‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840

Jon Stobart

Research output: Contribution to conference typesPaper

Abstract

The general understanding that traditional modes of consumption were replaced for all levels of society arises primarily because conceptualisations of changing consumption regimes view elite consumers as the driving force in a broader social transformation. This is seen in the social/cultural emulation suggested by Veblen and McKendrick, but also in Simmel’s notion of trickle-down. It even fits Grieg’s reading of fashion and the Beau Monde: this was a powerful group, she argues, because they were by definition fashionable. For these models to work, the elite must, prima facie, have been at the forefront of the move to a new material culture and the lionising of fashion as novelty – an assumption that is seldom tested in empirical studies which principally focus on social groups from the gentry down. I have argued elsewhere that elite consumers followed more complex consumer models, which were characterised by the marking and redefinition of aristocratic status through patronage, conspicuous consumption and heritance. In this paper, I want to build on this by exploring the notion that elites and middling sorts followed different consumption models. To do this, I examine a large collection of catalogues for house sales taking place in and around Northamptonshire in the period 1760-1840. These include the country houses of elites, but also rural vicarages, urban villas, and the town houses of tradesmen. My analysis focuses on the goods being offered for sale. It assesses distinctions in terms of fashionable goods (including tea and breakfast services, decorative items, and pianos) and more traditional items (silverware, paintings, collections and carriages), and seeks to determine whether elite homes were qualitatively different during this period. But I am also interested in the language used to describe these goods, both on the covers and the pages of the catalogues. Of particular interest in this regard is the appearance of ‘antiques’ as valued items and as bridges between new and old consumer cultures
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2012
EventEuropean Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012 - University of Glasgow
Duration: 14 Apr 2012 → …
http://esshc.socialhistory.org/conferences/esshc-glasgow-2012

Conference

ConferenceEuropean Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012
Period14/04/12 → …
Internet address

Fingerprint

Middle Class
Elites
Material Culture
Country House
Silverware
Antiques
Language
Tea
Gentry
Empirical Study
Novelty
Redefinition
Town Houses
Conceptualization
Patronage
Conspicuous Consumption
Beau Monde
Social Groups
Social Transformation
Consumer Culture

Keywords

  • Luxury
  • auctions
  • country house
  • antiques

Cite this

Stobart, J. (2012). ‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840. Paper presented at European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012, .
Stobart, Jon. / ‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840. Paper presented at European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012, .
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Stobart, J 2012, '‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840' Paper presented at European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012, 14/04/12, .

‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840. / Stobart, Jon.

2012. Paper presented at European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012, .

Research output: Contribution to conference typesPaper

TY - CONF

T1 - ‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840

AU - Stobart, Jon

PY - 2012/4/14

Y1 - 2012/4/14

N2 - The general understanding that traditional modes of consumption were replaced for all levels of society arises primarily because conceptualisations of changing consumption regimes view elite consumers as the driving force in a broader social transformation. This is seen in the social/cultural emulation suggested by Veblen and McKendrick, but also in Simmel’s notion of trickle-down. It even fits Grieg’s reading of fashion and the Beau Monde: this was a powerful group, she argues, because they were by definition fashionable. For these models to work, the elite must, prima facie, have been at the forefront of the move to a new material culture and the lionising of fashion as novelty – an assumption that is seldom tested in empirical studies which principally focus on social groups from the gentry down. I have argued elsewhere that elite consumers followed more complex consumer models, which were characterised by the marking and redefinition of aristocratic status through patronage, conspicuous consumption and heritance. In this paper, I want to build on this by exploring the notion that elites and middling sorts followed different consumption models. To do this, I examine a large collection of catalogues for house sales taking place in and around Northamptonshire in the period 1760-1840. These include the country houses of elites, but also rural vicarages, urban villas, and the town houses of tradesmen. My analysis focuses on the goods being offered for sale. It assesses distinctions in terms of fashionable goods (including tea and breakfast services, decorative items, and pianos) and more traditional items (silverware, paintings, collections and carriages), and seeks to determine whether elite homes were qualitatively different during this period. But I am also interested in the language used to describe these goods, both on the covers and the pages of the catalogues. Of particular interest in this regard is the appearance of ‘antiques’ as valued items and as bridges between new and old consumer cultures

AB - The general understanding that traditional modes of consumption were replaced for all levels of society arises primarily because conceptualisations of changing consumption regimes view elite consumers as the driving force in a broader social transformation. This is seen in the social/cultural emulation suggested by Veblen and McKendrick, but also in Simmel’s notion of trickle-down. It even fits Grieg’s reading of fashion and the Beau Monde: this was a powerful group, she argues, because they were by definition fashionable. For these models to work, the elite must, prima facie, have been at the forefront of the move to a new material culture and the lionising of fashion as novelty – an assumption that is seldom tested in empirical studies which principally focus on social groups from the gentry down. I have argued elsewhere that elite consumers followed more complex consumer models, which were characterised by the marking and redefinition of aristocratic status through patronage, conspicuous consumption and heritance. In this paper, I want to build on this by exploring the notion that elites and middling sorts followed different consumption models. To do this, I examine a large collection of catalogues for house sales taking place in and around Northamptonshire in the period 1760-1840. These include the country houses of elites, but also rural vicarages, urban villas, and the town houses of tradesmen. My analysis focuses on the goods being offered for sale. It assesses distinctions in terms of fashionable goods (including tea and breakfast services, decorative items, and pianos) and more traditional items (silverware, paintings, collections and carriages), and seeks to determine whether elite homes were qualitatively different during this period. But I am also interested in the language used to describe these goods, both on the covers and the pages of the catalogues. Of particular interest in this regard is the appearance of ‘antiques’ as valued items and as bridges between new and old consumer cultures

KW - Luxury

KW - auctions

KW - country house

KW - antiques

UR - http://esshc.socialhistory.org/conferences/esshc-glasgow-2012

M3 - Paper

ER -

Stobart J. ‘Rare and curious’ or ‘genuine and fashionable’? The material culture of the elite and middle classes, c.1760-1840. 2012. Paper presented at European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) 2012, .