The History Of Retail In 100 Objects – Foire Saint-Germain

Foire St Germain

It’s Tuesday so it’s The History Of Retail In 100 Objects post – This weeks object is Foire Saint-Germain.

There’s been an annual fair at Foire Saint -Germain in Paris since 1176, and with fairs come trade and produce.In 1482, Louis XI established the fairground for the benefit of the Abbey of Saint -Germain-des-Pres, located nearby. It was destroyed by fire in March 1762, but rose again from the ashes. The fair traditionally lasted from three to five weeks and was staged around Easter. During the 1700s it opened on February 3rd and closed on Palm Sunday. All kinds of exotic acts performed: tightrope walkers, animal trainers, marionette manipulators and more. It was also a great place for trading, bartering and ‘raffling’ of retail merchandise to the highest bidder, as recorded by Philip Skippon, a visitor to the Foire in the 1660s: “the place the fair is kept in, is a large square house with six or seven rows of shops, where customers play at dice when they come to buy things; the commodity is first bought, and then they play who shall pay for it. After candle-lighting is the greatest gaming, sometimes the king comes and dices…” This account of raffling as a social pastime (although we would recognise it today more as a form of auctioning) is corroborated by another Englishman abroad, Martin Lister, who wrote in 1697: “The great rendezvous is at night, after the play and opera are done; and raffling for all things vendible is the great diversion; no shop wanting two or three raffling boards. Monsieur, the Dauphin, and other princes of the blood come, at least once in the fair-time…” Today the Saint-Germain market is covered and is still on part of the old fairground site, hosting antique fairs, pottery days, and festivals.

Contribution to Retail History

Markets and fairs the world over were the precursors to modern retailing and Foire Saint-Germain is one such example. While it may not be feasible to draw a direct line between the raffles held at Foire Saint-Germain in the mid- 17th century and specific developments in retail, it is fair to reflect that the popularity of ‘raffling’ has, in the 21st century seen a surge in popularity with the advent of eBay.

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