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An 18th century Argos?

Tidying up today, I came across a box full of my old business cards. It's a very old institution, presenting a card to prospective customers, although by the time I finished my business career it seemed a little antiquated and had been replaced by texting a profile.

Every now and again I come across images of old business cards and there are even some to be seen in the V&A and British museums. The Victorian ones are usually beautifully designed with flourishing script and illustrations. In the 19th century they seem to have been not only factual, giving the name of the company, address and contact name, but also an advertisement for the goods or services on offer. The earlier versions from the 18th century seem to have been much more laconic, just giving the relevant details of the company, but recently I came across a very verbose offering, but even then it's difficult to make out what is being advertised.

It transpires that it was a card belonging to an I. Pearson, that much is apparent by the name that begins the inscription. You probably can't tell by looking at the picture that the wordage on the left is mirrored on the right, but this is written in French.

It states the location of Mr Pearson's business being "at the Seven Stars against St Dunstan's church, Fleet Street, London". It goes on the say that"....sells curiosities of all sorts" It becomes a little unclear after that but I think it goes on to list the type of materials that Pearson uses to make whatever it is he trades in, I can make out, Gold, Agate, Mother of Pearl and Amber.

A map of the time shows alleys on both sides of the church, so possibly the business was along one of them. The Seven Stars referred to is probably a tavern. The name at the time denoting the seven provinces of the northern Netherlands. Back in Mr Pearson's day taverns used the name to attract Dutch sailors and their money, as the Thames would have been a lot closer to Fleet Street back then. There is no longer a tavern of that name on Fleet Street, but there is in Carey Street a few hundred yards from St Dunstan's behind the Law Courts.

These two engraving of a about 1820 shows the alleys on both sides of St Dunstan's and both appear to have shop premises in them. So what was it that Mr Pearson sold? It's probably easier to say what he didn't offer!

The central part shows the seven stars. In an age where there were low literacy rates most businesses had signage that made it clear what they sold, or in this case it would have been known that he traded beneath the sign of the seven stars. In the outer circle there are three chess or checker boards, some type of gaming board similar to a cribbage board, a couple of small boxes, two figurines and what could be some type of decorative table ornament. I can't work out what the small castle looking item is, or the small cup at the bottom, although this might be a utensil holder.

On the left hand side is a depiction of a Putto holding a gun. I don't think Pearson was a gun maker, possibly it's drawing our attention to the items next to it. These look like accessories. Guns were heavy, cumbersome and had long barrels and there are many depictions of people firing guns that are rested on a stand to keep them steady, the barrel resting inside a V shaped holder attached to a long pole.

I was still in the dark about Pearson's portfolio of products, so turning back to the text I employed some imaging techniques to make it more legible. Reading the text below it appears that possibly Pearson was something of a one stop accessory shop for young dandy's as there's everything there that a well turned out young gentleman would want about his person be it in the town or in the country and also things that would adorn his fashionable rooms and impress his friends.

I Pearson, at the Seven Stars against St Dunstan's church, Fleetstreet, London sells curiosities of all sorts and the newest fashion in Gold Silver and other metals. Mother of Pearl Agate Amber Tortoiseshell Ivory and fine wood. As snuff boxes cases of knives forks and spoons. Tweezer cases equipages(?) purses rings seal Elaborate bottles necklaces earrings gold and silver chains and strings Pocketbooks travells cases swordbelts knobs canes Whips spurs flasks pouches pistol tinderboxes buckles buttons combs all sorts of cutlers wares as cheap as any public shop or private No man can pretend to sell any of these particulars wholesale or retail

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