Friday, January 17, 2014
The Rag and Bone Man Cometh
Rag and bone men wandered the city streets looking for any refuse they might turn to a profit. In some neighborhoods, they would walk along with a sack on their backs or perhaps with a horse and cart, calling "Rags! Bones! Bottles!" Anyone who had something to give away or sell would come out and hand the material to him. As many as 1,000 rag and bone men worked in mid nineteenth-century London alone.
In poorer neighborhoods, rag and bone men gave children incentives such as goldfish, rubbing stones, and poor-quality China cups to bring out materials. In wealthier neighborhoods, it was often the servants who traded, bringing out their mistress's cast-off clothing or the drippings from the household meals. Extra income from selling such items was the perk of the lady's maid and cook.
Even given all these possibilities, the trade wasn't lucrative. One estimate put the income of a rag and bone man at six pence per day, less than $2.00 a day at today's prices.
Perhaps I should be more generous with my rags after all!