Friday, June 1, 2018

Playing Little Merchants

"This small Adventure I send to please a little boy & Girl who want to be merchants as soon as they can speak like their play fellows the Dutch Children here." -  New York 1724

It is not unusual for visitors or new immigrants to notice that New Yorkers whether in Albany or Manhattan raise their kids a bit differently. Observers note that the children are raised with a sense of "industry" but also fun. The parents intended to instill two very important lessons 1) they needed to make time for  trade or mercantile-play just as much as 2) the parent needed to make time for fun-play. This tendency for New Yorkers to strike a balance between fun-playtime and little merchant-playtime in childhood, regardless of gender, may have been the fertilizer for the future mega-merchants that would rule over the massive warehousing businesses that would eventually lead to the stock exchange and Wall St.

The citizens of the Netherlands, New Netherlands and even English New York did something rather surprising with their children. They got it in their heads that 1) children were not little adults, 2) a proper parent reserves time specifically for both "free playtime" and "modeling playtime" and 3) little ones could be trusted with money !

Note in the images and records that it appears that playing little merchants or simply being sent to the store to make small purchases is a genderless play activity that seems to start when they are old enough to reach up over the counter to hand over the payment.

Job Berckheyde (Dutch, 1630 - 1693)
The Bakery Shop, c. 1680 Here

The Idea of Playtime 1)  Free Play and 2) Modeling Adult Behavior Play:

The macro - or umbrella - idea is that children are not little adults, and need child size toys and actives for them to practice with, including both free playtime and modeling playtime to model adult behavior where mistakes can be made without major consequence; which is different than a child producing a tangible result with child labor or apprenticeship.

The "playtime revelation", as we'll call it, was developed during the 17th Century in the Netherlands and is unique to this region. This idea was first emphasized in the book, "Houwelyck" with the first chapter titled "Kinder-spel" published in 1618 by the Dutch author Jacob Cats (1577–1660). This book not only describes reserving time for play, but also provided images. It is important to point this out because often the 18th Century is cited as the time when "people" began to think of children as children and not little adults. However, it is roughly from the time of the publication of the Houwelyck book in 1618 that this is accurate and practiced by the average person in the Netherlands, New Netherland and New York during the 17th Century.

The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York recently acquired a 17th century copy of the book and the images are available on-line Here. I recommend reading this article as it explains the unique culture of the Dutch. Even today, the State of New York is obsessed (relative to many states) with child welfare, the installation of a multitude of playgrounds, and even a museum dedicated to children at play. For those not familiar with New York, the State has provided free pre-school for 4 year olds since 1997, all children are covered by medical insurance since 2008 and New York City deemed it a necessity that every child in the city should not have to walk more than 10 minutes to find a green space, paying for it with public funds.

In addition to the below, ninepins, backgammon, ticktack and ball games were forbidden on the sabbath according to court records, plus checker boards are found in 17th and 18th inventories and marbles and dice are found in both NN and NY archeological digs:

Account Left by Josua and Mordakay Emriques 1st January 1656 (Shipped to NN):

24 dozen spinning tops that cost me 25 a dozen. That comes to a 2 lb. sack of sugar per spinning top.

4 gross [bell] rattles are 48 dozen that cost me 200 lb. sack of sugar per gross. That comes to a 17 lb. sack of sugar per dozen.

Monsieur Van Imbroch, Town of Kingston, NY a doctor, 1665: 
One childs chain of braided black and white sea-wan [trade beads] 

Sybrant van Schaick of Rensselaerswyck, a brewer, 1686:  
1 N.B. a little coral chain for Catie

Cornelius Steensyck, Mayor of Albany, and Merchant, 1686: 
Gold Child's whistle 
One children's ship 
One child's chest

Garret Jansen Roos, NYC, Carpenter, 1698: 
A whistle 

Peternela Tenycke, NYC, Shop Keeper, 1724: 

23 Joynted Babies .........................................................................1:3:0

A Parasoll of Toyes broken and whole .........................................2:0:0

A parasol of Small looking Glasses & Toy Pictures * ..................2:0:0

One "flaybanib", 1 bottle** e Sundry Toys .......................................5:0:6

A parcel of Toys.............................................................................0:7:7

*  In another section there is 1 small picture the words match up, possibly for doll house.
** Nipples for feeding babies have been found in archeological digs in the Albany region.

How affordable were those 23 jointed babies for 1:3:0? Well we can see that 27 stone jugs cost 2 pounds (or 27 jugs for 40 shillings or 480 pence). Also based on a 1722 inventory some comparisons are as follows: 16 yards of check [linen] 1:4:0, 13 and a quarter white flannel 1:3:2, 33 pairs of gloves for all sorts 2:0:0, 15 woolen caps 1:1:0 and a pair of men's worsted stockings. A 1719 inventory has 12 pairs of Boys stockings 1:4:0 and 14 yards red & white calico for 2:6:0 and 'imbosed' petticoat at 0:4:0. Considering a pair of men's stockings cost 0:5:0 and an 'imbosed' petticoat 0:4:0 we can see that this little dolls were relatively affordable and cost less than a pair of men's stockings or woman's petticoat. 23 Jointed babies for 1:3:0 or 23 shillings or 276 pence, 1 jointed baby at one shilling or 12 pence. For reenactors, it seems that the child of a farmer was just as likely to own a doll as a large estate owner. The main difference, based on one letter, is that a large estate holder may have silver miniature doll accessories for their child's doll, and a farmer's child may have little wooden tables and accessories for her doll. In either case, the kid would still have a doll at these prices. More interestedly, most as in the majority of kids would have the same quality doll because they were only a shilling per doll and being bought from a few shops.

Below an example of a toy and middle class family at a tavern: Jan Steen, Couple Dance, 1663

Later, as the French entered the 18th Century enlightenment they will adopt the idea that children need playtime and are not little adults; see Rousseau's classic book Emile published 1758. This is something we will come back to as how children are raised is not the only thing the French adopted from 17th Century Dutch which includes the fontage lace headbands and the robe that the shopkeeper above is wearing in the first painting which had become popular in the Netherlands by 1658 according to primary sources.

What we can see from quotes and documents is that while the idea of a child centered family is not invented by the Dutch (it was becoming universal in the 16th and 17th century),  they quantified and developed it into a system. Two types of  play were first developed in the Netherlands; 1) "playtime" with toys for fun and 2) "modeling" adult activities play such as making purchases and playing little merchant. This style of child rearing was imported to New Netherland and instilled to the point that after English sovereignty, it continued to be a part of many children's lives in New York.

Below is a thesis paper on children during the Dutch Golden Age with emphasis on the development of childhood and the influence of humanist ideals. The introduction gives a good overview for general understanding of why and what was developing in the Netherlands was so different.

"Constructions of Childhood in the Dutch Golden Age and Pedagogical Theory in the Dutch Republic as Reflected in Children’s Portraiture: The Dog Motif, The Apple Attribute, and the Meaningfulness of the Dutch Rinkelbel" Here.

Interestingly, something that is not found in probate inventories are bodices or stays for small children. This type of clothing was used by some parents in the hopes that their children will have straight backs and good posture. However, they can be mildly restrictive and possibly part of the reason they have not yet been found in New York inventories prior to the French and Indian War. Additionally, children in New Netherland and New York were not usually apprenticed until about 12 or 14 years old, having long childhoods seemingly with few chores. This free roaming childhood may have contributed to healthy bodies as there was a lack of restriction and repetitive movement.

There are a number of court cases where children are described as running through farmer's fields, playing outside the home, and other activities but not doing chores. There are a couple accounts about   low income families where the parents cannot afford to keep their children. The child is apprenticed at less than 12 years old but regularly runs away back to the parents and the parents reprimand the master for having hit their child.

Some Background and The Landscape:

Here, it is important to point out that most western nations were developing a concept of family that is different than in the middle ages. What would emerge are families where the ideal is "self-contained" (grand parents, parents, children, etc) vs. "extended" (includes 2nd. and 3rd. cousins, etc.). In addition to family make up,  children become "part of the family's purpose". An easy way to think of 17th Century families is vertical (which can include aunts and uncles who often take in orphaned related children and leave inheritances to nieces and nephews) vs. horizontal (2nd and 3rd cousins are living near each other or doing business together). Looking back we don't always notice the "reason for", but do see the end result. How were these children treated? How were expectations instilled - or more accurately enticed into?  In essence, how were children educated? How educations were given or the methods used are where the variations emerge, but are due to specific reasons.

The two ends of the spectrum appear to be the Dutch and the Puritan ways of education with the Dutch preferring "the carrot", playtime and followed by short 3-4 yr trade apprenticeships to the Puritan's literal use of "the stick" and long 7-8 yr trade apprenticeships.

"The Puritan family in England or the American colonies was seen as an institution based on ensuring the salvation of family members by proper education in the rules of good behaviour and the importance of faith. This responsibility was seen as resting primarily with the father, who was seen as the head of the household in religious as well as economic terms. The need was to ‘school’ the child in correct behaviour using appropriate punishments... to enforce discipline. Children were seen as inherently sinful and in need of guidance. At the extreme they were compared to wild animals whose spirit needed to be broken in order that they might develop the humility and obedience which would lead them to be good Christians (Ozment 1983)." - Histories of Childhood by John Clarke
"Not all families followed this extreme model, even in Protestant communities. Simon Schama describes seventeenth-century (Protestant) Holland as a society ‘besotted with the children’, where the idea of children and their pastimes played a major part in family life and in art (Schama 1987: 495)." - Histories of Childhood by John Clarke
"For the great mass of the population of Western European countries like Britain and France, children’s lives were characterized by poverty, hard labour and exploitation. This set up a contradiction which was to dominate writing and thinking about child- hood through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. There was a contradiction between a romantic idealized view of childhood rooted in eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the brutal reality of most children’s lives." - Histories of Childhood by John Clarke

This is something we inherited from the Netherlands, and was practiced here in New Netherland and amazingly survived into English New York. While there would be many children that experience poverty in this colony, there was obviously a strong preference for creating ways for children to have a childhood which included charity and orphanages rather than work houses.

Below: abt. 1670 - A Poulterer's Shop - Gerrit Dou -

There is possibly a solid reason for the carrot method being used by the Dutch... these children were not being groomed solely for religious reasons (though it is noted that Dutch schools used religious books as daily reading material) but because they were part of a "family business". We have to remember, many families had mothers who grew food and sold it at market. Mothers were shop keepers or even merchants who owned ships, but also tavern keepers, tailors and shoemakers. This meant that children were part of the family business simply because mom was. There are actually very few images of children "helping" around the house and plenty of images of children running wild; playing cards, blowing bubbles, playing with spinning tops, and torturing their cats... plus a number a them going to the store to "practice" shopping.

Note the woman wants to sell him the one in her hand, and the kid points to a different one. Ode vrouw met haring en een jongen in een venster. Ook wel genoemd: de haringverkoopster. ca. 1650-1675. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

This idea of placing not just a shopping money in the hands of children but an accounting book and expectation of making transactions has been part of New York's culture since the 17th Century. In 1724 Colwalder Colden records he makes mention of the Dutch children playing little merchants. However, It is important to note that by the 1700s, whether one was Dutch-Dutch, Walloon-Dutch, German-Dutch, Norwegian-Dutch, Swedish-Dutch, etc was not as clear as the previous century. Essentially, we could guess that all those people who had arrive prior to the English taking Sovereign control in 1674 were likely sharing a culture. This founding culture will survive English sovereignty and into the 18th Century.

It is one that the Englishmen Cadwallander Colden is willing to adopt.

To Mr. John Falconer Mercht. in London,

... Enclos'd you have a Bill of Excha. on Mr. David Mitchel at 30 days sight drawn by your Governor which I have endorsed to you...the remainder on my Own Acct. This small Adventure I send to please a little boy & Girl who want to be merchants as soon as they can speak like their play fellows the Dutch Children here. I know this consignment is but a small matter to trouble you with Yet I do not doubt you will take care to buy the following goods mention'd underneath to our best advantage. 
Envoy of Goods to be sent to Cadwallader Colden at New York as advice P. viz. 
6 ps Striped Narrow "Callemineos" } Lively colors but not Taudry *
12 ps Striped "Cambletts" } [same] **
1 ps black Broad Cloath about 12 s p yd } Let the "Cloaths" be substantial & well thickened
1 ps Drab colour Do about 20 s p yd} [same]
1 ps Do about 7 s p yd } [same]
6 ps good Sheldon viz. 2 ps of the same colour w/ each ps of "cloth" Sheldon of the fineness I intend come about
[... Continues...]

- Cadwallader Colden, New York May 4th, 1724

It is noted that Colden's daughter, though she did not grow up to be a merchant, became Ameria's first food scientist, second Botanist and would go on to apply Linnaean system (an analytical scientific system) for describing 300 different species of plants in New York. The organizational skills, and knowing when to ask the right questions likely developed during her little merchant years and seems to have benefited her. 

Along with some documentation and paintings, a rather interesting surviving example of how parents teach their children the workings of playing little merchant has survived, while easy to miss. A doll house owned by Petronella Oortman includes many rooms of a house... including what could be Mr. Oortam's parlor or office. In the office is both "Mr. Oortman" doll and a middle class man - a small merchant or shop keeper - likely settling accounts. With the middle class man is a similarly dresses little boy, a doll who's clothing clearly does not match up with the wealthier merchant son's clothes. We can see through Oortman's eyes her perspective on 1680s Netherlands. The doll-child's relative height appears to be similar to those children portrayed in paintings making purchases at stores. See image here.

An example of this culture surviving after the colonial era, is shown in an account by Mr. Rockafeller who lived in up-state New York. Mr. Rockefeller would give his son a little note book and a $1.50 allowance. Every time he made a purchase he was to record the amount spent. His son would present these little book to his parents, for praise and the rules were clear and repeatable. Interestedly, just as the Dutch were famous for their negotiations and contracts, this agreement was recorded as follows:

Memorandum between PAPA and JOHN. Regarding an Allowance.
1. Beginning with May 1st, John’s allowance is to be at the rate of One dollar and fifty cents ($1.50) per week.
2. At the end of each week during which John has kept his accounts accurately and to Papa’s satisfaction, the allowance for the succeeding week will be increased ten cents (10¢) over the week just ended, up to but not beyond a total per week of two dollars ($2.00).
3. At the end of each week during which John has not kept his accounts accurately and to Papa’s satisfaction, the allowance for the succeeding week shall be reduced ten cents (10¢) from the week just ended.
4. During any week when there have been no receipts or expenditures to record the allowance shall continue at the same rate as in the preceding week.
5. During any week when the account has been correctly kept but the writing and figuring are not satisfactory the allowance shall continue at the same rate as in the preceding week.
6. Papa shall be the sole judge as to whether an increase or a decrease is to be made.
7. It is understood that at least Twenty Per cent (20%) of the allowance shall be used for benevolences.
8. It is understood that at least Twenty Per cent (20%) of the allowance shall be saved.
9. It is understood that every purchase or expenditure made is to be put down definitely and clearly.
10. It is understood that John will make no purchases, charging the same to Mama or Papa, without the special consent of Mama, Papa or Miss Scales [a family governess].
11. It is understood that when John desires to make any purchases which the allowance does not cover, he will first gain the consent of either Mama, Papa, or Miss Scales, who will give him sufficient money with which to pay for the specific purchases, the change from which, together with a memorandum showing what items have been bought and at what cost and what amount is returned, is to be given to the person advancing the money, before night of the day on which the purchases are made.
12. It is understood that no governess, companion or other person in the household is to be asked by John to pay for any items for him, other than carfare.
13. To any savings from the date in this account which John may from time to time deposit in his bank account, in excess of the twenty per cent (20%) referred to in Item No. 8, Papa will add an equal sum for deposit.
14. The allowance above set forth and the agreement under which it shall be arrived at are to continue in force until changed by mutual consent. 
The above agreement approved and entered into by
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
John D. Rockefeller 3rd
Smithsonian Magazine: See article here.

The children of New Netherland and New York are being taught from a young age the How-To of playing "little merchants" and may have been the precursor to our modern Lemonade stand; which is distinct and different from apprenticeships. They are opportunities for pre-teenaged children to "play" with real money, real accounting books, and real transactions. The accounting books seem to be as important as the transaction and valued as much as doing the deal. While they don't seem to be taught the savings part, they are consistently exposed to the charity part. The idea that the parents of both New Netherland and New York purposely set time aside to play at little merchants is a defining point of child rearing and cultural difference.

BONUS Painting:

Two more paintings Here and Here and a little kid possibly on her first mission not doing so well Here. A short article on the first Lemonade stand about 130 years ago Here.

1650-75: "The Grocery Shop", 1672 ~ Gerrit Dou - Shopkeeper in background behind counter, shop maid in red jacket, a young customer with bucket.

Instead of buying fabric and trying to have your kids sell it like colonial times, try the little merchant idea out in modern ways 1) At the grocery store, hand a toddler in a grocery cart seat the money for  the groceries to hand over to the clerk. 2) Try a Lemonade stand 3) When they are about 8 years old or older hand them $10, $15 or $20 at the start of the month (not week) and a small account book. Show them how to write their name, date and the amount given to them at the top. Then each week recount what they spent in a list.  (So they don't fall behind or wait too long and forget.) Then explain that the accounting book has to be turned in to you in order to receive their next allowance. When accounting is the only hoop they have to jump through, they will catch on quickly. The most amazing part... they develop patients ! 4) A separate payment for work done can be given like a monthly car detailing shop in the driveway where they earn $5 for cleaning out the car... and you play along as customer. Or put little one's to work making popsicles and you purchase them for a quarter each. Or with no money involved, instead of playing house or similar... play grocery store with pretend money and don't forget to remind them to sort and organize the food stuffs. It all adds up to skills that will get them ahead and doing math in their heads.


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