National Geographic : 1937 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE in 1549," a gray and aging dog strains a bleared eye at the mechanical men, then waddles back inside to beg mutton bones. Playful guests squirt seltzer water on his nose-an old joke of which even he seems never to tire. "What are those odd tin cats for, with their glass eyes and wobbly tails?" "Scarecrows," says the clerk. "Hang 'em on a string; the wind swings them, the sun makes their eyes glisten. That scares birds and rabbits out of your garden." A big "L" on a motorcar means the driver is learning; it warns others to give him plenty of room. Said a hotel stenographer: "Curious peo ple pass through this big town. One fa mous scientist dictated a serious paper to me on a formula for eternal youth. An other client, who flew the Atlantic in the Zeppelin and spent a fortune on horses here, left town forgetting to pay my bill of a few shillings." Outside a mosque is a card inviting the public to come in and get acquainted with the Moslem faith. Walk any street and you meet men hold ing out their caps. Outright beggars are arrested, so mendicants always "sell" some thing. One wanted pennies for pictures chalked on the pavement. "They are good," I said. "Where did you learn?" "Not mine," he answered. "I collect for the artist, who has gone to the movies." STYLE KNOWS NO FRONTIERS American-made women's frocks hang in Selfridge's windows. "Style and price, that's all," said Mr. Selfridge. "We send buyers to New York to watch for new frocks, handbags, anything new. Style is international. It breaks out anywhere. "Lately, in Paris, the world's leading dressmaker died. No successor to him has appeared. He may turn up again in Paris, or here in London, or over in New York. New style is anything that catches on." "When you introduced department store ideas to London years ago," I asked, "what was your big problem?" "I had plenty. Money was one. In Chicago, as partner of Marshall Field, if I wanted $100,000 to try out a new idea, I had only to ask for it. Over here on my own I had to raise the cash myself. Then there was public opinion. At first people were disposed to look down on retailers. Today this feeling is much changed. The retail merchant is respected, as he ought to be. "In recent years retailing has developed into a vast industry, with lots of other fine big stores. This has put 600,000 additional clerks to work here. Strangely enough, this just about coincides with the total number of men who have been forced into idleness by the decline of coal mining." "Do you employ many Americans?" "No; they get homesick." Then, wearing his high silk hat, like mer chants of old, he hurried away on his daily trip through the big store. FOR LUXURY LONDON PAYS HIGH PRICES Wealth here is incalculable. There is no end to luxurious clubs, mansions, sump tuous palaces of government, lavish hotels, and high-priced shops. In New Bond Street you can pay $1,500 for a cigarette lighter, but in Whitechapel you can buy one that works for 25 cents. Grapes, peaches, melons, grown in steam heat under glass, sell at a fruit stand near the Ritz for incredible prices. I saw straw berries there, each berry wrapped sepa rately in cotton, at $3.75 per box of 12! Cantaloupes at $5 each! At that price, fifty were just being packed for delivery to the Mansion House. "When very scarce, we get as much as three guineas each for melons," said a clerk. $15.39! Just around the corner, of course, may be a street peddler with bananas at two or three cents each-and good grapes at six pence a small bunch. In New Bond Street, plover eggs, per adventure even gull eggs masquerading as plover fruit-at 35 or 40 cents each. In Limehouse, a dish of stewed eels and a glass of beer at 10 cents. Go to Petticoat Lane on Sunday morn ing and you can see clothes sold at auc tion. A boy steps up to try on a new suit. Spectators crowd about to discuss its fit and urge the boy to take this or that coat or pants. Women buy new dresses at auc tion for 75 cents, and up, while husbands skeptically look on. Exclusive tailors of Savile Row work behind stained-glass windows, disdaining to expose even their rolls of cloth-much less a vulgar signboard. You ponder all this as you go off to hunt the tomb of Captain John Smith.