Read the following articles from the Topic 5 Readings:
“The Banality of Gilding: Innocuous Materiality and Transatlantic Consumption in the Gilded Age,” “Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous Consumption, 1902,” and “America’s Gilded Age” and then answer the discussion question that follows:
During the Victorian Age, the upper class became very wealthy in part by exploiting the lower classes. For America to become a great and wealthy nation, was the exuberance and disparity of the Victorian age justified? Explain why.
The Banality of Gilding: Innocuous Materiality
and Transatlantic Consumption in the Gilded Age
Paul R. Mullins & Nigel Jeffries
Published online: 12 October 2012
# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012
Abstract This paper examines Gilded Age affluence by focusing on apparently
inconsequential decorative goods and assessing how such goods were part of shared
transatlantic patterns that reached beyond the Gilded Age and the confines of urban
America. The paper focuses on figurines recovered from nineteenth-century sites in
London and underscores how the American Gilded Age amplified many early
nineteenth-century material patterns and ideological practices that were well-
established in the United Kingdom and continued after the height of Gilded Age
affluence. This study examines the symbolism of such aesthetically eclectic goods
and focuses on the socially grounded imagination that was invested in them borrow-
ing from dominant ideologies and idiosyncratic personal experiences alike.
Keywords Consumption . Affluence . Figurines . Atlantic World
“Material for Thought”: Consumption, Gilded Age Affluence, and Household
In 1876 Henry Ward Beecher greeted the United States’ centennial by celebrating a
prosperous republic in which “there is more material for thought, for comfort, for home,
for love, to-day, in the ordinary workingman’s home, than there was a hundred years ago
in one of a hundred rich men’s mansions and buildings” (Orvell 1989, pp. 46–47). The
material forms taken by Gilded Age affluence included many ostentatious objects,
Int J Histor Archaeol (2012) 16:745–760
P. R. Mullins (*)
Department of Anthropology, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Cavanaugh Hall
413B, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA
Museum of London Archaeology, Mortimer Wheeler House, 46 Eagle Wharf Road,
London N1 7ED, UK
and period observers and scholars alike often have focused on the most astounding
material goods found in elite homes. Beecher himself had a spectacular household
assemblage of figurines and decorative goods that was auctioned in November 1887.
Many comparable goods evoking affluence and worldliness were found in homes
throughout the Atlantic World, but Beecher’s collection contained exceptionally
expensive examples of all the goods he had invoked in his Centennial address:
3,024 books, a massive collection of oil paintings, several thousand engravings, 30
antique Oriental rugs, a scatter of stuffed animals, and hundreds of pieces of furniture
went under the auctioneers’ gavel. The assemblage was composed of thousands of
decorative goods with no concrete function besides aesthetic display, including
figurines and statues as well as goods such as Asian ceramics that were generally
reserved for display in bourgeois homes.
It was precisely this sort of pretentious material wealth and the imperative to
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