Friday, April 15, 2011

The History of "Stuff"

You don't have to be a history buff to be obsessed with shows like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, or Auction Kings. If you are a history buff, however, and you have not stumbled upon these shows before then I heartily suggest you do. The recent rise in popularity of shows such as these has peaked my interest into why people are fascinated by them. If you do not know, the basic premise of these shows is the buying and reselling of people's old things (sort of the high brow version of garage sales). Of course all of them go about it in their own unique way, but all of them could not exist if there was not a market for what they do.

One of the reasons that I think people are attracted to these types of programs is because people love the history of "stuff." And as someone who wants to eventually pursue a master's degree in material culture/decorative arts, the relevance of these shows has really caught my attention. The greatest thing about these shows is that they include the history of whatever object is being sold/bought, so the viewer actually understands why its worth whatever it is being sold/bought for. I intend to do some further research into this topic and see what others have said about it.

Now the granddaddy of all these shows has got to be Antiques Roadshow. The premise of AR may be very different because there is no buying/selling going on, but the core value of the show is very much the same as the others because people are bringing in their old stuff to learn more about it and find out how much it is worth. While costume items are few and far between on shows such as these, the costume nerd inside of me jumped for joy when I was watching a rerun of AR this past week and saw this:

The appraiser places the date of the portrait between 1805-1825 based on the costume the man is wearing. For the appraiser, J. Michael Flanigan, to have that sort of knowledge of costume, when he is listed as an expert in furniture and folk art, shows that the relevance of costume is becoming more and more significant. Changes in men's fashion are more subtle throughout history, and the presence of the high collared waist-coat and shirt with ruffled necktie, also known as a cravat are seen in both the Empire Period (1790-1820) and the Romantic Period (1820-1850). Stay tuned for more posts on shows such as these! In the mean time, check them out for yourself on the History Channel, the Discover Channel, and PBS!

(picture and video courtesy of

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