EAUH Conference 2018


Session M14. The Recirculation of Goods: Thrifty Households, Resilience And Commercial Circuits in the European City, C.1600-1900

Coordinators: Bruno Blondé (, Jon Stobart (

‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ is a popular mantra in 21st-century western society. Driven by cultural, economic and ethical imperatives, consumers are increasingly engaged in the repurposing, reuse and recirculation of goods. Yet few of these processes are new; nor are the motivations which underpin them. Households from the richest to the poorest have long engaged in mending and reusing a variety of items, and auctions are a centuries-old forum for the exchange of a wide range of second-hand goods. Despite this, the position and role of used goods in historic societies remains poorly understood, especially beyond clothing and ‘collectibles’ such as books and paintings. Novelty and fashion has tended to dazzle historians of both retailing and consumption, whereas resale and recycling are often treated as timeless phenomena that were hardly affected by historical change.
This session seeks to further our understanding of the recirculation of goods in towns and cities in a way that brings together commercial circuits of exchange operating in the public domain (e.g. auctions, pawnbrokers, shops, salesmen) and practices of inheritance, gifting and repurposing that occurred in the domestic and familial realms.
We particularly welcome papers that focus on household goods and which explore:
• the operation of auctions and household sales: what was sold, who was buying, what prices were paid?
• the number, frequency and location of auctions, pawnbrokers, etc.: to what extent did their number and turnover decline in the face of increasingly efficient systems of production and circulation (as is often believed)?
• the importance of inherited goods in furnishing the home: which things were most important and how were they transmitted to other people; how important were considerations of economic value, utility and emotional associations?
• how second-hand goods were located within existing domestic material culture: were they altered or repurposed to allow accommodate them more readily?
• the ways in which second-hand goods were valorised: how was language used to promote sales and how were such things described in the home?
Papers may present case studies, but we are keen to encourage comparative and long-term analyses.
Keywords: Secondary markets; auctions; material culture