Vintage Views: Butcher Shops

January is National Meat Month, so were are finding ways to examine and celebrate the role of meat in our lives, from recipes and art, to vintage images like these.

Did you know that the oldest family business in England is a butcher shop? Operating since 1515, R.J. Balson & Sons celebrated its 500 year anniversary in September of 2015. That’s a lot of meat pies and black pudding. For more on this historic shop, read the Telegraph article here.

It got us thinking about the history of butcher shops. And lucky for the curious among us, there are many interesting photos of butchers, their shops and counters, and the proud men themselves posed outside, sometimes wielding the tools of their trade.

It’s a view into a world that’s a far cry from our sanitized supermarket experience of meat, where we seldom see whole animals or primal cuts. All the breaking down takes place behind the scenes, and we are presented with a neat, plastic-wrapped package.

2011-02-19-butcher

Not so in the past. Before refrigeration, great hunks of meat and whole animals hung on hooks inside, and sometimes outside, the store, as you can see in this impressive array at Brown & Co. Pickled tongues and home rendered lard were likely just two of the prepared byproducts of the butcher’s work. But those items were popular enough to warrant a sign above the window.

1800s-vintage-butcher-shop

Inside a butcher’s shop, a huge scale and a handy saw on the rack behind the counter and no refrigerators in sight. Consider human history; we have lived many more centuries without that modern convenience than with it. It’s the reason we developed things like charcuterie to preserve meat for later consumption.

Note the sawdust on the floor, which collected drippings and blood, and kept the floor from getting slick. This was a common feature in butcher shops through the ages.

j-morgan-vintage-butcher

The fellows at J. Morgan had to be strong; just look at all those huge carcasses displayed. How did they hang those pieces on the upper level?  A glance at the aprons will tell you who did most of the cutting.

dc-meat-counter-without-dog

Lots or rich detail here, including the calendar telling us that it’s September 1926.  The butcher stand was in Central Market, Washington, DC. The baskets on the floor hold little bundles of paper-wrapped meat. Not likely to encounter that in a store today!

o-street-market-dc

Another meat counter in a market which makes a more hygienic appearance, with a glass covered counter and a bouquet of irises  gladioli (which are in the iris family – thanks to  reader MXMediaMom for correctly identifying them!) to boot. This photo of the D.D. Collins counter was taken in 1925 at the O Street Market in Washington, DC. For a high resolution photo that allows you to zoom into the details, head to Shorpy.com, an archive of historic images.

butcher-holding-meat

We leave you with this young butcher, striped apron and knife steel marking his profession. That, and the trough of meat on his shoulder.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. mxmediamom says:

    Thanks for the photos! Fascinating and fun to see. BTW, I believe the flowers are gladiolus, not irises.

  2. Laurence Davidson says:

    What a cool blog post! Great photos! I miss my old SF neighborhood butcher shop but living out in Walla Walla, we have Blue Valley Meats – a wonderful local butchery where they do everything in house. Doesn’t have the ambiance, look/feel of an old-world butcher but the products are outstanding, the cuts superior and the ability to pre-order any cut, old world or new is a great asset to the the community

  3. Suzanne Douglass says:

    I really enjoyed the butcher shop pictures. I remember hearing that my grandmother would phone the butcher every day to order the meat for dinner. Same with the greengrocer for the veggies. Sometimes she’d go pick the orders up but more commonly, have them delivered. Then, you could get tongue, calves liver and all kinds of things you can’t find now. And no styrofoam!!!

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