1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hawkers and Pedlars

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HAWKERS and PEDLARS, the designation of itinerant dealers who convey their goods from place to place to sell. The word “hawker” seems to have come into English from the Ger. Höker or Dutch heuker in the early 16th century. In an act of 1533 (25 Henry VIII. c. 9, § 6) we find “Sundry evill disposed persons which commonly beane called haukers ... buying and selling of Brasse and Pewter.” The earlier word for such an itinerant dealer is “huckster,” which is found in 1200. “For that they have turned God’s house intill hucksteress bothe” (Ormulum, 15,817). The base of the two words is the same, and is probably to be referred to German hocken, to squat, crouch; cf. “hucklebone,” the hip-bone; and the hawkers or hucksters were so called either because they stooped under their packs, or squatted at booths in markets, &c. Another derivation finds the origin in the Dutch hock, a hole, corner. It may be noticed that the termination of “huckster” is feminine; though there are examples of its application to women it was always applied indiscriminately to either sex.

“Pedlar” occurs much earlier than the verbal form “to peddle,” which is therefore a derivative from the substantive. The origin is to be found in the still older word “pedder,” one who carries about goods for sale in a “ped,” a basket or hamper. This is now only used dialectically and in Scotland. In the Ancren Riwle (c. 1225), peoddare is found with the meaning of “pedlar,” though the Promptorium parvulorum (c. 1440) defines it as calathasius, i.e. a maker of panniers or baskets.

The French term for a hawker or pedlar of books, colporteur (col, neck, porter, to carry), has been adopted by the Bible Society and other English religious bodies as a name for itinerant vendors and distributors of Bibles and other religious literature.

The occupation of hawkers and pedlars has been regulated in the United Kingdom, and the two classes have also been technically distinguished. The Pedlars Act 1871 defines a pedlar as “any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares or merchandise ... or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft.” Any person who acts as a pedlar must have a certificate, which is to be obtained from the chief officer of police of the police district in which the person applying for the certificate has resided during one month previous to his application. He must satisfy the officer that he is above seventeen years of age, is of good character, and in good faith intends to carry on the trade of a pedlar. The fee for a pedlar’s certificate is five shillings, and the certificate remains in force for a year from the date of issue. The act requires a register of certificates to be kept in each district, and imposes a penalty for the assigning, borrowing or forging of any certificate. It does not exempt any one from vagrant law, and requires the pedlar to show his certificate on demand to certain persons. It empowers the police to inspect a pedlar’s pack, and provides for the arrest of an uncertificated pedlar or one refusing to show his certificate. A pedlar’s certificate is not required by commercial travellers, sellers of vegetables, fish, fruit or victuals, or sellers in fairs. The Hawkers Act 1888 defines a hawker as “any one who travels with a horse or other beast of burden, selling goods,” &c. An excise licence (expiring on the 31st of March in each year) must be taken out by every hawker in the United Kingdom. The duty imposed upon such licence is £2. A hawker’s licence is not granted, otherwise than by way of licence, except on production of a certificate signed by a clergyman and two householders of the parish or place wherein the applicant resides, or by a justice of the county or place, or a superintendent or inspector of police for the district, attesting that the person is of good character and a proper person to be licenced as a hawker. There are certain exemptions from taking out a licence—commercial travellers, sellers of fish, coal, &c., sellers in fairs, and the real worker or maker of any goods. The act also lays down certain provisions to be observed by hawkers and others, and imposes penalties for infringements. In the United States hawkers and pedlars must take out licences under State laws and Federal laws.