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Category: Campfire

Around the campfire: The men who invented Black Friday

Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday all disappeared in a flurry of buying – now it's all down to Christmas which – speaking as a resident...

3 December 2020

Jason Cozens

Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday all disappeared in a flurry of buying – now it’s all down to Christmas which – speaking as a resident in a Tier 2 community – means the only way my family can share Christmas dinner with anyone not in our “support bubble” is if we all take our plates outside and sit and freeze.

If I break “the rules” I could land a fine of £200 ($150) for the first offence, rising to £6,400 ($8,547) for repeat offences – and if I were to stage an event of more than 30 people I could be fined £10,000 ($13,355).

As the pandemic has stretched on, the rules have got more complicated, more detailed, and more arbitrary – why are 30 people allowed to attend a funeral but only 15 a wedding reception? The “rules” are laid out in 12 closely-printed A4 pages on the UK government website. Don’t lose yourself in the undergrowth.

But the internet this year has proved its value many times over. We can immediately download and struggle with the latest government diktat.

More usefully, digitisation has allowed me to create Glint and start to democratise control over money.

And where would Black Friday and Cyber Monday be this year without the chance to do some online buying?

The original ‘Black Friday’ had nothing to do with retail. It originated with a pair of unscrupulous wheeler-dealers named Jay Gould and Jim Fisk. In early 1869, shortly after the Civil War, they took advantage of the competition between gold and government-issued dollars – which both were used as money in the US at the time. They cornered the gold market, drove up the price, and tried to make a handsome profit.
In August 1869 a $100 gold ‘piece’ sold for $132 greenbacks but quickly spiked to $141. By 24 September – the day that would become known as ‘Black Friday’ – the hubbub over gold peaked and the price went to $160. President Ulysses S. Grant determined to break the pair’s stranglehold over the gold market and got the Treasury to sell $4 million of government gold and the price collapsed, ruining thousands of speculators.

This year it’s been more a case of Black November rather than just Black Friday, with retailers offering ‘deals’ throughout the month and not just one day.

The US National Retail Federation says that US spending between Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday was down 14% compared to 2019, with about 186 million shoppers buying online or in-store compared to 190 million last year. Covid-19 restrictions and anxieties cut in-store shopping by 37% on Black Friday this year compared to last.

But against that, Adobe Analytics said Americans spent a record $10.8 billion online on Cyber Monday, 15% higher than last year. The switch to online spending was already a trend but is one that has been given a terrific nudge by Covid-19.

While Glint is not trying to replicate the activities of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, we know they were onto something – gold is money, and as the world becomes ever-more digital then controlling and spending your gold, your money, has become much easier than saying ‘Ulysses S. Grant’ – or working out “the rules” under Covid-19.

Until next week,


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