Pryce Jones, the businessman who anticipated Amazon’s business model 160 years ago | The State

Many things related to Christmas were different this year, including how and where you bought the gifts you delivered a few days ago.

You probably bought them through the mail order system, that multi-billion dollar industry that was inspired by predecessors like a little-known 19th century Welsh cloth seller, who lived ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and dropped out of school at 12 years old.

Pryce Jones could only dream of the impact his entrepreneurial vision would have on the world when in the late 1800s he sold Welsh flannel to the queen Victoria already Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse who stood out for her services in the Crimean War (1853-1856).

Jones “effectively created a company similar to the current Amazon,” says Aled Hughes, host of the Waliau’n Siarad program on the Welsh channel S4C, which dedicates a chapter to the history of the businessman.

The company was not created in Silicon Valley, California, nor in one of the world’s commercial epicenters at the time, but in rural central Wales, in what is now the United Kingdom.

Jones is credited with being one of the pioneers of a global mail order industry that is now worth around $ 100 billion, and that has experienced unprecedented growth in recent months due to restrictions due to the pandemic that discourage purchases in person.

Pryce Pryce-Jones
Pryce Jones clients included the royal houses of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom. Newtown Textile Museum

It is estimated that a third of all Christmas purchases were made online in 2020 due to coronavirus lockdowns around the world.

First catalogs

But when there was no internet and no delivery drivers, Pryce Jones used the superhighway of his day, the railroad, and the packet mail system.

I didn’t have an app or a website, but in 1861 he began distribute catalogs, believed to were the firstyou Catalogues of world mail orders.

These magazines featured the latest fashion items, from baggy pants to three-piece suits, and reached their 200,000 customers in the British Empire and the world.

It even had a warehouse with its own post office next to the railway line to connect its facilities with the rest of the world, turning Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Wales, into an “important international trade center.” .

Important clients

Jones also looked after his best clients.

Pryce Jones Catalog
The Pryce Jones catalog included clothes that were in style. Newtown Textile Museum

“Florence Nightingale loved her products so much that Jones named a special flannel cut after her, the Florence Nightingale Flannel,” says local historian John Evans.

“Queen Victoria was one of the first customers and it is said that she only wore Welsh flannel panties!” Evans adds.

“And in the 1870s, Pryce Jones supplied clothing to most of the crown chiefs of Europe and shipped flannel as far away as the United States and Australia,” he added.

'Welsh Cream Toffees' by Pryce Jones
Pryce Jones put a photo of his new Royal Welsh Warehouse on the cans of the Welsh Cream Toffees. Newtown Textile Museum

“All from a place that many think is in the middle of nowhere! It’s an extraordinary story, ”he says.

Pioneer entrepreneur

Pryce Jones reinvented clothing sales and brought Welsh flannel to closets around the world.

Jones’ journey to becoming a global businessman and receiving a knighthood began at the age of 12, when he dropped out of school to learn from John Davies, a cloth salesman from Newtown, Wales.

Jones sand took over the Davies business when he was still in his early 20s.

He then established a new cloth store, the Royal Welsh Warehouse, in 1859.

The Royal Welsh Warehouse
The Royal Welsh Warehouse has details commemorating Queen Victoria and Pryce Jones’ success in exhibits. Penny Mayes / Geograph

Jones began by sending price lists to local customers so they weren’t restricted from buying products only when they could go to Newtown.

But he set his sights on taking over the world when his city was linked by train to London, six years after the railways arrived in central Wales.

“He was already shipping samples of his Welsh flannel to his best customers, but saw the opportunity to ship packages by rail when the mail arrived, and the business flourished,” says Evans, curator of the Newtown Textile Museum.

Medal won by Pryce Jones at the Vienna Fair in 1873.
Pryce Jones participated in exhibitions around the world and won several medals, like this one at the Vienna Fair in 1873. Newtown Textile Museum

The pioneering entrepreneur didn’t stop there: His ever-expanding wool company invented what many credit as the world’s first sleeping bag, the so-called Euklisia rug, in 1876.

He then moved into a state-of-the-art red brick warehouse that was geared toward getting goods out “as quickly as possible”.

“It was the equivalent of a current Amazon warehouse,” says Evans.

“It was deliberately located next to the train station, with its own post office and even had its own electricity generating machine to power the factory,” says the historian.

“I was crazy about technology. He is credited with being the first person in Wales to have a phone connected to his home, ”he details.

Pryce Jones' Royal Welsh Warehouse
Pryce Jones’s Royal Welsh Warehouse still dominates the Newtown landscape. Jeremy Bolwell / Geograph

“He was a pioneering entrepreneur, a marketing genius and an innovator, and while the Pryce Jones Building still dominates Newtown today, the story is not very well known in the city,” he said.


Jones was knighted in 1887 at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. He became Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones and spent two seasons as a Member of Parliament for Montgomery.

Amazon warehouse near Swansea, UK
Amazon ships 228 million packages a year in the UK from 17 distribution centers. Getty Images

Jones’ two sons played international soccer for Wales.

He died at the age of 85, in 1920. He is buried in All Saints Church in Llanllwchaiarn, outside Newtown, a church that he had paid to build in 1890.

Subsequently, his company was severely affected by the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s and was absorbed shortly before World War II.

Even if it’s gone, next time you shop by mail, remember that the model was made possible by pioneers like Pryce Jones.

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