(UKCTA) United Kingdom Commercial Travellers Association - member’s badge (c.1930)
The United Kingdom Commercial Travellers Association (UKCTA) was a professional association established 1883 for the benefit of travelling salesmen. They were the largest association for commercial travellers and organised into branches across the UK, as well as Ireland.
As a professional association, they would have provided insurance cover, welfare services and legal assistance to members and their families as well as assistance with job placements. The UKCTA also placed great emphasis on the professionalism of their membership in order to distance them from the more dubious practises of ‘door-to-door-salesmen’. It was in the interests of the UKCTA and their members to see that the legitimacy of the profession was upheld.
Commercial travellers formed a significant section of the working population and could be either self-employed relying solely on commission or employed directly by a company. The numbers working as commercial travellers in Britain increased greatly after the First World War and according to the 1921 census there were 94,604 listed, 138,426 in 1931 and 149,457 in 1951. However, only a fraction (a quarter or less) of these would have been members of the UKCTA.
Social class background was important in those days and the majority of Commercial Travellers would have come from the lower middle classes and coupled with the nature of the work, this engendered a sense of affinity within the profession. It was an insecure living and although numbers employed were relatively large, there was always a high turnover rate due to the nature of the work. Earnings declined after the 1920’s and by the late-1930’s typical yearly earnings would have been in the region of £300 or about £6 per week. These relatively low earnings could be partly due to the lack of militancy within the UKCTA as opposed to its rival, the National Union of Commercial Travellers (NUCT). The diffuse nature of the work, insecurity and unwillingness to ‘upset’ their employers would also work against them in regards to wage negotiations. However, many companies did compensate for this by giving good commission rates, bonus’s and enhanced expense allowances.
The first full-time women Commercial Travellers worked during the First World War and they would have replaced husbands that enlisted into the Services. The 1921 census lists 2,604 women working as Commercial Travellers and 2,570 in 1931. The UKCTA had 100 women members in 1929 out of a total membership of some 17,000.
The UKCTA later dropped the word ‘Kingdom’ from its title and became known as the United Commercial Travellers’ Association (UCTA). In 1976 they merged with the The Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) and ceased as an independent association.
Other Commercial Travellers’ related associations
Scottish Commercial Travellers Association (SCTA) formed 1904 when they split from the UKCTA. The SCTA had 3,332 members in 1928.
Commercial Travellers Christian Union (CTCU) was a Christian organisation who drew its membership from all commercial travellers of ‘good character’ from across Britain, including Northern Ireland. The Scottish equivalent was the Commercial Travellers Christian Association (CTCA) founded in 1888. Both organisations strongly supported temperance principles as well as providing religious talks, sermons and monthly excursions.
Manufacturing Confectioners’ Commercial Travellers Association (MCCTA) formed 1900. New branches were formed in Scotland and Northern Ireland during the 1930’s. The MCCTA claimed some 75% of confectionery commercial travellers as members, with 653 in 1921 increasing to 891 by 1937.
National Union of Commercial Travellers (NUCT) were established in 1921 when they split away from the UKCTA. The NUCT were more unionised and more politically minded with militancy tendencies than were the UKCTA. The Commercial Traveller was the official magazine of the NUCT.
UK Commercial Travellers’ Benefit Society (UKCTBS) which had 8,800 members in 1930. The Scottish equivalent was the SCTA Benefit Society but attracted only some 10% of the SCTA membership.
The Royal Commercial Traveller’s Schools were founded in 1845 and drew its support from all commercial traveller association branches, the London Society and many manufacturers. www.royalcommercialtravellersschools.org.uk/history.html
eprints.gla.ac.uk/4535/1/4535.pdf (Article describing the work and conditions of Commercial Travellers in Britain, 1890’s - 1930’s).
Enamels: 1 (blue).
Fixer: Buttonhole (horseshoe shaped clasp).
Size: ½” in diameter (about 13mm).
Process: Die stamped.
Maker: No maker’s name or mark.
Sold 20/3/2013 eBay €5.60