Next week, I have the honor of escorting a young gentleman to visit a college in the wilds of Montana. This will be my fifth such college visit with said gentleman. He, at least, knows exactly what he wishes to study and the career he wishes to pursue. He desires to become an architect. He has been studying drafting and design in high school for several years, and he’s read up on the subject online. Career planning is part of the curriculum in his school. However, nineteenth century lads had another resource to decide which careers they might pursue: The Book of Trades, Being a Library of the Useful Arts.
Now, that surprised me. I’d always assumed that a boy would just follow in his father’s footsteps or at least continue in some family business. If your father was a baker, you’d apprentice as a baker and you’d finally take over the shop when dad had passed to his just reward or at least become too feeble to work. But it appears that many families gave their children other options.
The Book of Trades, a three-volume collection, was first published in 1804 and 1805 for Tabart and Co. of 157 New Bond Street in London, but it became so popular that by 1839 it was in its twelfth printing. With engraved pictures and text describing the attributes needed for success, the likely pay, and the working conditions, each section detailed a specific skilled occupation a young man (and sometimes a young lady) might undertake. The books were sold for three shillings each (or five shillings if you wanted hand-colored plates) from Tabart’s shop and were shelved among the children’s books and school texts. The 1824 edition, of all three books combined, totaled over 400 pages!
Here’s the entry for baker:
“The business of the Baker consists in making bread, rolls, and biscuits, and in baking various forms of provisions. Bread . . . is known in London by two names: the white, or wheaten, and the household: these differ only in degree of purity; and the loaves must be marked with a W, or H, or the baker is liable to suffer a penalty.
The life of the baker is very laborious; the greater part of the work being done by night: the journeyman is required always to commence his operations about eleven o’clock in the evening, in order to get the new bread ready for admitting the rolls in the morning. His wages are, however, but very moderate, seldom amounting to more than ten shillings a week, exclusive of his board.”
Hm, late nights and little pay. I think I’ll look further. I’ve always thought our family could use a good plumber, and it also surprised me to find that this was considered a trade so early in the nineteenth century, when what we think of plumbing today was in its infancy.
“The business of the Plumber consists in casting and working of lead, and using it in buildings. He furnishes us with a cistern for water, and with a sink for the kitchen; he covers the house in lead, and makes the gutters to carry away the water; he makes pipes of all sorts and sizes, and sometimes he casts leaden statues as ornaments for the garden. The plumber also is employed in making coffins for those who are to be interred out of the usual way. He also fits up water-closets and makes pumps. . . . The health of the men is often injured by the fumes of the lead.
Journeymen earn about thirty shillings a week; and we recommend earnestly to lads brought up to the [plumbing, glazing, or painting] trades, that they cultivate cleanliness and strict sobriety, and that they never, on any account, eat their meals or retire to rest at night, before they have well washed their hands and face.”
So we’re looking at better pay and work with variety, but definitely some serious occupational and health risks. Think I’ll keep looking.
I have an abbreviated version of the books, with only 44 of the trades. If there’s some trade in particular you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll see what I can find later this summer. And speaking of summer, stay turned next week, when Marissa tells you all about how we plan to spend our summer and how we’ll be sharing it with you!