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    Aesthetics for a polite society: consumer cultures and the marketing of second-hand goods in eighteenth-century London

    Blonde, Bruno, Stobart, Jon ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9771-4741 and de Muller, Alessandra (2023) Aesthetics for a polite society: consumer cultures and the marketing of second-hand goods in eighteenth-century London. Economic History Review: a journal of economic and social history. ISSN 0013-0117

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    Abstract

    The late early modern period witnessed critical consumer transitions across Europe. Yet, while the explosion of the material world and the transition from an ‘old luxury’ material culture to a ‘new luxury’ model is well documented, our understanding of the underlying value systems of consumer goods is still under-developed. Building on a database of eighteenth-century advertisements for household auctions in the London-based Daily Advertiser, this article maps the value systems that characterized elite secondary markets in London. We find the language of consumption growing in complexity and sophistication as the eighteenth century progressed, but historiographically, key concepts such as fashion and modernity played minor and sometimes unexpected roles. While silverware is traditionally perceived as a store of wealth and marker of status, and hence a textbook ‘old luxury’, in the auction advertisements it is often praised for its design value. Chinaware, often attributed a central role in forging an affordable yet fashion-sensitive ‘new luxury model’, is paradoxically valued for its age and patina. In fact, the boundaries between ‘new’ and ‘old’ luxuries were never clear-cut. The intrinsic value of material culture continued to matter, and the language of consumption continued to reproduce social inequalities, much as it did in previous centuries.

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