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American BaroquePearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700$
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Molly A. Warsh

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638973

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638973.001.0001

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“Regardless of Gender, Class, Color, and Condition”

“Regardless of Gender, Class, Color, and Condition”

Pearls in Private Possession around the Iberian Imperial World

(p.163) 5 “Regardless of Gender, Class, Color, and Condition”
American Baroque

Molly A. Warsh

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter turns to pearl consumption practices in the seventeenth century and considers what they reveal about the overlap between personal and imperial approaches to the custodianship of value. Drawing on personal correspondence of high-ranking diplomats, smugglers, widows, and children in Spain, as well as Inquisition records from Lima and Cartagena, the inventories of London goldsmiths, and Amsterdam-based Sephardic jewelers’ ledgers, it shows that the use and exchange of pearls among families, friends, and business associates reflected highly contextual assessments of value and worth. The personal political economies that pearls illuminated were often, if not always, at odds with official assessments of the jewel, which tried to remove them from their context and assign them arbitrary financial valuations. In art, pearls could be used to explore the supposed nature of different types of subjects, but in reality they figured in the socially embedded wealth husbandry practices of people of diverse backgrounds and means. The sixteen thousand smuggled pearls discovered in a small lead box that sank in 1622 with the Spanish galleon Santa Margarita illustrate the tremendous variety of the jewel, their subjective appeal, and their accessibility.

Keywords:   Lima, Cartagena, Inquisition, Sephardic, Jewelers, Political economy, Wealth husbandry, Goldsmiths, Diplomats, Smuggling

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