The Peanut Girl…With a boldness and effrontery which nothing can daunt, they thrust themselves into the sanctum of the editor…They frequently lay by considerable sums of money, and as frequently their trade is but the cloak to the grossest immorality and vice.
- “New York Street Characters: The Peanut Girl,” Ballou’s Dollar Monthly (1859)
"Pretzel Vendor" 1896 NYPL
"Studio Portrait of
a man holding a box labeled
'Confectionery'" 1868 NYPL
Sept. 29, 1894 NYPL
"Peanuts and Snaps"
Oct. 1878 NYPL
(and man)" 1896 NYPL
The roving peddler with his basket or back pouch of wares is probably the least well known of the New York City food vendor types. Not required to have a license for selling their wares in the same way that butchers and pushcarts were, these peddlers had far fewer regulations imposed on them than others. Because of this, the roving peddler job was often merely a stepping-stone for the newly arrived immigrant as opposed to a career, however meager. It would allow him or her to build up enough credit to purchase a license and rent a cart, as well as make the necessary connections to suppliers.
Peddlers were often the most disliked of all the vendor types, since they were perceived to be dirty and unscrupulous, but also because they weren’t considered “American.” Junius Henri Browne in The Great Metropolis of 1869 offers an entire chapter dedicated to the examination of these people. His descriptions are rarely favorable and frequently stereotypical (see also Ethnic Stereotyping). Of the Chinese candy peddler he states, “They have a strangely lonely, forlorn, dejected air. They rarely smile. They are the embodiments of painful resignation, and the types of a civilization that never moves…[they] dawdle their way through meanness and filth…”
Many of the goods these peddlers sold were easily carried and often representative of their homelands – the Germans had the cabbage shaver (called krauthobblers), Eastern Europeans sold pretzels and breads, and many Italians scavenged for dandelion greens in the empty lots of the Lower East Side. It may be because of the strong “foreign” nature of their food that they were so despised, but more likely it was their own foreignness and perceived filth that was the cause.