- Concepts of Value in European Material Culture, 1500–1900 ed. by Bert De Munck, Dries Lyna
This edited volume of essays, compiled by Bert de Munck and Dries Lyna, establishes its contribution to the history of material culture on the first page of the introduction, noting that the ways that people have attributed value to objects during the past is 'crucial for understanding not just economic practices but virtually all human behaviour' (p. 1). As such, this interdisciplinary collection considers the changing values of material goods in Europe from the early modern period until the end of the nineteenth century, with the aim of linking economic practices to broader historical trends, while avoiding the teleological trappings of past scholarship.
To achieve this, the volume draws together eleven multidisciplinary essays that examine the 'location of value' (p. 10), assessing the meanings ascribed to material goods over time by the individuals, social groups, institutions, and cultural systems that dictated their value. An excellent opening introductory essay by Bert de Munck and Dries Lyna establishes an overview of the material culture field, while the remainder of the book is divided into three parts. Part 1 focuses on expanding markets, with case studies on the linen manufacturing trades in seventeenth-century Münster, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art auctions in the Austrian Netherlands and Brussels, and branding strategies in early modern Antwerp. All demonstrate the ways that individuals and institutions such as guilds and auctioneers manipulated the market value of their products.
Part 2 explores the conventions of institutions through an examination of how the real estate market was controlled in early modern Milan, how the [End Page 218] art market was mediated by Académies in eighteenth-century France, and how increasingly outdated guild conventions slowly made these institutions obsolete in the manufacturing trades of Northern Italy. The final section discusses the ways that objects' value could diverge from market principles, through an examination of early modern glass-making trades, the value of patinated silver in eighteenth-century Britain, and collecting practices in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
This volume moves beyond simple, often linear, narratives of supply and demand by showing how value was socially and culturally, as well as economically, constructed in historical contexts and circumstances. This collection provides interesting and thought-provoking discussions that are of significance to those with an interest in the history of material culture, consumption and retail, guilds and local economies, as well as the history of collecting and art dealing, from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries in Europe.