Luxury items in the Georgian period were sold by toyshops. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a ‘toy’ meant a small and desirable luxury item for adults. Usually it had a function, such as a small gold box to hold stuff or a travelling necessaire. Some did sell toys for children. More and more, though, toyshops were being to stock luxury items that were non-functional, like diamond rings and other gemstones jewellery.
One toyshop in Bath was operated from 1730 until 1747 by Paul Bertrand and his wife Mary. Paul had been a goldsmith before opening the shop. His business cards stated he was a ‘Toyman’. Bernard’s shop was located in the middle of Bath’s shopping strip, in Terrace Walk, close to the two assembly rooms and the Pump Room.
In the early 18th century, Bath was a fashionable place to visit, socialise and to shop. The Bath season was in September and October, before the start of the London season, which ran from November to May. A second but less popular season in Bath ran from March to April. In the early 1740s, 17 weekly coaches ran from London to Bath, increasing to 23 in 1747. Once in Bath, the visitors visited the baths, drank the waters, gambled, danced, shopped, attended plays, attended fights, rode, and promenaded.
So what did a toyshop sell? They sold etuis, rings with diamonds, sapphires, garnets and other precious and ornamental stones, painted fans, shoe and britches buckles, hair pieces, playing cars, silver pencils, porcelain figures, snuff boxes, chatelaines and their attachments, gold and silver plate, seals, sleeve buttons, watches and clocks, gold toothpicks, silver spirit flasks, rattles, miniatures, candlesticks, diamond rings, smelling salts, chains, ivory counters, canes and walking sticks, travelling case, pocket books, toothpick cases, silver corkscrews, and Indian ink. The Bath toyshop sold a lot of items associated with travelling, particularly silver flasks, carriage clocks, cased toiletries, portable writing desks and inkwells with secure lids.
While the Toyshops sold items of gold and silver, they also sold items made of imitation gold, like pinchbeck. Pinchbeck was invented by an Englishman named Christopher Pinchbeck. He was also a Toyman. His creation was an alloy of approximately 87% copper and 13% zinc and resulted in a very good imitation of gold. It was durable, long lasting and didn’t tarnish. In Bath, a number of items sold were made from ‘Bath metal’ which was an alloy consisting of four and a half ounces of zinc per pound of copper.
Vanessa Brett published a fascinating account of ‘Bernard’s Toyshop in Bath: Luxury Retailing 1685-1765’ which contains details of Bernard’s bank account, listing what the shop sold, as well as copies of receipts showing who purchased the goods.