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What is a Chandlery?

Y. Chen
Y. Chen

Rising out of historical necessity, a chandlery was a store that sold nautical parts, gear, and other commodities to sea-bound vessels. The chandlery came into prominence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when ships were the preferred method of transportation for the lucrative industries of cargo shipping, fishing, and whaling among other areas. The chandlery in its simplest form acted as a storeroom for hoarding supplies of wax and tallow candles, soaps, oils, paints, ropes, as well as other things that sea-bound sailors would need to aid them in their journeys.

Mostly around the eighteenth century, owners set up their chandlery along wharves, which made their business mostly about providing lighting on board the ships that passed the wharf. As business expanded due to success in the industries that required maritime transit, the chandlery was able to increase its assortment of inventory and began offering other essential supplies for sea-going vessels.

Chandleries sold candles and other supplies for ships.
Chandleries sold candles and other supplies for ships.

Today, a chandlery is more or less a modern convenience store for sailing vessels. The chandlery often offers the essentials along with more technologically advanced products. Because people are also beginning to purchase boats for recreational purposes instead of just for business operations, demand for maritime gear and parts have not waned. Many online stores in the chandlery business now also offer modernly developed accouterments like electrical equipment, furniture, sailing apparel, safety gear, and navigation instruments. Chandleries are mostly located in North America (especially Canada) and Europe (especially the United Kingdom), where boating is popular as both sport and commerce.

In the olden days, the retail dealer of a chandlery was a chandler, who besides managing the store's processes also specialized in candle making. Nowadays, in attempts to preserve the original meaning of a chandlery, some stores that offer nautical accouterments emphasize candles as a specialty good. Sold as customized gifts, these candles are re-appropriated as corporate gifts, gift baskets, party favors, or as part of a wedding centerpiece.

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    • Chandleries sold candles and other supplies for ships.
      By: RTimages
      Chandleries sold candles and other supplies for ships.