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Horse Trading in the Age of Cars

, 248 pages

7 halftones

December 2010



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Horse Trading in the Age of Cars

Men in the Marketplace

The trading, selling, and buying of personal transport has changed little over the past one hundred years. Whether horse trading in the early twentieth century or car buying today, haggling over prices has been the common practice of buyers and sellers alike. Horse Trading in the Age of Cars offers a fascinating study of the process of buying an automobile in a historical and gendered context.

Steven M. Gelber convincingly demonstrates that the combative and frequently dishonest culture of the showroom floor is a historical artifact whose origins lie in the history of horse trading. Bartering and bargaining were the norm in this predominantly male transaction, with both buyers and sellers staking their reputations and pride on their ability to negotiate the better deal. Gelber comments on this point-of-sale behavior and what it reveals about American men.

Gelber's highly readable and lively prose makes clear how this unique economic ritual survived into the industrial twentieth century, in the process adding a colorful and interesting chapter to the history of the automobile.

Steven M. Gelber is a professor of history at Santa Clara University and author of Hobbies: Productive Leisure and the Culture of Work in America.

"Combines a sophisticated history of horse trading and car dealing with a critical analysis of the way both worked... it functions both as an entertaining history and a buyers’ guide, divulging trade secrets that will benefit today’s consumers even as it recounts a colorful past... A sterling example of the ways in which culture and the human actors enmeshed in that culture shape economic practice."

"Gelber offers vivid portraits of several automotive flim-flam artists, and he captures the antics of dealers like Earl 'Madman' Muntz, who revolutionized auto sales in the 1940s and early '50s by creating a sales-crazed character for his advertising."

"Whatever cultural and economic factors keep horse trading alive in the age of cars and the internet, this carefully researched and well-written study is our best guide to the history of this paradoxical situation."

"Gelber's work is... praiseworthy because it avoids the kind of temporal parochialism that characterizes so many contemporary monographs, covering the entire automobile age."

" Horse Trading in the Age of Cars is an original work that accomplishes something admirable."

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