I’ve talked a lot about how Kays presented themselves to the world and their customers, but I’m not sure that I’ve talked much about the customers themselves.
The history I’ve read suggests that mail-order customers in the UK were generally working or lower-middle class: people to whom the opportunity to buy goods on credit would have been attractive. Kays’ catalogues can help to put more flesh on this idea.
Kays’ ‘Workman’s Watch’ appears in their catalogue of Spring/Summer 1907, and in several more catalogues of the following years. It offers ‘good time-keeping qualities’ and ‘capital Keyless Action’.
It also tells us about its intended buyer: it features an ‘artistically designed Case… with beautifully embossed relief decorations and mottoes, embodying sentiments appealing specially to Trades Unionists and working men generally.’
Around the edge, on the case, are the words, ‘Workingmen of every country unite together to defend your rights’.
On the inside, around the clock face, are the words, ‘We require 8 hours for work, 8 hours for our own insturction and 8 hours for repose’.
(I’m afraid I don’t have any information to tell how well this accords with Kays’ treatment of their own workforce.)
Another watch in the same catalogue reinforces the idea that ‘workingmen’ featured largely amongst Kays’ customers. It’s a ‘Non-Magnetisable’ watch, ‘specially constructed for Electricians, Engineers and all whose occupations bring them in contact with magnetic influences’.
Of course, electricians and engineers, though working class, were also specialists who would have been taking home quite reasonable salaries. And so the watch has an ‘English Hall-marked Silver Case’. It cost three pounds and fifteen shillings, which would be at least £346.10 in today’s money, according to Measuring Worth.
Even more expensive is the ‘Pansy Watch’, marketed at women. It’s made of fourteen carat gold and has a ‘pansy enamelled back in true colourings and [a] Diamond centre.’ At £4 7s. 6d. in 1907, it would cost at least £403.80 today.
A caption at the bottom of the page suggests that although the Pansy Watch was made to be worn by women, they were not expected to buy it for themselves. It and the other women’s watches on the same page were supposed to be given as gifts
More lovely or useful presents could not be desired.
Given the general cultural associations around gifts of pretty jewellery, this makes me think that the Kays customer of 1907 — at least as Kays envisioned him — was a man. But perhaps a man who was able to afford a few nice things, even if he wasn’t entirely middle class.
However, an item towards the end of the Spring/Summer 1907 catalogue confuses things.
The ‘Universal Easy Wringing and Mangling Machine’ is not advertised as a gift. It is simply ‘a boon to every housewife’.
Perhaps, as Kays imagined it, this housewife’s status as a married woman allowed her to confer with her husband over Kays catalogue purchases. The intended recipient of the Pansy Watch may have been unmarried.
It also looks to me as if the housewife-customer would be living in a household where she did the laundry herself — unlike the many upper- and middling-middle class women who still relied on servants. Hence the emphasis on how ‘easy’ the wringer made things:
It runs so easily that a girl can do as much work in one hour as a washerwoman in four with an ordinary machine.
A much more significant issue if you yourself were going to be the girl or washerwoman in question. Though I hope perhaps some lucky maids’ mistresses did buy them Universal Easies. Mangling doesn’t look fun, even with Kays’ special machine.