Northampton Electronic Collection of Theses and Research

Luxury and country house sales in England, c.1760-1830

Stobart, J. (2014) Luxury and country house sales in England, c.1760-1830. In: Fennetaux, A., Junqua, A. and Vasset, S. (eds.) The Afterlife of Used Things: Recycling in the Long Eighteenth Century. London: Routledge. pp. 25-36.

Item Type: Book Section
Abstract: The country house is generally seen as a key site for the consumption of luxury goods: a place where no expense was spared to make a very public statement of the wealth, taste and connoisseurship of the owner. Today the resulting material culture of the country house often seems permanent – a priceless collection uniquely associated with a particular place – yet the reality was very different, with the nature and arrangement of furniture, etc. being in constant flux. New goods came into the house as fashion or fortune dictated, whilst others were removed, sometimes to less public rooms; sometimes altogether. One key mechanism by which luxury goods, amongst others, left the country house was via public auction, which normally took place at the house itself. Indeed, whilst the tradition of strict settlement limited the ability to sell landed estates, the contents of the house were an important asset which could be realised to meet debts or finance redevelopment or refurbishment of the property. In this chapter, I draw on a sample of house sales held in the English Midlands during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to explore this means of recycling luxury goods. I begin by examining the character of the luxury goods being sold and assessing how they match in with Appadurai’s criteria of luxury. Here it is important to consider how the nature of goods was related to the motivations for their sale and purchase. Of particular interest is the question of absence: what luxury goods are missing from the sales, and what does this tell us about the changing relationship between luxury and elite identity? Building on this, I focus on the ways in which these goods were promoted. Here, the language used is particularly revealing of contemporary attitudes to and constructions of luxury, and tells us much about the character and communication of luxury as an idea. Overall, I argue that the kinds of goods available at country house sales can be seen as luxuries primarily defined by their price and complexity of acquisition. This suggests that the motivations to which these sales appealed were those of capturing value or securing items that could not easily be obtained through other means. Most descriptions referred to the aesthetic qualities of the luxury goods being sold rather than their value, cost or complexity. In doing so, they linked these luxuries back to the same value systems that had framed their initial purchase: refinement, politeness and self-respect. If they were moderated by the exigencies of ‘prudent economy’, this made them no less part of genteel consumer practices.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain > DA505 George III, 1760-1820
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5482 Secondhand trade
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions > HC94 By region or country > HC257 Great Britain > HC260.C6 Consumerism
Creators: Stobart, Jon
Editors: Fennetaux, Ariane, Junqua, Amelie and Vasset, Sophie
Funders or Sponsors: AHRC
Publisher: Routledge
Faculties, Divisions and Institutes: University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > School of Social Sciences (to 2016)
University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > Faculty of Education & Humanities > History
Faculties > Faculty of Education & Humanities > History
Date: October 2014
Date Type: Publication
Page Range: pp. 25-36
Title of Book: The Afterlife of Used Things: Recycling in the Long Eighteenth Century
Series Name: Routledge studies in cultural history
Place of Publication: London
Number of Pages: 256
Language: English
ISBN: 9780415726306
Status: Published / Disseminated
Refereed: Yes
Related URLs:

Actions (login required)

Edit Item Edit Item