Fontaine L. (1993) The French pedlars in Europe, 1650-1900

January 30, 2009

Fontaine, Laurence (1993) Histoire du colportage en Europe. XVe – XIXe siècle, Paris: Albin Michel, 334p.


“if you ever hear the pedlar, you would never dance again after a tabor and pipe; no, the bagpipe could not move you … he has songs for men and women of all sizes … he hath ribands of all the colours i’ the rainbow … he sings them over as they were gods and goddesses”

William Shakespeare, Winter’s tale.


This book is both important and disappointing. While the title indicates a history of the peddlers in Europe from the 15th to the 19th century, what its author delivers is closer from a research on one or two French networks from 1680 to 1850.  Laurence Fontaine studies the traders rather than the trade itself, the quantitative aspects (how many traders, value of the goods traded) are never dealt with. As usual for a French historian, the economic exchanges are seen as embedded in the social relations, which gives a convenient excuse not to undertake the painstaking economic approach of the issue.  Read the rest of this entry »