Abstract: Who's Kidding Who? British Business and Merchandise Marks during the Interwar Years

David M. Higgins


This paper examines the response of British business to the changing international regime governing merchandise marks during the interwar period. Specifically, the focus is on the campaign to require the compulsory marking of origin on all imported products (manufactures and agricultural produce). One of the key questions the paper addresses is whether this campaign was motivated by protectionism or whether—as many of the advocates claimed—it was motivated by the wish to secure "fair and honest trade." The paper demonstrates that this latter motivation can be traced back to the later nineteenth century, when British agriculture and manufacturing were first exposed to rapidly growing competition in the domestic and export markets. Nonetheless, it was only after the First World War that the British government made legal provision for "unfair competition." A key argument of the paper is that if origin marking was motivated by protection, it was of a very different form to that which was understood by contemporaries involving tariffs and quotas.