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Trust Brokers: Traveling Grocery Salesmen and Confidence in Nineteenth-Century Trade

Abstract

In December 1890, when Samuel Iseman stopped in Sumter, South Carolina, he hoped to turn his luck around. The traveling grocery salesman's trip so far had not gone well. Rain had delayed his train by two hours. When Iseman finally arrived, he had time to “drum” up business with only one retailer before drying off and retiring for the evening. The next day was no better; his expense money was dangerously low. He dunned two area merchants for payment on their accounts, eager to refill his coffers, but received only the runaround for his efforts. He checked in on groceryman (and postmaster) Moses W. Harrell in nearby Timmonsville, who made good his account, with one exception. The grocer took issue with a recent delivery of hams that had come from Iseman's Charleston wholesale fi rm, 120 miles south. Harrell complained to Iseman that the hams were of poor quality and that he had sold only two or three. Harrell asked for a refund. The traveling man felt badly that the grocer had taken the meat because Iseman had talked them up. When the hams failed to satisfy, both the salesman's word and the confidence he had earned from Harrell were on the line.

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