Ralph Mills

Objects of delight

11: Object worlds


Ruesch and Kees [demonstrated] that people arrange objects to display order and disorder, shaping their surroundings to introduce order...objects...have been surprisingly little studied within communication, leaving the topic wide open for future research.
(Leeds-Hurwitz 1993, 132)

Things with which we live

As metaphors, miniatures can tell us much about people in the past, their "states of being, activities, relationships, needs, fears, hopes". These are most useful "when they reflect beliefs of which the makers, individually or collectively (as society), were unaware of or, if aware, unwilling to express openly, to verbalize" (Prown 2000, x). A miniature, what Stewart calls a "material allusion to a text which is no longer available to us" (Stewart 1993, 60), often represents a once-tangible original that no longer exists, as well as thoughts that archaeologists can only attempt to re-invent. In exploring the miniature, archaeologists are presented with an opportunity to look into the "the interior space and time" of the people they study (Stewart 1993, xii).

If it is accepted that humans and materiality run in parallel, then the worlds that people live and function in necessarily contain objects. I call these 'object worlds'. The term "object worlds" is not original (see Meskell 2004) but is not widely used, and certainly rarely in the study of material culture, and where it is used it seems to refer to a passively-experienced set of objects, such as the natural and human-made environment. Meskell uses the term in her discussions of materiality (Meskell 2004, 3) but doesn't define it. It's as if the object world is so familiar that it doesn't require definition. A hyphenated version, "object-world", is defined by Dictionary.com as: "the world outside of oneself and one's perception of the objects in it".

There are two principal categories of object worlds. The first is the object world that has been created by the societies in which we exist — the street furniture, the buildings, the vehicles, the external stuff that fills and facilitates our everyday life but over which we either have little or no control, or the control of which we share with others. The second category, which concerns us here, is the object world that we create for ourselves, the things we surround ourselves with through choice, the things we consume. My research rests on the assumption that miniature things make up a significant proportion of that object world.

Importantly, these object worlds can be divided into, on the one hand, utilitarian "necessities" and, on the other hand, objects acquired for their symbolism, for their meaning to their possessor, rather than their usefulness. This can be applied to miniatures, which, as objects of desire, are acquired because their owners like them. They delight in them (Figure 1).

There is of course a third important group of object worlds in which no-one lives — miniature worlds, reduced versions of the full-scale planet that we populate. A fourth category could be said to be those object worlds created by artists, worlds that have never existed, nor ever will exist other than in imagination and in miniature, but are miniature manipulations of reality designed for effect, to make us react and think, to communicate the artists' messages.

Another way of looking at an object world would be through the lens of landscape, when we might talk of "objectscape" (Dahn 2013) or, I suggest, a "parlourscape", a "miniaturescape" and so on. For me this implies a detached view from a distance, be that geographical, cultural or temporal. Daniel Miller calls something similar "domains" (Miller 1998, 6), but again that sounds rather like looking at something on a map. My approach is hopefully a more immersed and involved one.

In her 2004 book Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt, Lynn Meskell begins her introduction by quoting Roland Barthes: "We constantly drift between the object and its demystification, powerless to render its wholeness. For if we penetrate the object, we liberate it but we destroy it; and if we acknowledge its full weight, we respect it, but we restore it to a state which is still mystified" (Meskell 2004, 1). Barthes' words underline the archaeological theme that runs throughout my research, for "archaeology is destruction" (Wheeler 1954). It is also true that the closer I've examined the objects that are the subject of this research, the more mysteries I have uncovered. This makes sense, for in my experience it is often muttered by those at the bottoms of archaeological trenches that the excavation raises more questions than it answers.

Object worlds as reaction

Paul Mullins and Nigel Jeffries quote Wharton and Codman, who regarded the acquisition of bric-à-brac as a reaction from "bare stiff rooms" (Mullins and Jeffries 2012, np). I suggest that for the working classes there were a number of reactions — to the emptiness of poverty; to lack of individuality; to monotony; to the overbearing middle and upper classes; to the explosion of knowledge created by exhibitions, museums and institutions; to class consciousness, to powerlessness, to urban life. As archaeologists, Mullins and Jeffries, like many researchers of the nineteenth century, understandably use artefacts discovered during excavations as their exemplars. They do not mention plaster of Paris ornaments. This leads them to make some assumptions that are only partially correct. For example they state that: "figurines...were not necessarily intended to represent anything concrete" (Ibid). This may have been true of many ceramic miniatures, but as I have demonstrated in this study, many if not all the objects sold by image-sellers did represent concrete originals that possessed a variety of messages with which the buyer/displayer identified.

Even a crude spotted cat represented "catness" — domesticity, warmth, companionship, "cuteness", perhaps superstition, memories of previous pets, comfort. A figurine of Venus represented an ancient statue, bringing with it all the weight of the distant past, beauty, "culture", the "wisdom of the ages" and fitted the period's general fashion for things classical (something a lumpy Staffordshire would have failed to do).

Mullins and Jeffries suggest that the consumption patterns underlined by the US "Gilded Age" were "transatlantic phenomena". My research indicates that the activities of image sellers created a worldwide phenomenon, albeit limited to rapidly industrialising nations.

Object worlds as collections

Humanity can be divided into two parts: those who collect and the others
(Karp 2006, 11)

Archaeologists have sometimes had to twist themselves into painful contortions to explain the discovery of multiples of objects they perceived as child-related. I am going to suggest that, for example, that it is possible that finds of multiple miniature tea sets are evidence of collecting. Very few, if any, archaeologists have offered collecting as an interpretation of unusual assemblages of miniatures. Indeed, if we avoid the definition of a collection as multiple examples of the same or similar objects, many assemblages of miniatures (and other objects) may have simply been collections created for pleasure or interest.

“An object of material culture is any object that a person deems worthy of collecting” (Karp 2006, 26). Children may collect miniature objects, and indeed may have been encouraged to do so, but the vast majority of collections were (and are) assembled by adults. A collection may only include a few objects, which do not have to be duplicates or even similar.

A collection is a device for the "objectification of desire" (Stewart 1993, xii). The urge of humans to collect is not a modern phenomenon that emerged from nothing in the nineteenth century but has always been present (Pearce 1994, 1995). However it became much more widespread with the connected developments of mass-production, commodification and affluence. Collecting of miniatures in large numbers by the well-off was so common as to be unremarkable by the end of the nineteenth century (e.g the Florence Babbitt collection in Minneapolis), and there is no reason to doubt that smaller numbers of collected miniatures accumulated in the homes of the middle classes and those working class people with a little disposable income.

There was an old woman named Babbitt
Who gathered up dishes from habit
If you have an old dish, she’ll nab it

(Anon 2010b)

It could be suggested that collecting as we know it, that is the accumulation of numbers of objects related in form (e.g. model cars) or function (e.g. memorabilia), is a result of the ability of people since the beginning of the nineteenth century to acquire non-utilitarian material in in significant amounts. Whereas at first collections might be displayed on a mantel, they soon required special display cases and eventually became too large to display at all, and would be stored. However the collector, although he or she can no longer often (if ever) view the entire collection in a single glance, at least enjoys the knowledge that the collection exists.

In historical archaeological contexts, it is rarely suggested that a particular assemblage might represent part of a collection. This is perhaps due to assumptions that collections have to be large, consist of identical or duplicate objects (e.g. model cars), reflect high status (e.g. museums or cabinets of curiosities) or be eccentric (e.g. Carmichael 1971). It is ironic that archaeologists who as part of their profession collect artefacts should rarely recognise collections in the field, and perhaps it speaks of elitism that archaeologists hoard factory-manufactured Samian bowls, but apportion little value to factory-produced fairings or ceramic dolls. That collections of miniatures are archaeologically recognisable and valuable is demonstrated by the Sandhills Project, which excavated "working-class" cottages in an Alderley Edge mining community, and was able to throw unexpectedly detailed light on at least one past resident by discovering evidence of her collection of ceramics and by not dismissing them as mere curiosities (Casella 2004).

A slave may have collected a few "meaningless" objects to provide an element of identity. A poor old woman may have collected a few cheap dolls to create a fantasy childhood. Someone may have collected marbles just because they are decorative objects. Pearce calls collections narratives of experience, and objects kinds of fiction where "values are created out of rubbish" which people use to communicate and remember experience and to build self-knowledge...through them adults play games and experience magical transformations: we are all the heroes of our collections" (Pearce 1995, 412). "Collections are about recollection. Collections exclude the world and are symbolic of it". They "convey satisfaction and confer serenity upon the collectors who accumulate them" (Karp 2006, 11). "Each collector partly defines him/herself by what is collected" (Ibid, 27).

While people today use online social networking, amongst other facets of daily life, to display information about themselves, in the recent past, the social medium was the parlour, or whatever space was frequented by visitors to the household. Here they would gain an impression of not only the status of those who lived here, but also their wealth, their political views, their sense of humour, their intellect, their piety, their sexuality, their fashionability. A variety of material objects were used to convey this information, as well as the overall effect of the space. But few communicated as directly as miniatures. "Miniaturizing gave consumers the power to display a vast range of symbols on their mantel: it was not uncommon for a Victorian home to showcase Presidential, historical, Classical, natural, popular, and colonial motifs simultaneously" (Mullins 2000).

These little-studied mantelpiece collections were arranged to shape people's surroundings, to display order and disorder and to communicate messages and important meanings (Leeds-Hurwitz 1993, 132; Davidson 2004, 102). The choices ("judicious consumerism") made by individuals in acquiring toys and especially decorative objects such as ceramic figurines and bric-à-brac provide information that can shed light on issues such as resistance to racism (Davidson 2004, 102). But bric-à-brac has suffered because of its present-day associations. It is faintly looked down upon these days, and books on, for example, English mass-produced pottery, catalogue and describe wares, discuss modellers and potters and dates and monetary values, but rarely ask what the originals did. The potential roles of these objects can nevertheless "objectify the self" by demonstrating the owner's "power, vital erotic energy, and place in the social hierarchy", by "revealing the continuity of the self through time, by providing foci of involvement in the present, mementos and souvenirs of the past, and signposts to future goals" as well as placing individuals in social networks “as symbols of valued relationships" (Csikszentmihalyi 1993, 23). Archaeologists perhaps forget that these objects can recall friendships, and that "tokens of remembrance, respect and love typically have trivial intrinsic value, and the labor invested in them is usually voluntary" (Csikszentmihalyi 1993, 28). Reminding us that "meaningfulness...often has little to do with exchange value", Mullins suggests that "reducing these goods to frivolous ornaments disregards that even a seemingly 'whimsical' object can harbor a penetrating, yet oblique, social commentary" (Mullins 2001, 159).

Despite an imposed physical uniformity, as the result of compartmentalised living in tenements and terraces, and lack of variety resulting from small disposable incomes, no two nineteenth-century homes looked alike, each had been individualised. Sometimes this happened by default, the result of lack of maintenance or facilities. Sometimes poverty was so extreme that the inhabitants owned very little, much to the horror of commentators, who recoiled from any general lack of things. More often than not, householders added some decorative "touches" — a significant word, invoking the physical touch of human hands, "touching on things" as in referring to them through language and thought, and "being touched", being emotionally moved by something. Of course, there were further meanings: "he was a little touched" or slightly deranged, and "touched by the devil". These touches may have been minimal — a page torn from a magazine, or a calendar illustration, but "it is a matter for thankfulness that even in the poorest classes of homes there is, as a rule, some attempt at ornamentation" (Wright 1892, 311).

Object worlds in working-class homes

What does it mean, to live in a room?
(Perec 1997, 24)

Despite being described in 1874 as being filled with "modern filth" by the antiquarian John Leader and "anything more squalid, more wretched or more dangerous than the dwellings that have been formed out of [the remains of Sheffield Manor by the cottages of miners] it would be difficult to conceive. Its smells excel those of Cologne1 in strength and variety, while the association of ancient luxury with modern filth is quite Egyptian in its character and thoroughly Irish in its details" (Leader 1874, 42), an archaeological investigation by Crewe and Hadley discovered that those dwelling in this "Irish" "filth" in fact possessed "ceramic ornaments, many with religious or political significance, and they had keepsakes and souvenirs of places visited (such as the Great Exhibition of 1851)...cups and plates depicting nursery rhymes, the alphabet, or children's games, as well as toys2 (Crewe and Hadley 2013, 92).

Atha, discussing Betrand and Pevsner's portrayal of "working-class domestic domain" notes that they present it "as a demoralized and dejected place". Betrand's dismissal of "the over-decorated, and in all the sentimental paraphernalia and memorabilia on display" promoted "a thorough cleansing of all useless ornaments and frippery [that] instilled a moral agenda [and] effectively removed any undesirable manifestations of taste [displacing] 'whatnots and bric-à-brac'" (Atha 2012, 217).

As Schwarzbach realised: "working class families struggled constantly against strong odds simply to possess any object that would signal to others and to themselves that the shabby, damp, cramped and unhealthy quarters that they occupied were not just a place to live but a home" (Schwarzbach 2001, 48).

The rookery: fact or fantasy?

The phenomenon of significant working-class consumption was world-wide, but is handled clumsily by some archaeologists. In Melbourne, Australia, excavations in the "slum" of Casseldon Place produced material culture that failed to match the reputation of the community: in one site "the Maloneys were keen to demonstrate respectability" claim Smith and Hayes. They suggest that several sherds of Spode china can only have arrived there as heirlooms or were purchased second-hand. They provide no supporting evidence for this assertion. The presence of "at least four Staffordshire figures" signified that "the Maloneys had enough disposable income to purchase decorative ornaments [which challenged] the slum stereotype commonly applied to the Little Lon district...the Maloney’s may have been illiterate, unskilled, Irish and working class, yet this collection shows us that they were not passive victims of poverty" (Smith and Hayes 2010). There was of course no archaeological evidence to support the authors' contention that the Maloneys were "illiterate".

An article in a 2011 edition of Current Archaeology sums up a popular view of working-class life in an area not far from Plumtree Court. Inspired by a local artists's collaboration with the Museum of London, illustrated with images by Cruickshank, Hogarth and Pierdon and quoting Dickens, Beames and Gore, it paints a dark picture of the infamous "rookery" of St Giles, to the west of Holborn, but within walking distance of Plumtree Court. Rescue archaeological excavations in 2006-8 failed to demonstrate this expected squalor, and had to be enhanced by what the magazine calls "virtual archaeology" — archaeology "bursting through disciplinary constraints". This approach demonstrates a risk associated with the "beyond archaeology" concept, which can result in over-imaginative interpretations. The article conveys an overall impression of grimness, but includes a quotation from Thomas Beames that notes the survival of relics of "stately edifices" and notes the discovery of what it calls "an exceptional assemblage" of finer wares and other evidence of a "more socially diverse population that the impression of an undifferentiated mass of the urban poor conveyed by many of the historical sources" (Palm-Gold 2011).

There was general consensus amongst the flaneurs and slummers of the nineteenth century that the lives of working people as well as their surroundings, were overwhelmingly monotonous. Ginn quotes Edward Denison, who wrote in 1867 that there wasn't much "actual suffering" as in starvation or illness in the East of London, but "what is so bad is the habitual condition of this mass of humanity — its uniform mean level, the absence of anything more civilizing than a grinding organ to raise the ideas beyond the daily bread and beer, the utter want of education, the complete indifference to religion" (Ginn 2008, 181). Ginn goes on to write that "key reformers...asserted that the visual monotony of the landscape and the soulless tedium of life were essential and defining features" of working-class areas. As discussed above, this view was probably encouraged by gloomy woodcuts and engravings, and later by greyscale photographs.

Perhaps there was and is a relationship between tedium (working in a factory/being wealthy) and the need (?) to demonstrate that despite what appears to be a boring life, the individual is individual and possesses a unique, interesting identity/personality/set of tastes.

Parlours as phantasmagorias

In the nineteenth century, the working classes had been presented with numerous examples of things. They were on show in the series of nineteenth century large-scale exhibitions that inspired and was followed closely by the creation of vast collections of things in an explosive growth of museums. Indeed, this was partly deliberate. Walter Benjamin quotes French historian Hippolyte Taine, who declared in 1855 that the national exhibitions were the result of a wish "to amuse the working class" (Benjamin 1973, 165).

The objects that working people peered at in the nineteenth century plethora of exhibitions and museums had, at least at the time of their display, no practical use. They were there not to manufacture anything, or to be consumed or used, but to inspire, to communicate ingenuity and power. It is also significant that as the century went on, the exhibitions also included many objects that were not machinery or industrial products, but were presented as "art". The list of sculpture on show at the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, for example, is long (and included a plaster cast gallery), and persuaded visitors that it was acceptable and desirable to have representations of classical statues on display in their homes. Miniature versions of the most sensational and notorious sculpture in the 1851 exhibition, Hiram Powers' Greek Slave, were subsequently to appear beneath glass domes in many a genteel middle-class parlour (James 1903, 114).

Perhaps, given the popularity of classical subjects in the stock of figurine sellers since the late eighteenth century, the exhibitions encouraged an already-existing enthusiasm. That these objects were available for a shilling or less meant that one could build a collection on one's mantelpiece, even if that collection consisted of half a dozen cheap and cheerful miniatures. Exhibitions and museums may have been intended by their creators and curators as places of education, but they also acted as "phantasmagoria into which people entered in order to be distracted" (Benjamin 1973, 168). People realised that they could create miniature phantasmagoria in their parlours (Highmore 2002, 14).

This was associated, as Benjamin realised, with the advent of the interior. Life no longer went on in environments where the line between exterior and interior was blurred. A front door separated them. Indeed, by the mid nineteenth century, social commentators were often horrified that this barrier was so thin, expressing shock that the front door often opened directly into the parlour, and dismay when the door was damaged or absent. Benjamin noted that "for the private citizen, for the first time the living-space became distinguished from the place of work" (Benjamin 1973, 167), and by the end of the nineteenth century it was deemed disgraceful if people worked in the home (see xxx). Benjamin called the interior "the universe for the private citizen...a box in the world theatre" (Benjamin 1973, 167-8). He also declared that "the collector was the true inhabitant of the interior" (Benjamin 1973, 167), and although he was probably thinking of the middle- and upper-class collector, the phenomenon rang true for the working-class collector of knick-knacks on her mantelpiece. A small collection of ornaments changed an enclosed space into an interior.

Although in the 1950s people still stood or sat in doorways of soon to be cleared "slum" communities to meet and chat with neighbours and passers-by, more recent developments have discouraged interaction to the point where "loitering" in the street is actively discouraged and regarded as suspicious or even "anti-social" behaviour, and in some countries eye-contact in the street can have fatal consequences. Today we often move from the interior of our homes into the interior of our cars and then into the interior of shopping malls, the modern equivalent of the shopping arcades that paralleled the rise of the domestic interior in the nineteenth century.

So the interiors of homes, however "humble", began to enclose everyday life. With the rise of the interior came the concomitant rise of non-utilitarian things displayed in it, to the point where by the late nineteenth century people with the means to do so crammed as many things as possible into their interiors, and those not wealthy enough to do so at least wished to. The sparsely furnished rural room, with its always open half-door, became an (often romanticised) thing of the past, and lack of furniture and things was now a mark of poverty and the disapproval that often went with it.

Networks and entanglements

Suppose we stop looking at individual objects. See them instead as participating in a long stream of events that unfold through time; chart their flow; then consider persons only as the points where flows of objects originate, congregate and from which they disperse. This long view takes both producers, distributors, and recipient-users into account at once
(Douglas 1994: 17)

A stream of events

In April 1820, Yorgos Kentrotas uncovered a damaged marble statue of a semi-naked woman on the Greek island of Melos. Reassembled, the result quickly became known as the "Venus de Milo".

Some time in the 1840s, Henry Mayhew spoke with a London costermonger, who complained that it was no longer worth dealing in second-hand "chimney-piece ornaments" because they only cost 9d new.

Off Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1870, Marcus Clarke pondered the grave of James May on L'Isle des Morts. On this "foolish little island hummocked with graves", Clarke wrote: "many scoundrels mingle their dust with that of the more fortunate. May (the murderer of the Italian image boy) is rotting there".

In 1856 Dublin, one Signor Basilio Angeli had been dismissed as Professor of Italian and Spanish by Trinity College after being accused of not being "a man of liberal education" but instead had been a "figurista or maker of plaster images".

Amongst the articles of unclaimed freight sold at the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Ninth Street station in Richmond, Virgina, on July 19th 1893, was "1 hogshead of Plaster Images".

In 1907, Pathe Freres made a film, Le Petit Marchand de Statuettes, which, in its "scènes dramatiques et réalistes" told the story of little Jacques, who sold plaster figurines on the streets of Paris at the behest of a cruel master, but who was rescued and lived happily ever after.

For several years the curator of Antiquities at the Louvre, where the Venus de Milo is displayed, received letters from Germany insisting that her arms be re-attached. The writer helpfully included tubes of glue to facilitate the restoration.

Margaret Odell was transported for seven years in December 1830 for stealing a candlestick, worth two shillings, and two earthenware ornaments, value two pence.

In May 1800, Robert Blakesley was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for stealing, amongst other things, two china images worth 6d and five chimney ornaments worth £1.

In February 2016 I noticed a miniature ceramic fireplace bearing the words "Keep the Home Fires Burning" in the window of a closing-down antiques shop in Oakham. I bought it for £4.00.

The network

My point in assembling this apparently meaningless list of seemingly unrelated happenings and non-happenings, events major and minor — islands, French people, a murderer, a statue, thieves, Australia, images —is that they are very much related, however much they are separated by time and location. They are all "nodes" in a network that extends geographically over most of the globe and which extends both backwards and forwards in time. When I came across George Godwin's inauspiciously-titled magazine, The Builder, and found his illustration of a chimney-piece in Plumtree Court, I inadvertently and irreversibly joined and became part of that network. This is an important concept in the scope of my research, and is worth exploring.

Although a number of writers have explored the ideas of "webs" and of “meshes” I feel that the network concept expressed by Bjørnar Olsen, who writes of its application to archaeology most closely fits my research area. Olsen proposes that the network links related “"qualities in time and space" (Olsen 2003, 98). The network approach is both dynamic, in that the investigative and analytical focus can be moved from node to node without severing their links, and static — the network exists, fixed by its standing in time and space. It can also extend into virtuality, as nodes can be expressions of thought and imagination, or be ephemeral, or be invisible but nevertheless "real" digital collections of bytes. It is not a neat spider-web pattern of interconnected threads, with the researcher waiting hungrily at its centre to capture the next fact to become caught in its silk. A better metaphor would be the fisher's net, at one moment stretched across an ocean of facts, the next bundled in the hold, perhaps with tears and tangles, each knot and trapped piece of debris now in close proximity to others that at other times are far distant. In normal life the net is crumpled into several dimensions of space and time. It is the archaeologist's challenge to pick through that multi-dimensional tangle, for each handling of the net brings different nodes into close proximity, and into focus.

My view is that every archaeological artefact exists as a node in a network. It is linked to those who made it, who owned it, who used it, who gave it meaning and who eventually "excavated" it. It is linked with the developments of the technologies that enabled its creation and its discovery. It is linked to others of its kind. It is this network that I am exploring, node by node, in this project. In truth the project is doomed to be incomplete, because my research and this thesis have become part of an ever-expanding network. This means that you and all subsequent readers have become nodes, and the network will go on, I hope, expanding far beyond my untangling of a small part of it.

It would be possible, archaeologically, to record the mantelpiece cat, locate similar examples, attempt to assign dating and details of its manufacture, give it a label and leave it at that. This information might suggest that the owner was working class, but we already knew that. The basic description would not provide much "colour", a slightly pejorative term for our interest in and curiosity about what the people with relationships with the object were "really like". The network approach allows us to go far beyond the coldly analytical and to explore "flavour".

One could apply Charles Orser's term "entanglement" (Orser 1996, 117) to this web of relationships. While "tangle" might imply untidiness or chaos, "entanglement" can suggest "a complicated relationship" (Oxford dictionary) or indeed something on which one can get caught up on, like barbed wire in warfare. It could be said that I became caught up on this pre-existing web, never to escape.

The relationships that spin out from the mantelpiece could, interestingly, be added to almost without limit, creating something like a "Muir web" (Mannahatta Project 2009), a graphical representation of an ecology named after naturalist John Muir, who wrote in his journal for July 27 1869: "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe" (Fox 1981, 291). For instance, the parrot could be linked to the bird on which it was modelled, and also seafarers, Billy Culmer, the several parrots on image-sellers boards, and all the symbolism associated with this creature.

The cat on the mantelpiece in a Holborn alley therefore serves as a node in a network that extends not only into the hustle and bustle of mid-nineteenth century London, but also to Italy and from thence to Europe, North America and beyond. It served as a link in a chain of imagery that started with eighteenth century woodcuts and ended with twentieth century photographic postcards and which included nineteenth century romantic paintings filled with allegorical messaging. It demonstrated directly that working class people desired and were able to acquire decorative objects, and specifically miniatures such as cats and parrots. Indirectly, the mantelpiece was embedded in an activity that saw working class people not only buying miniatures of animals, fruit bowls and nosegays, but also political figures and heroes, playwrights and poets, actors and actresses and a host of classical celebrities. Those who arranged the mantelpiece would have heard comic ballads sung about image-sellers (see Chapter 9), learned to read using children’s books featuring them (see Chapter 7), and, in the popular press, read poems and stories about their lives (for examples see Appendix II).

Douglass Bailey, talking with Bjørnar Olsen, speaks of humans becoming "entangled and "assemblaged" with non-humans" (Bailey 2010, 9). He considers that: "the nature of things, their ownness (what has been called the "thingness of the thing") is easier to grasp in the less conspicuous, ordinary and far more common objects" (Bailey 2010, 10).


Last updated 26th April 2020

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Footnote 1

A reference to the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in which he "counted two and seventy stenches/All well defined, and several stinks!" in Cologne.

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Footnote 2

Finds included a "Frozen Charlotte" figure (see Chapter 2)

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Figure 1

Cartoon with huge eye loking through window and couple looking at model
Figure 1: That's where we are right now. 2014 Cartoon by Edward Steed, The New Yorker