A peddler, in British English
British English
British English, or English , is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere...

 pedlar, also known as a canvasser, cheapjack, monger, or solicitor (with negative connotations since the 16th century), is a travel
Travel is the movement of people or objects between relatively distant geographical locations. 'Travel' can also include relatively short stays between successive movements.-Etymology:...

ling vendor of goods. In England, the term was mostly used for travellers hawking
Hawker (trade)
A hawker is a vendor of merchandise that can be easily transported; the term is roughly synonymous with peddler or costermonger. In most places where the term is used, a hawker sells items or food that are native to the area...

 goods in the countryside to small towns and villages; they might also be called tinkers or gypsies. In London more specific terms were used, such as costermonger
Costermonger, or simply Coster, is a street seller of fruit and vegetables, in London and other British towns. They were ubiquitous in mid-Victorian England, and some are still found in markets. As usual with street-sellers, they would use a loud sing-song cry or chant to attract attention...

. There has long been a suspicion of dishonest or petty criminal activity associated with pedlars and travellers.


The origin of the word, known in English since 1225, is unknown, but it might come from French pied, Latin pes, pedis "foot", referring to a petty trader travelling on foot.

Peddlers usually travelled on foot, carrying their wares, or by means of a person- or animal-drawn cart
A cart is a vehicle designed for transport, using two wheels and normally pulled by one or a pair of draught animals. A handcart is pulled or pushed by one or more people...

 or wagon
A wagon is a heavy four-wheeled vehicle pulled by draught animals; it was formerly often called a wain, and if low and sideless may be called a dray, trolley or float....

 (making the peddler a hawker
Hawker (trade)
A hawker is a vendor of merchandise that can be easily transported; the term is roughly synonymous with peddler or costermonger. In most places where the term is used, a hawker sells items or food that are native to the area...


Modern peddlers may use motorized vehicles to transport themselves and their commodities. Typically, they operate door-to-door
Door-to-door is a sales technique in which a salesperson walks from the door of one house to the door of another trying to sell a product or service to the general public. A variant of this involves cold calling first, when another sales representative attempts to gain agreement that a salesperson...

 or at organized events such as fair
A fair or fayre is a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and often to enjoy associated carnival or funfair entertainment. It is normally of the essence of a fair that it is temporary; some last only an afternoon while others may ten weeks. ...


In many economies this work was often left to nomadic minorities, such as Gypsies, travellers
An itinerant is a person who travels from place to place with no fixed home. The term comes from the late 16th century: from late Latin itinerant , from the verb itinerari, from Latin iter, itiner ....

, or Yeniche
Yeniche (people)
The Yeniche, or Jenische, are the third-largest population of nomadic people in Europe, living mostly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of France...

, offering a varied assortment of goods and services, both evergreens and (notoriously suspicious) novelties. Peddlers sometimes doubled as performers
Performing arts
The performing arts are those forms art which differ from the plastic arts insofar as the former uses the artist's own body, face, and presence as a medium, and the latter uses materials such as clay, metal or paint which can be molded or transformed to create some physical art object...

, supposed healers, or fortune-tellers
Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting information about a person's life. The scope of fortune-telling is in principle identical with the practice of divination...


While peddlers had a significant role in supplying isolated populations even with fairly basic and diverse goods such as pots and pans, horses, and news, their market share has in modern times been drastically reduced as increasing density of population
Population density
Population density is a measurement of population per unit area or unit volume. It is frequently applied to living organisms, and particularly to humans...

 and buying power
Purchasing power
Purchasing power is the number of goods/services that can be purchased with a unit of currency. For example, if you had taken one dollar to a store in the 1950s, you would have been able to buy a greater number of items than you would today, indicating that you would have had a greater purchasing...

 encouraged sedentary
In evolutionary anthropology and archaeology, sedentism , is a term applied to the transition from nomadic to permanent, year-round settlement.- Requirements for permanent settlements :...

, even specialized sales
A sale is the act of selling a product or service in return for money or other compensation. It is an act of completion of a commercial activity....

 points, while modern transport
Transport or transportation is the movement of people, cattle, animals and goods from one location to another. Modes of transport include air, rail, road, water, cable, pipeline, and space. The field can be divided into infrastructure, vehicles, and operations...

, mail order
Mail order
Mail order is a term which describes the buying of goods or services by mail delivery. The buyer places an order for the desired products with the merchant through some remote method such as through a telephone call or web site. Then, the products are delivered to the customer...

, refrigeration
Refrigeration is a process in which work is done to move heat from one location to another. This work is traditionally done by mechanical work, but can also be done by magnetism, laser or other means...

 and other technology
Technology is the making, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, and procedures. The word technology comes ;...

 allow even rural
Rural areas or the country or countryside are areas that are not urbanized, though when large areas are described, country towns and smaller cities will be included. They have a low population density, and typically much of the land is devoted to agriculture...

 clients alternative channels of purchase.

Tinware was manufactured in Berlin, Connecticut
Berlin, Connecticut
Berlin is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 19,866 at the 2010 census. It was incorporated in 1785. The geographic center of Connecticut is located in the town. Berlin is residential and industrial, and served by the Amtrak station of the same name...

, as early as 1770, and tin, steel and iron goods were peddled from Connecticut through the North American colonies- the Connecticut clock maker and clock peddler was the 18th century embodiment of Yankee ingenuity.

In the United States, the era of the traveling peddler probably peaked in the decades just before the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. The large advances in industrial mass production and freight transportation as a result of the war laid the groundwork for the beginnings of modern retail and distribution networks. Further, the rise of popular mail order catalogues (e.g. Montgomery Ward began in 1872) offered another way for people in rural or other remote areas to obtain items not readily available in local stores.

India has special laws enacted, by the efforts of planners which give mongers higher rights as compared to other businessmen. For example, mongers have a right of way over motorized vehicles.

In the modern economy a new breed of peddler, generally encouraged to dress respectably to inspire confidence with the general public, has been sent into the field as an aggressive form of direct marketing
Direct marketing
Direct marketing is a channel-agnostic form of advertising that allows businesses and nonprofits to communicate straight to the customer, with advertising techniques such as mobile messaging, email, interactive consumer websites, online display ads, fliers, catalog distribution, promotional...

 by companies pushing their specific products, sometimes to help launch novelties, sometimes on a permanent basis. In a few cases this has even been used as the core of a business and on a large scale.

Legislation and regulation

In Britain, peddling is still governed by the Pedlars Act of 1871, which provides for a "pedlar's certificate". Application is usually made to the police. In the late 20th century, the use of such certificates became rare as other civic legislation including the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982
Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982
The Civic Government Act 1982 is an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament which makes provision for a wide range of civic government matters....

 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 for England & Wales introduced a street trader's licence. As of 2008 the pedlar's certificates remain legal and in use, although several local councils have sought to rid their area of peddlers by way of local bylaw or enforcement mechanisms such as making them apply for a street trader's licence.

Types and specific names

Literal compounds formed from these synonyms are:
  • Fishmonger
    A fishmonger is someone who sells fish and seafood...

  • Flesh monger, cfr. infra
  • Costermonger
    Costermonger, or simply Coster, is a street seller of fruit and vegetables, in London and other British towns. They were ubiquitous in mid-Victorian England, and some are still found in markets. As usual with street-sellers, they would use a loud sing-song cry or chant to attract attention...

  • Ironmonger
  • Upholsterer Monger (a peddler of fabrics and stitching)

Metaphoric compounds, since the 16th century mostly pejorative, formed from these synonyms are:
  • Warmonger
    A warmonger is a pejorative term that is used to describe someone who is eager to encourage a people or nation to go to war.The term may also refer to:* Warmonger, a 2002 novel based on the Doctor Who television series...

    , recorded since 1590 (Spenser's "Faerie Queene"), likely more widespread than any of the literal uses
  • Scare monger
  • Disease mongering
    Disease mongering
    ]Disease mongering is a pejorative term for the practice of widening the diagnostic boundaries of illnesses, and promoting public awareness of such, in order to expand the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments, which may include pharmaceutical companies, physicians, and other...

  • Flesh monger (fornicator)
  • Merit-monger, in the 18th century a "do-gooder"
  • Gossip monger (a quidnunc)
  • Rumor monger
  • Scandal monger
  • Power monger

Names, most archaic, of product- or industry-specific types of peddlers include:
  • Chandler
    A chandler was the head of the chandlery in medieval households, responsible for wax, candles, and soap.Chandler may also refer to:- People :* Chandler , the surname of various people...

  • Collier
  • Milliner
  • Lanier
    -People:* Allen Lanier, musician in the band The Blue Öyster Cult* Bob Lanier , basketball player* Bob Lanier , Texas politician...

     (now only a surname, formerly a peddler of wool
    Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....


Names, some pejorative, of other sub- or supertypes or close relatives of peddlers include:
  • Huckster
    A huckster is a seller of small articles, who tricks others into buying cheap imitation products and then bargains them as if they were the real thing...

  • Pusher
    Pusher may refer to:* A dealer in the illegal drug trade* Pusher , a 1996 Danish film by Nicolas Winding Refn* Pusher II, a 2004 film sequel* Pusher III, a 2005 film sequel* Pusher configuration, an aircraft configuration...

  • Door-to-door salesman
  • Travelling salesman
    Vendor (supply chain)
    A vendor, or a supplier, is a supply chain management term meaning anyone who provides goods or services to a company. A vendor often manufactures inventoriable items, and sells those items to a customer.- History :...

  • Seller
  • Haberdasher
    A haberdasher is a person who sells small articles for sewing, such as buttons, ribbons, zips, and other notions. In American English, haberdasher is another term for a men's outfitter. A haberdasher's shop or the items sold therein are called haberdashery.-Origin and use:The word appears in...

  • Although there are basic similarities between the activities in the Old World and the New World there are also significant differences. In Britain the word was more specific to an individual selling small items of household goods from door to door. It was not usually applied to Gypsies.
  • Food traders were normally badgers
    Badger (person)
    A badger was, in English, a term of uncertain derivation for a dealer in food or victuals which he had purchased in one place and carried for sale in another place. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest entry as being from Bristol in 1500, but there were bagergates at York in 1243 and...

  • sellers of chapbooks were chapmen
    A chapman was an itinerant dealer or hawker in early modern Britain.-Etymology:Old English céapmann was the regular term for "dealer, seller", cognate to the synonymous Dutch koopman....

    ; compare the term Stationer which described a bookseller (usually near a university) whose shop was fixed and permanent.

The Travelling Salesman as a stock character

  • In the United States
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

    , the travelling salesman is a stock character in countless joke
    A joke is a phrase or a paragraph with a humorous twist. It can be in many different forms, such as a question or short story. To achieve this end, jokes may employ irony, sarcasm, word play and other devices...

    s. Travelling salesman jokes are typically baudy, and usually feature small town rubes, farmers and other country folk, and frequently another stock joke character, the farmer's daughter
    Farmer's daughter (character)
    The farmer's daughter is a term for a stock character and stereotype in fiction for the daughter of a farmer, who is often portrayed as a desirable and naive young woman...


Sources and references

  • Dolan, J.R. (1964), Yankee Peddlers of Early America.
  • Spufford, M. (1981), Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its Readership in seventeenth Century England.
  • Spufford, M. (1984), The Great Reclothing of Rural England: Petty Chapmen and their Wares in the Seventeenth Century.
  • Wright, R.L. (1927), Hawkers and Walkers in Early America.
  • Station Chief at
  • Peddler at
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