American Studies Home Site Map Gallery of Prints Writing Across the Curriculum Currier & Ives Introduction Currier & Ives Opening

A mansion in the country; a real mansion in Newport, R.I.

America of the late 1800s had two types of rich families—the old rich and the new rich. Families such as the Cabots, Lowells, Roosevelts, Drexels, and Wentworths populated each city and had "status and respectability that the newcomer envied and could not attain" (McDonald 581). The nouveau riche, such as Andrew Carnegie (steel), John D. Rockefeller (oil), and John W. Gates (barbed wire) craved recognition and legitimacy. Marriage and philanthropy were two ways to wiggle into a higher station. Conspicuous consumption (so named by economist Thorstein Veblem) was the most common course.

To display their superiority, the newly rich "built mansions, they bought private railroad cars, they ate prodigiously, they flaunted their silks and furs and diamonds for the public to see" (McDonald 582).

It is interesting to note that there is little difference between the Currier and Ives' print of a mansion and the real thing. In this case, the popularity of such prints was probably not derived so much from a looking backward as a looking forward. The newly rich came from the pools of common man; therefore any man could rise up and live in such a house. In a strange way, prints such as these reaffirm the democratic ideal, and in doing so fit the model of nostalgia.

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American Studies Home Site Map Gallery of Prints Writing Across the Curriculum Currier & Ives Introduction Currier & Ives Opening

Site created by Marcy McDonald, American Studies, UVA. Last modified: July 30, 2005. E-mail: asgrp@virginia.edu

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