Rags Make Paper, Paper Makes Money: Material Texts and Metaphors of Capital


Because nineteenth-century paper was made from rags, the materiality of paper money became a likely ground from which to debate the nature of value in modern capitalism. On one hand, if paper money was backed by nothing but itself, then it was worth little more than itself: a gathering of lowly rags. On the other hand, the process of turning trashed rags into valuable paper modeled how capital could seem to grow out of nothing. Two nineteenth-century literary narratives provide examples of how rags performed considerable social and metaphorical work in the construction of an epistemology of capitalism and its "paper technologies."