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The Cincinnati Time Store As An Historical Precedent For Societal Change

Steve Kemple (Presented at CS13, Cincinnati OH, March 19, 2010)

1. The First Time Store (Excerpt) I’ll begin by reading an excerpt from a 1906 biography by William Bailie entitled Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist, A Sociological Study, in which the author describes in detail the establishment and workings of the Cincinnati Time Store: On the 18th of May, 1827, there was opened unpretentiously at the corner of Fifth and Elm Streets in Cincinnati a little country store, conducted on a plan new to commerce though not unimportant to the well-being of society. It was the first Equity store, designed to illustrate the Cost Principle, the germ of the cooperative movement of the future. When the advantages of the store became known and its method understood, it was the most popular mercantile institution in the city. The people called it the “Time Store,” not because it gave credit or sold goods on installments, but on account of the peculiar and original method adopted to fix and regulate the amount of the merchant’s compensation. This was determined on the principle of the equal exchange of labor, measured by the time occupied, and exchanged hour for hour with other kinds of labor. Let us illustrate. A clock hangs in a conspicuous place in the store. In comes the customer to make his purchases. All goods are marked with the price in plain figures, which is their cost price, plus a nominal percentage to cover fre ight, shrinkage, rent, etc., usually about


four cents on the dollar. The purchaser selects what he needs, with not over-much assistance or prompting from the salesman, and pays for the same in lawful money. The time spent by the merchant in waiting upon him is now calculated by reference to the convenient clock, and in payment for this service the customer gives his labor note, something after this form: “Due to Josiah Warren, on demand, thirty minutes in carpenter work - John Smith.” Or, “Due to Josiah Warren, on demand, ten minutes in needlework - Mary Brown.” The store-keeper thus agreed to exchange his time for an equal amount of the time of those who bought goods of him. Profits in the customary sense there were none. Here was the application of the principle of labor for labor, the Cost Principle in its most primitive form, which, through experience, was subsequently modified so as to allow for the different valuations of the various kinds of labor. As to the moral results of the Cost system in practice, it prevented needless waste of the vendor’s time by thoughtless purchasers; while the marking of each commodity at cost price stopped all haggling, and promoted mutual respect and confidence in place of sharp dealing and distrust. While it was Robert Owen who, in a plan devised in 1820 to relieve the industrial woes of Ireland, first proposed the use of labor notes, yet the idea had not been put in practice until Warren, in his original way, successfully carried it out. His store was also a magazine for the deposit of saleable products. A report of the demand was posted up each morning, showing at all times what goods would be received. The depositor, when his goods were accepted, was at liberty to take in exchange other goods to an equal amount from the store or to take Warren’s labor notes instead. And as these labor notes were expressed in hours and not in dollar, it was found advisable to keep exhibited for the information of traders a list which was compiled from the ascertained average cost in labor-time of all staple articles, showing their prices in hours. Besides this, the public had access 2

to the bills of all goods purchased, so that no grounds of dispute could exist as to price. The plan of accepting from depositors for sale in the store only such goods as were known to be then in demand prevented a glut in any line, and avoided the mistake which, a few years later, was largely responsible for the collapse, after a brief existence, of Robert Owen’s Labor Exchange in London. There were no rules and regulations to bewilder the public in the Equity store, the subjoined notice being deemed by Warren sufficient: Whatever arrangements may be made from time in this place, they will always be subject to alteration, or to be abolished, whenever circumstances or increasing knowledge may exhibit the necessity of change. Just two years after the doors first opened to his Time Store, in May of 1829, Warren declared the experiment a success and left Cincinnati to pursue other ventures implementing his anarchistic theories. Interestingly, the land on which the Time Store was built was leased from none other than Nicholas Longworth for a duration of 99 years. Before leaving Cincinnati, Warren relinquished his rights to the land on the guiding principle that it would be unethical to profit from another’s use of the land, or by any other indirect means.


2. Josiah Warren’s Life & Career Warren grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, where he underwent formal training as a musician. As a young man he developed a reputation as a band leader and an inventor; it was this occupation that led him to his first residence in Cincinnati, where, in his leisure time, he invented a lard burning lamp. This was a dramatic improvement on the existing tallow burning lamps, and the popularity of the device provided him with modest financial success. It was here in Cincinnati that Warren attended a lecture by Robert Owen and was immediately enamored with his ideas. He became a devoted student to Owen’s theories and decided to join his communistic utopian experiment, commenced shortly thereafter in nearby New Harmony, Indiana. He spent two years working with Owen at New Harmony, but in 1827, after anticipating the failure of the venture, Warren left for Cincinnati. The Time Store was to be a positive critique of Owen’s practices; his perceptive observations turned out to be accurate when Owen’s commune dissolved several years later. He wrote of the community, in an 1856 letter: It seemed that the difference of opinion, tastes and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity. Two years were worn out in this way; at the end of which, I believe that not more than three persons had the least hope of success. Most of the experimenters left in despair of all reforms, and conservatism felt itself confirmed. We had tried every conceivable form of organization and government. We had a world in miniature. --we had enacted the French revolution over again with despairing hearts instead of corpses as a result. ...It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us ...our 'united interests' were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation... and it was evident that just in proportion to the contact of persons or interests, so are concessions and compromises indispensable. Josiah Warren would eventually return to New Harmony and remained there for several years throughout the 1840’s. By this point the commune had been completely absorbed into the surrounding industry, and very much resembled any other southwest Indiana town. But bitter memories of Owen’s failure were fresh in the minds of its 4

residents; when he attempted to set up a Time Store there in 1842, its opening was met with a threatening display of firearms. Despite opposition, the venture proved to be a success and even benefited the surrounding economy by driving prices down and drawing curious visitors from around the Midwest. During this residence in New Harmony, Owen wrote prolifically and developed his most famous invention: the continuous cylindrical printing press, on which he printed his 1841 Manifesto. He freely distributed this pamphlet to visitors at the New Harmony Time Store, and copies were circulated largely by hand throughout the Midwest. Few of the original pamphlets survive; the text was reprinted once in a very small edition, by Joseph Ishill in 1952. Editions are exceedingly scarce; a copy of Ishill’s reprint resides in the Rare Books room at the Main Library in downtown Cincinnati. For the sake of encouraging renewed local interest, we have reprinted the text here in Creative Economy, along with a short introduction by Isaac Hand, who has been a collaborator on the research culminating in this lecture. Before and after his second residence in New Harmony, Warren traveled throughout the Midwest, founding Time Stores wherever he went, and establishing several successful settlements founded on the principles of Equity. His first “trial village” founded in 1835 was located 40 miles south of Canton, Ohio. Among the most famous of his settlements was Modern Times, founded on Long Island, New York, along with fellow reformer Stephen Pearl Andrews. The project descended into chaos when newspaper readers in New York City were introduced to its existence, and it subsequently became a notorious haven for cranks and depraved individuals seeking refuge in its anarchistic structure. In 1847, Warren returned again to the Cincinnati area. Thirty miles to the east, on present day Route 52 in Clermont County, a group of Spiritualist Communists had founded Utopia in 1844. While they were friendly with Warren and acquainted with his teachings, they openly rejected his views on property and individual liberty. Spiritualism was a belief system popular throughout the 1800’s in which many of its adherents supplemented their (often but not always) Protestant Christian beliefs with occult practices such as séances, the use of mediums, and prominent belief in a spirit world. The original founders of Utopia believed that the earth was about to enter a 5

35,000 year period of peace, and that the formation of small communes was necessary to bring about enlightenment and the new age. They also supposedly believed that such a new age would be signified by the world’s oceans turning into lemonade. For reasons unfathomable to me, this venture was near shambles by 1847. In December of that year, the Ohio River flooded, sweeping away the town hall, in which at the time the Spiritualist leaders were having a celebratory gathering. It is said that the weary ghosts of Spiritualistic Communists haunt the banks of the Ohio to this day, making their presence known on dreary nights when the river banks are shrouded in fog. The surviving members contacted Warren for his advice, and he agreed to take over leadership of the community. He converted the residents to anarchism and established two Equity Stores at the center of the town. The commune flourished for many years thereafter, though was only under the direct leadership of Warren until 1849. The town of Utopia exists to this day as a gas station, a few houses, and two standard green signs bearing the word “Utopia” in upper case Highway Gothic. Josiah Warren died of dropsy in 1874 at age 76.


3. Philosophy, Perspectives, etc. Josiah Warren, as may have been gathered up to this point, was a professed advocate of Individualism and Anarchism. He is considered by many historians to have been the first American born Anarchist, and is credited with having established its uniquely American strain. His thinking was acknowledged by John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer as being tremendously influential to their own. His emphasis on individual sovereignty was born out of his critique of Robert Owen’s cooperative movement, whose failure he saw as being due to the disavowal of property and lack of consideration of individual differences. Warren, much like modern day American Right Wing Libertarians, saw the State as something whose reach should be as small as possible. But unlike modern day Libertarians, his philosophy, despite being rooted in critique, is largely positive. True Civilization: If one decides for all, then all but that one are, perhaps, enslaved; if each one’s title to Sovereignty is admitted, there will be different interpretations, and this freedom to differ will ensure emancipation, safety, repose, even in a political atmosphere! And all the cooperation we ought to expect will come from the coincidence of motives according to the merits of each case as estimated by different minds. ... No subordination can be more perfect than that of an Orchestra; but it is all voluntary. We can see here a clear glimpse into his ontology, which has its roots deeply embedded in the individualistic American spirit of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. “One, such as Warren, could cite the Declaration of Independence as a logical antecedent to Anarchism (albeit a uniquely American individualistic Thoreau-esque variety) without a tinge of irony.” While it is not clear if he was acquainted the writings of Emerson or Thoreau, he was surely motivated by a shared sentiment and was undoubtedly their ideological kin. Warren’s theory of Equitable Commerce, embodied in the practice of “Labor for Labor,” runs parallel to the writings of French Socialist Anarchist philosopher PierreHe writes at length about the necessity for what he alternately calls “voluntary,” or “coincidental cooperation” He says in his 1863 book


Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon, who infamously proclaimed “La propriété, c'est le vol!” or “Property is theft!” (around which a group show at U-Turn is planned for later this year), is usually considered to be the originator of Mutualism. Though Proudhon and Warren were contemporaries, it is unclear if and to what extent the two thinkers were aware of each other’s work. Whether or not its theoretical bases may be entirely attributed to Warren, the Cincinnati Time Store is still historically recognized as the first application of the Mutualist economic theory. Interestingly, it could be shown that in some sense, this discursive relation to Proudhon situates Warren’s thinking in proximity to Marxism, with whom Warren would undoubtedly have been highly critical. Josiah Warren summarized his interpretation of Mutualism with the maxim, “cost the limit of price,” which lived on as a ubiquitous mantra for Individualist Anarchism throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. In its purest form, the Mutualist school of thought holds that in an ideal society each person (or collective of persons) possesses a means of production, and where all exchanges in a free market are equivalent to goods or services embodying “the amount of labor necessary to produce an article of exactly similar or equal utility.” The economic infrastructure necessary to facilitate such a market on a large scale has differed from thinker to thinker, though most have involved some sort of centralized mutual-credit bank guided by the same principles it facilitates. A tenet central to all proponents of Mutualism is the notion that all profit is not only fundamentally unjustifiable, but that, being indicative of an essentially non-equivalent transaction, it is indistinguishable from usury or extortion. The notion of interest is minimally retained in most variants, including Warren’s, as a means to accommodate for the accumulation of labor associated with a good or service. For example, a pound of rhubarb will accumulate interest equivalent to the labor necessary to transport it to the store, and then for the labor of shopkeepers and the overhead at the store, and so on. This was exemplified in Warren’s iconic clock, marking off interest accumulated in proportion to time spent with the shopkeeper. At heart, Josiah Warren’s attempts at social reform were rooted in pragmatism. Though undoubtedly a deep thinker, his writings reflect a tremendous valuation of self reliance. Perhaps to his disadvantage, though certainly indicative of the sincerity and 8

depth of his convictions, as well as his intelligence and clear mindedness, Warren did not express, at least in writing, any conscious effort to situate his ideas within the context of historical or contemporary political, social, or economic ideologies. While the crux of his theories, as a result, are rife with fallacies, it was ultimately his emphasis on pragmatism and experimentation, twofold with his ingenuity, that gave him his advantage over Robert Owen’s more austere but ultimately impracticable approach. While Owen approached social reform an aloof, classically minded essayist, Warren’s approach was that of a working American inventor, concerned above all with practicality and innovation. Although Warren’s ideology is subject to many sharp criticisms, it is ripe for contemporary discussion and reinterpretation. In our publication, Isaac Hand gives several examples of Time and Labor Economies as well as Mutualist trade networks developed to facilitate the execution of creative endeavors. In the present global recession, such creative economies are burgeoning alternatives to a failing system. All such economies share a common ancestor in the Cincinnati Time Store. But what I find to be most fascinating, local historical interest aside, is the Cincinnati Time Store as an alternative model for societal change. The dominant belief is that broader change happens from either the bottom up or the top down (assuming anyone still finds “Reaganomics” a plausible theory), and its occurrences tend to be described with the verb “sweeping.” But the Cincinnati Time Store offers an historical precedent for a different kind of change, one that more or less happens from the middle outward, and whose movement resembles a complex organism rather than a simplistic verb. Even discounting most of the theoretical bases for his reform, as to which we might ought to be inclined, Warren intuited a model for change that allowed for organic growth and that required neither unanimous consent nor dramatic conversions. His Time Stores, more so than his Equity Villages, could accurately be described as “parenthetical” or “micro-economies”, defined from but not existing independently of a larger economic structure. In a very literal sense they were “little Utopias,” existing unpretentiously on their own terms without violating the structure they sought to critique. Such entities are not necessarily Anarchistic; it just so happens that the clearest 9

precedent was founded on Anarchistic terms. To come to the final point of this lecture, I’d like to simply invite you to consider that there is an obvious correlation between Josiah Warren’s Time Stores and contemporary creative DIY spaces. Such spaces exist on their own terms, incorporating a parenthetical economy implemented on the basis of voluntary cooperation by their members. When there is a crisis in arts funding, as we’ll hear about soon, such structures have the capacity to offer buoyancy and resilience. As makers of spaces, what better way to put what we are doing than by “building little Utopias?” As Josiah Warren put it, “Society must have a new experience as a new basis.” As Gary Gaffney put it, “Art Is Not Optional.” As Publico put it, “Sike.”


4. To the representatives of various local creative spaces present tonight:

In the present global recession, we are faced with the daunting task of redefining the world as we go. We must do so in no uncertain terms.

In the present global recession, we “...must remember that an economy is more than a model of commercial exchange: it is a belief system. To adopt an economic model is to appropriate an ontology, a whole structure of meaning and valuation.” We must remember this in no uncertain terms.

In the present global recession, we must present economic alternatives, even wildly implausible ones, on the basis that change is far more subtle and complex than we had hoped. We must present them in no uncertain terms.

In the present global recession, we must seek collaboration, community, discourse, and contradiction, in hopes that our Utopias will become vicarious paradigms for a renewed economy.

In the present global recession, we must accept that we may not comprehend the differences we make, but must press on with our projects. And we must accept this in no uncertain terms.

And finally,

In the present global recession, we must press on in our Utopias, so that, upon the coming age of enlightenment, we will be greeted, in no uncertain terms, by the world’s oceans turning into lemonade.