New article in 'Economist History Review'


Inadequate supply and increasing demand for textiles and clothing: second-hand trade at auctions as an alternative source of consumer goods in Sweden, 1830–1900

Drawing on a study of historical national accounts and statistics, this article shows that a growing supply of mass-consumption textiles and clothing in Sweden during industrialization did not fully meet increasing demand. As a result, high demand for second-hand items remained even at the turn of the twentieth century. Records from a local auction house from 1830 to 1900 show that, even in the 1880s, more affluent urban consumers were still active on the second-hand market. Thereafter, they turned to the market for new goods, while potential demand from labourers and servants continued to be provided for on the second-hand market. Mechanization meant that more items entered this market. It changed the range and quality of objects available, consequently affecting the attractiveness of second-hand textiles and clothing. After the 1870s, falling and converging prices can be discerned, while more durable fabrics largely retained their value. We conclude that the consumer revolution (in a broader sense) had by this stage gained a foothold among ordinary Swedish urban households. The auction trade was part of a democratization of consumption. The general lesson is that understanding mass consumption requires research not only into second-hand consumption, but also into different regional settings.

Kristina Lilja (Uppsala universty) and Pernilla Jonsson (Stockholm University)

Link to article