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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Revue suisse d'histoire/Schweizerische Zetischrift für Geschichte
Volume (Issue) 71(1)
Page(s) 7 - 33
Title of proceedings Revue suisse d'histoire/Schweizerische Zetischrift für Geschichte
DOI 10.24894/2296-6013

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


At the end of the nineteenth century, sales practices faced dramatic changes. Shifting from the outdoor spaces to the sheltered places of small shops and department stores, the relocation of trade practices deeply impacted the landscape of retail activity. Street hawkers and peddlers suffered the consequences of these changes, as local authorities and shopkeepers’ representatives repeatedly attempted to undermine their right to do business in the public space. In Lausanne, the Société industrielle et commerciale (SIC) notably called for more regulation of peddling, both at the cantonal and local levels. The strong and ongoing advocacy on behalf of the shopkeepers’ interests not only accelerated the quick decline of peddling, but also played a key role in the professionalization of sales management and advertising in the interwar period. As this article shows, the shifting definition of the word “étalage” (display) is the epitome of the ongoing changes at play in the retail field of the early twentieth century. While so-called “étalateurs” were often referred to as disreputable people or “second class” sellers, the rise of scientific management witnessed an important shift in the practices of selling, advertising and displaying goods. In the interwar period, retailers’ representatives, such as the SIC, actively promoted the “art of display” (étalagisme) as a key factor for economic success. By offering training courses, they fostered the dissemination of “best practices” among retailers, and supported the expansion of graphic and exhibition design into the business field. Taking a long-term perspective, this paper shows the instrumental role of shopkeepers’ representatives in the development of displaying practices and in the shaping of their networks. It argues that spaces of commodity exchange are key to understanding the radical transformations of sales and consumption practices at the turn of the twentieth century.