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Objects of delight: an investigation of miniaturisation focusing on nineteenth century mass-produced miniature objects in working class contexts

Mills, Ralph (2017) Objects of delight: an investigation of miniaturisation focusing on nineteenth century mass-produced miniature objects in working class contexts. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

From the late eighteenth century onwards, people of limited means in industrialising countries were likely to spend a proportion of their disposable income on “useless” non-utilitarian decorative objects. Miniature representations of a wide range of real or imaginary originals, many of these were displayed in the domestic context on mantelpieces. To fill a gap in both archaeological and historical research into the recent past, this study examines the importance of miniaturisation and what these small-scale objects can tell us about everyday life in the nineteenth century. My research reveals that the panoply of figures on the mantelpiece would often include plaster of Paris “images,” a class of decorative miniature three-dimensional object that, because of its low value and fragility, has not generally survived in the present. By archaeologically “excavating” a contemporary record of a mid-nineteenth century mantelpiece and identifying and interrogating the artefacts on it, I explore for the first time the complex global network of creativity, trade and consumption with which these objects link, and which demonstrates the knowledge, intellectual lives, tastes and interests of those who desired and delighted in them.

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