Posted by ChrisA on August 02, 2007
In Reply to: Pots for rags posted by Kate Barry on August 02, 2007
: What does the saying - "Pots for rags" mean?
It could be that it was a street cry meaning, quite literally, that the trader would give small items of pottery for rags. The rag man, with a hand cart or a horse drawn one, was still a common sight when I was growing up in the 1950s & 1960s. No matter where you lived, the rag man's cry was almost always incomprehensible but you could usually work out that the last word was 'rags'. The link attached is a memoir by someone who heard 'pots for rags'. In my day you wouldn't have got what we now think of as a pot. At best you'd get a cheap cup or saucer but usually it would be something to entice children, like a balloon or a toffee bar. My father remembers getting things that would now be very un-PC such as a goldfish in a plastic bag or a day-old chick.
I came across a completely different explanation in my search, though. It seems some people use the phrase to describe someone who's not very astute and would 'swap pots for rags' I presume the pots in this case are the more valuable kind, such as cooking pots. There was even a suggestion that this might be the derivation of 'potty'. I'm not convinced, but it's not completely unbelievable.