The Industrial Revolution was previously understood as having awakened an enormous, unquenchable thirst for material consumption. People up and down the social order had discovered and were indulging in the most extraordinary passion for consumer merchandise in quantities and varieties that had been unimaginable to their parents and grandparents. It was indeed a revolution, but a consumer revolution at the start.

In Face Value, Cary Carson expands and updates his groundbreaking earlier work to address the intriguing question of how Americans became the world’s consummate consumers. Prior to the rise of gentry culture in eighteenth-century North America, there was still a decided sameness to people’s material lives. About mid-century, though, a lust for fancy goods, coupled with social aspiration, began to transform American society.

Carson here addresses the intriguing question of how Americans developed the reputation for avid consumption. Both elegantly written and engagingly argued, the book reveals how the rise of the gentry culture in eighteenth-century North America gave rise to a consumer economy.