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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Today's antiques, yesterday's souvenirs

Every artefact tells a story. Just look at this handkerchief produced in 1707. It is printed with a text that describes five British victories in the war of the Spanish succession. It is never possible to know the exact motives of individual consumers. It is likely that many bought the handkerchief because its triumphal message allowed them to show their support for the war. The war was ended by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This bronze medal was made to celebrate this event. It was technically possible to manufacture this medal in large numbers. This suggests that it was sold in shops and could be bought by members of the public.

These two examples show how some of today's antiques were once highly topical objects. Just as you and I would buy mementos of Royal weddings and other events, the people of the early modern period also bought souvenirs when something exciting happened. When Charles II married his Portuguese bride in 1662 a large number of lockets were made. On this silver heart shaped locket you can see Charles' head on one side and Catherine of Braganza's on the other.

A pub near my family home is decorated with porcelain figurines. On the windowsill in the snug stands a nineteenth-century three-figure group representing (if memory serves) Turkey, France and America. My father looked at it and said 'Oh yes that was produced to commemorate the treaty of XXXXX.' (I can't remember what he said.) The point I'm making is that we are surrounded by yesterday's souvenirs. It's worth looking around you to see what's in your neighbourhood.

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