Wednesday, June 22, 2022

History, Economics And The Price Of A New Suit

This Halifax advert from 1922 proclaims “the pound buys more at Pinders this Spring!" Such words are unfamiliar to us living at a time when the pound buys less and less. But economics is a strange science - falling prices can be as bad as rising prices.


My late, lamented Uncle Frank used to record the sound  of TV adverts in the 1960s. Principally, this was because he was a rather strange man, but I also like to think that it was because he recognised the value of adverts as insights into economic and social history. Take, for example, this advert for the Halifax tailor and outfitter, Harry Pinder, which appeared in the Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian just 100 years ago today.

You have the 1920s styles and a happy collection of straw boaters, trilby’s and pith helmets posing on a sunny English beach. Push the grand show of Spring styles aside, and you are rewarded with a fascinating insight into British economic history which is particularly interesting given our current economic malaise.

“The pound buys more at Pinders this Spring” was not a meaningless advertising slogan - it was all too true. In 1922, Britain was beset by deflation, with prices falling by 15% on average during the year. Before you get out the glasses and open the bottle of cut-price champagne, let me point out that deflation can be just as economically damaging as inflation. Deflation acts as a great discouragement to consumer spending - why buy today when whatever you want is likely to be cheaper tomorrow, and going for a song next month.  You can see echoes of this dilemma in the wording of the Pinders advert. Deflation also increases the real value of debt: and low consumer spending and increased debt in real terms means difficult times ahead.

There were difficult times ahead, but Pinders managed to survive them and became a household name in Halifax right up until the 1970s. Like so many others, they eventually became a victim to a mass consumption society where quality took a back seat to fashion, and people discovered that the pound bought more on supermarket shelves and in virtual stores. It will be interesting to see what people make of our 2022 economic crisis when looking back from the year 2122. I’m sure we will be welcome to look without pressure to buy.

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