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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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“A Few More or Less Make No Difference”

“A Few More or Less Make No Difference”

Accounting for Pearls in Northern Europe in the Seventeenth Century

(p.193) 6 “A Few More or Less Make No Difference”
American Baroque

Molly A. Warsh

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter considers how pearls’ subjective beauty, their complex and mysterious origins, and their powerful association with mastery of the seas allowed them to remain a powerful heuristic device for the expression of ideas about mutability, worth, and the nature of different places and peoples around the world. As empires moved to objectify profit and regulate the role of subjects in new ways, pearls continued to serve as a useful index (elenco in Spanish, a word Pliny the Elder employed to denote an elongated pearl but that, by the early seventeenth century, had come to stand for the very impulse to order and compartmentalize that the jewel provoked) of peoples’ highly independent and contingent calculations of worth. Through a consideration of crown-sponsored pearl-fishing interventions in the Scottish Highlands and along Swedish rivers close to the city of Gothenburg, this chapter traces how pearls continued to facilitate the expression of distinct approaches to resource husbandry at scales personal and imperial. The chapter further explores the late-seventeenth-century market for pearls in London and the jewel’s unstable political and economic value as expressed in private correspondence as well as in portraits of women and enslaved bodies whose value was considered impermanent and for purchase..

Keywords:   Women, Slavery, Mutability, Worth, Scotland, Sweden, Elenco, Portraits, Northern Europe, Resource husbandry

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