This essay explores market talk in early nineteenth-century Britain through a close reading of the correspondence of the cotton-spinning firm McConnel & Kennedy of Manchester between 1798 and 1813. I argue that two distinct “narratives” of price and value emerge from these letters, and that the cleave between them pointed both to a deep anxiety about the market, and to a clear and clever bargaining strategy. McConnel & Kennedy clung stubbornly to a definition of “value” that they understood to be fictive, in order to avoid frank surrender to what they saw as cannibalistic price-competition. Rhetoric was, then, no small thing to them. They conceived supply and value as being inversely related, and this idea, I argue, was implicit also in wider contemporary anxieties about the relationship between proliferation and meaning.


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pp. 417-441
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