Small and beautifully formed

Photograph of Model butcher shop in V&A museum

My love of all things retail extends (when no one is looking) to toy shops and illustrated books about shopping. From Ravilious’ High Street to the Ladybird book Shopping with Mother. The latter was a favourite when I was young. I’d pour over the pictures – shop windows, shelves of packaging, wicker baskets et al. Foretelling obsessions to come?

A blissful morning spent looking at cases and cases of stuff in the Museum of Childhood yielded up this gem, a wooden model of a shop labelled simply ‘Butcher shop 1800s’. There isn’t a lot to write about these naive art pieces. Lovingly detailed and quirkily figured, they may have been made for Victorian children to play with, but more probably as display pieces for the classy nursery.

At a push it is possible this may have been made as a record of an actual shop – as a kind of trade sign. As soon as photography came along in an affordable form, shopkeepers commissioned advertising postcards of their shops, which are now highly collectable bits of social history. The cards depict very similar scenes to this model – suggesting a tradition being followed – people stood outside their shops, often with nicely tidied and re-arranged stock in the windows. Or, in this case, with a grand array of meat cuts.

Butchers tend to be rather more circumspect in their display these days. Health and safety concerns and notions of hygiene have curtailed such proud retailing.

One Comment

Joe Cutting

The meat would have been hanging outside because this was in the days before fridges. My great-grandfather kept a grocers shop in Finchly and there’s a great photo of the shop just before Christmas full of geese hanging up and waiting to be collected for Christmas. I would imagine it would have been less fun in the summer when there were more flies.


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