they were opposed by anti-Semitic campaigns after the end of the 1870s, and strived to assimilate culturally.
Emil Rathenau, a Jewish entrepreneur in Berlin, was able to found the first telephone office in Berlin in 1881, and the forerunner of AEG (Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft), Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität in 1883, thanks to political emancipation. These businesses received most of their capital and executives from Jewish private banks. They were, therefore, managed by Jewish interests. The Jewish bankers on their own, however, could not afford to cover the expanding financial risks which were necessary to make Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität into a company large enough to accommodate the growing demand for electricity in the latter part of the 1880s. They had to find banks which could afford to share their company's financial risk.
AEG was established in 1887 as a company managed by civil interests. The Jewish executives decided to get funds from the credit banks in Berlin, which required that they appoint executives of those banks as executives of AEG. The credit banks which invested in AEG were, in particular, found at the initiative of Ältesten der Kaufmannschaft von Berlin and were funded by both Jewish and Christian capital. These banks were, therefore, managed by civil interests.
This paper shows that large-scale business-building was the primary factor behind Jewish acceptance of the representation of civil interests. This expanding of business was part of the process of Jewish assimilation.