Historical Tidbit: The Tin Peddler

(This article and photo were published in 1923 by Wallace Nutting.)
Growing up I often heard my great grandmother talk about the “ragman.”
To children living in the country in the “early days,” the arrival of the tin peddler was the most important event of the month. He had a very large cart generally painted red, which had faded to a mellow tint. It was full of wonderful drawers on every side which were revealed when its doors were opened. What treasures were disclosed from these drawers! The children stood, all agog, with eyes like saucers. To them, the peddler’s cart was the Pandora’s Box of every conceivable joy. It was a small dry goods and notion store, a hardware shop and a little of almost everything else. Brooms stood in a rack at one corner and huge bundles of rags which had been taken in barter were tied on top and held in by a dainty little rack, for be it known unto this generation that the peddler’s cart was a work of art. It was graced by a fine gooseneck front, and, like an epic poem, it had a beginning, middle and an end. We were especially eager to get a few tin dishes and small shovels for the child’s garden. Not much money passed in these transactions but while the paper was still made from rags a big bag of clippings and discarded garments would purchase quite a quantity of hardware with a few spools of thread and paper of pins.
The peddler himself was almost as interesting as his cargo. He was lean and long as the ancient mariner and most likely was old. He drove a good horse for the load was heavy. How he ever lived was a mystery, but he lived well and always knew at what farm to stop for dinner. At one time the peddler’s cart was an important institution being, in one instance, sent out in great numbers by a wholesale merchant.
The old peddler often talked to himself as people who are alone are in the habit of doing. It is a good habit. They always have attentive listeners and are never interrupted nor are they ever subject to dispute. Like the philosophers, they are least alone when alone. We have heard of late some rumor of the revival, in the form of a glorified gasoline wage, of the peddler’s cart. It was only twenty years ago that we actually found on the road the tin peddler, but so far as our recent experience is concerned he is as extinct as the passenger pigeon.
sue and her plant 2011
Respectfully submitted by Sue Basile