note (14 December 2018)

These hardware store pages have languished over the last couple of years, as my attention has wandered. Mea culpa. I have continued — though less assiduously — to watch for sightings of hardware stores in fiction and elsewhere. I plan on adding those to these annotated lists soon; an overhaul of this website is also long overdue.

Meanwhile, see Shannon Mattern her rich essay Community Plumbing : How the hardware store orders things, neighborhoods, and material worlds (July 2018), at Places.

These pages started as an offshoot of my McVey Hardware narrative. What was once a list on a single page, was divided into the sections shown at right. I look for work in which hardware and hardware stores are taken up in (1) significant and (2) reflective, metaphorical, imaginative or otherwise interesting (to me) ways.

I hope eventually to start synthesizing some of what I find in this material. Patterns/themes that do appear include (1) mutability of retail genres; (2) gender; (3) the cultural significance/meaning of hardware stores; (4) language and nomenclature; and inevitably, (5) things and their organization.

The hardware store is both a real and an imagined place. It embodies or represents ideas about down-to-earth practicality; stability and dependability; continuity; self-reliance, competence. Conversely, it’s a marker for lack of ambition and/or motivation, withdrawal, detachment, a philosophical attitude. It can intimidate, or welcome. The autistic can be at home, here, and exiles from elsewheres and/or disappointment. There’s a gender aspect to hardware stores, that is embodied, addressed and/or contested by a good many of these works, by both men and women.

The very definition of a hardware store is subject to questioning: inventory varies from store to store, time to time, location to location. What distinguishes a hardware from a general or country store, from a DIY home/garden center, or from a heritage museum? (There’s plenty of evidence, in this material, that even functioning hardware stores are regarded as museums.) And what about ironmongers, and quincaillerie, and eisenwaren, 金物店 (kanamonoyasan), etc., etc.? What was the owner of a business in Caherciveen, County Kerry, Ireland, trying to signify by naming it The American Hardware Store?

Hardware is inconceivable without language (software?). Things have names. Hardware Spoken Here, writes Ray Bradbury; Know the name of what you want, advises Florence Adams. Oddly for so thing-intensive a place, a lot of writing goes on. Owners/clerks keep want books. Notes are taken, figures toted up on paper. Things go into boxes and bins and hung from hooks or stashed in back, one place or another (decisions are made). They’re priced, labeled, catalogued. And lists, lots of lists.

Recent additions include
Paul Henry’s Art Gallery (repurposed hardware store),
premier of Nichols Hardware Store Documentary May 14, 2011, Purcellville, Virginia,
F. M. Howarth, Weary Willy’s Attractiveness (cartoon)
William Tillyer, Hardware Variations on a Theme of Encounter (paintings),
Catherine Anderson, Phantom Waltz (fiction),
James Allen Gardner, Hardware Scenario G-49 (fiction),
Amy Greene, Bloodroot (fiction),
Anna Jacobs, The Corrigan Legacy (fiction),
Larry McMurtry, Duane’s Depressed (fiction),
Hope Ramsay, Welcome to Last Chance (fiction),
Marilynne Rudick, Fixing to Stay (fiction),
Parke Sellard, The Boswell Gene (fiction),
Karen Rose Smith, Kit and Kisses (fiction),
Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge (fiction),
Mary Love’s centennial book about Naylor Hardware in Maryland,
R. J. Rice his Gems of Thought and Sentiment (Waggoner, Illinois), and
Matthew Brennan, Resurrection,
Averill Curdy’s poem Hardware,
Henry Taylor’s poem In Another’s Hands,
Ivan Illich on tools for conviviality, and
a passage by Mark Vonnegut about his great grandfather, sobbing I don’t want to sell nails.

Let me add — in the context of mutability of retail genre — that stores that sold hardware went by many names; I imagine that even one store might go by several names depending on who was speaking, the speaker’s relationship with the business (and perhaps its former owners), the kinds of things he or she bought there. Hardware stores were known to sell books (and possibly even to rent them, as stationers, drug stores, and others did). See Sidney Huttner’s discussion of one of the publishers of Owen Meredith’s Lucile (1860 and often reprinted), where we learn that publisher Alexander Belford opened books stalls in department stores, hardware stores, shoe shops... an idea many decades ahead of its time. Will explore this notion elsewhere in these pages. (Thanks to an unknown someone who told me about the lending library in a Boots pharmacy, in the David Lean film Brief Encounter (1945).)

A few more comments on Lucile here.

John McVey
19 May 2011

An ambition of mine is to create a wunderkamern/philosophical garden. McVey Hardware and Arboretum, perhaps, or Mechanick’s Institute.


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