‘Gold and silver are but merchandise, as well as cloth or linen; and that nation that buys the least, and sells the most, must always have the most money.’Philip Dormer Stanhope; 4th Earl Chesterfield (1694–1773).
The fourth Friday in November has become known as Black Friday, and there is quite an intriguing background to this phenomenon. In its current form – the shopping extravaganza that overtakes most of the world – it has only been around since November 1951. Prior to that year (and nine times afterwards) the term Black Friday has been used to denote Friday disasters, and there have been no less than 22 such events, ranging from financial implosions to fishing tragedies, bushfires and military setbacks. The first recorded event happened in 1869, when two investors in the USA, Jay Gould and James Finch, tried to corner the gold market. The process they followed was complicated and does not bear investigation here; suffice it say that the forced release of gold bullion by President Grant caused a financial collapse that wiped out many an investor, bankrupted large firms and caused a strong decline in the American economy. The phrase ‘Black Friday’ was written in large capital letters above the blackboard in the New York Gold Room that showed the financial mayhem, and the cult of Black Friday was born.
This economic downturn was blitzed by the subsequent 1929 Black Friday, when the American Stock Market crashed with catastrophic results, and led to the twelve year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialised countries, caused the failure of 28 285 businesses in the USA and spawned a mass of unemployment.
The balance of the Black Fridays listed cover a multiplicity of events, some tragic (like the Eyemouth fishing disaster in 1881 when storms caused the deaths of 189 fishermen); some reflective of heavy-handed governments (like Black Friday 2004 in Malé, Maldives when government forces cracked down on peaceful protestors); some military (like the 1944 disastrous attack by the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada near Woensdrecht during the WWII Battle of the Scheldt); and some puzzling. (Like the 2011 closing of online poker sites. Somehow we struggle to equate that with natural disasters, wars and Great Depressions.)
But to matters more current and positive: Black Friday, the international shopping spectacular that has become a staple in the pre-Christmas economic world. Why Black, you ask, given that it’s seen as a positive event? There are two schools of thought around the naming. The first, more negative aspect, is that when the post-Thanksgiving Day sales in the USA started gaining momentum people started taking advantage. The number of staff calling in sick to work on that day sky-rocketed, and the actual sales saw scenes of mayhem as customers actually fought over items. Add to that traffic congestion, and the authorities deemed the day ‘black’. But retailers were not to be denied, and over time initiatives have been put in place to lessen the crushes and make Black Friday shopping a pleasure as well as a day of great savings. One of the more obvious answers was to make longer shopping hours – the 08h00 to 16h00 limitation created most of the problems – so store opening times have steadily moved backwards; from 06h00 to 0h400 to midnight. The amount of goods on sale have increased exponentially as well, some might say a little too fortuitously to be wholly believable, but they are probably just being cynical…
So Black Friday needed a new, positive, angle, and initially retailers tried to call it Big Friday, but that just didn’t catch on – Black Friday remained the catchphrase of choice. In 1981 some Bright Spark at the Philadelphia Enquirer wrote a story that ‘Black Friday’ signified the time when retailers moved from being ‘in the red’ to ‘in the black’; whether or not punters bought this explanation we have no way of knowing, but Black Friday it is, and Black Friday it will remain, all negative connotations seemingly forgotten.
Waterfront Charters want to put sunlight into Black Friday! We have set up a special Black Friday Promotion that will see 300 lucky guests getting a whopping 50% discount on our extremely popular Pre-sunset Champagne Cruises aboard the schooner Esperance. It’s dead easy to qualify: just go to the promotion in the website on the 29th Nov and click away.
You don’t have to actually sail on Black Friday itself, we hasten to point out – Esperance is roomy, but 300 passengers could make things a bit crowded out on the bowsprit on a single cruise. Book your cruise for a day when it suits you and your guests, and you can raise a champagne flute to the modern day version of Black Friday and its economic advantages.