Mr. Selfridge And The Crockery

Given England is currently broadcasting a TV series about Harry Gordon Selfridge, I thought this anecdote interesting.

From a 1903 issue of Appleton’s Magazine:

Men and Crockery

Once upon a day I visited that magnificent store of Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago. I was being conducted over the place by Mr. Selfridge, one of the partners and managers of the institution. We were passing through the Glassware Department and had stopped for a moment to examine a case of rare and beautiful treasures. Near-by a man was standing on a stepladder adjusting the lights of a chandelier that was just above the case of glassware. We passed along, but had not gone twenty feet before there was a terrific crash, and as I turned and looked back I saw that the man on the ladder had lost his balance and fallen directly into the case, not only wrecking it completely, but evidently smashing everything in it. As the luckless fellow scrambled to his feet, Selfridge said, “Oh, he’s not hurt — as I was just saying “… and he continued the conversation and we walked along just as if a thousand dollars worth of Belgium art treasures had not been smashed into smithereens.

Selfridge didn’t go back to inquire into the accident, neither did he refer to the mishap. And while I held my peace, I kept up a deal of thinking. And what I thought was this: the man who is not surprised nor disturbed by broken china or other accidents proves his fitness to manage the biggest enterprise of its kind in America. Had Selfridge gone back and started a series of questions, and indulged in reproof, with a few incidental groans at the loss, and a small bit of profanity for everybody involved, it wouldn’t have replaced the glass.

It would, however, have increased the excitement, attracted others to the scene, and tended to clog the wheels of trade. And another thing, a good man cannot afford to let accidents disturb his peace of mind and unfit him for the work of the day.

Selfridge is managing a great business, and his problem is to get the system right. Let the man in charge of the Glassware Department look after his breakage, and so long as he shows a fair profit on the right side at the end of the year, why that is all there is about it.

We deal with principles, not accidents. Broken crockery? Who cares a damn for broken crockery? Isn’t all crockery and glassware made to break? It is all foredoomed, and the fate of every fragile thing is fixed in the book of fate. Let them clean up the mess — and quickly too. — The Philistine.

Original image (composite):


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