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The original meaning of huckster is a person who sells small articles, either door-to-door or from a stall or small store, like a peddler or hawker. The word was in use circa 1200 (as "huccsteress") and was spelled hukkerye, hukrie, hockerye, huckerstrye or hoxterye at one time or another. The word was still in use in England in the 1840s, when it appeared as a black market occupation. The word is related to the Middle Dutch hokester, hoekster and the Middle Low German höker, but appears earlier than any of these. In the United States, there developed a connotation of trickery – the huckster might trick others into buying cheap imitation products as if they were the real thing.
In Scotland, the term huckster referred to a person, usually a woman, who bought goods, watered them down, and resold them in tiny quantity to others who were too poor to buy quality products available at market value. These items tended to be in the poorer quality range since economy was paramount. Scots burghs often felt the need to control hucksters because they operated without a stall, on the economic fringes. In particular, they were subject of accusations of forestalling, in this case the practice of buying goods wholesale, "before the stall" and therefore before tax was paid.
In "The Goblin and the Grocer"
The story "The Goblin and the Grocer" by Hans Christian Andersen relates that human nature is attracted to a state of happiness as represented by poetry and to sensual pleasure as represented by jam and butter at Christmas. Although the story has been mistakenly called "The Goblin and the Huckster," it has nothing to do with that term (pejoratively). The Grocer, through his haggling and bargaining, is seen as industrious because he possesses the jam and butter (sensual pleasure) and the student is seen as poor but happy because he appreciates the beauty of poetry above all else. Meanwhile, the Grocer's talkative wife and the cask in which are stored old newspapers both have plenty of authoritative knowledge to share but are paid little attention compared to the primal desires of humankind, which constantly compete for (the goblin's) attention.
In science fiction fandom
In science fiction fandom, the term "huckster" is used non-pejoratively to designate dealers in science fiction–related books, magazines and paraphernalia, particularly those who deal at science fiction conventions.
In 20th-century Philadelphia
In the Philadelphia of the past century the huckster was the man who came around with his cart of vegetables. The cart may have been mechanical or even horse drawn. He was the man from whom you bought all your produce. The huckster made his presence known by crying out loud what he had to offer. In old time Philadelphia dialect, to say "like a huckster" meant to be too loud in one's speech.
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- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), "Huckster, n."
- Franson, Donald (1962). "A Key to the Terminology of Science Fiction Fandom". National Fantasy Fan Federation.