Luxury product consumption in Eighteenth-century Cape Colony households

Fourie, Johan ; Uys, Jolandi (2012)

CITATION: Fourie, J. & Uys, J. 2012. Luxury product consumption in Eighteenth-century Cape Colony households. Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis, 9(2):29–60, doi:10.18352/tseg.264.

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What we know about the material culture of eighteenth century Cape Colony settlers is mostly limited to qualitative evidence found in official documents, letters, travel accounts and other correspondence. This paper uses a new quantitative source - the MOOC probate inventories - to ascertain the nature, growth and distribution of luxury good ownership in the Cape Colony. The survey reveals a marginal increase over the course of the eighteenth century in household ownership, although the trend masks greater movements within different wealth groups, which supports the notion of high inequality within the European society at the Cape. The evidence presented here suggests that even the poorest had access to the most basic luxuries. In fact, comparisons with European and North American regions suggest that the Cape settlers were often more affuent, refuting the notion that the Cape Colony was an 'economic and social backwater', and confirming that it was at least partially integrated into the 'consumer revolution' of Western Europe.

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