Capitalism by Gaslight at The Library Company

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The Library Company of Philadelphia has produced a terribly strange and fascinating exhibition of 19th century artifacts of printed material culture. Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America is a wide survey of evidence from turn-of-the-last century America’s black market economies, including all manner of dark lantern activities, like, grifts, counterfeiting, gambling, thievery, murder, knavery, blaggard ploys, prostitution, villainy, and advice on the detection and prevention for the average citizen. If you are someone who finds yourself more than a little intrigued when looking at variations of counterfeit mustard labels (above), or collecting all of the rogues gallery cards (below), well then, this exhibition is for you!

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Containing books, prints, ephemera and very, very clever displays & didactics this exhibition does more to promote the scholarship of 19th century black-market economic ephemera than any other exhibition I’ve seen. While that is a qualified statement, please don’t hesitate to see this show – it’s chock-a-block  full of some amazing cultural artifacts. And when seen in it’s entirety Capitalism by Gaslight begs some interesting comparisons between these 19th century printing technologies and what we may look back on as the ‘wild west’ days of the internet.

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Continue reading this post for many more photos of strange dark matter after the jump.

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The Library Company describes the show,

Drawing on books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, prints, photographs, and ephemera in the Library Company’s collection, guest curator Wendy Woloson explores underground urban commerce in the 19th century in our exhibition “Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America.”

The exhibition focuses on how many Americans earned their livings outside the spheres of wholesale and retail commerce, conducting economic transactions in illicit and semi-legal ways. From pick-pocketing to gambling, counterfeiting to prostitution, “Capitalism by Gaslight” describes the myriad ways people participated in an earlier, shadowy realm of commerce that required a surprising degree of creativity, cunning, and financial acumen.

Read more here.

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Categories: Exhibitions, Print-related


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