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Face Value

The Consumer Revolution and the Colonizing of America
Cary Carson

BUY Ebook · 312 pp. · ISBN 9780813939384 · $29.50 · Aug 2017
BUY Paper · 312 pp. · 7 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939377 · $29.50 · Aug 2017

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.


Face Value is a coda to a career, building on and synthesizing the innovative interpretations which are the hallmark of all of Cary Carson’s thinking and writing. This book will fundamentally change material culture scholarship. It challenges the way social, cultural, and economic historians think about consumer behavior in early America and will quickly become the book that everyone interested in the meaning of everyday things must read to participate in the lively discussions that will follow its publication.

Carter L. Hudgins, Director, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Clemson University

In Face Value, Cary Carson presents a meticulous narrative regarding the origins of consumer demand....The result is an impressive study of American material life and its social history....Carson...offers fascinating observations about pottery, glassware, painted portraits, oval dining tables, house plans, architectural details, and other luxury items.... Face Value is an important work of scholarship. Its appeal extends beyond disciplines invested in material culture and consumer desire, as it presents a compelling analysis of the anxieties Americans felt during the early Republic, as well as their efforts to overcome them.

David Vinson, Auburn University · Eighteenth-Century Fiction

[H]ighly relevant to those working in other disciplines, this rich study, grounded in material culture, extends beyond Americans’ tangible world to explore their ways of thinking and being. Anyone interested in fully understanding the political, economic, social, and even intellectual lifeof colonists and their counterparts across the Atlantic should become acquainted with this book.

Journal of Social History

About the Author(s): 

Cary Carson, retired Vice President of the Research Division at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, is coeditor with Carl Lounsbury of The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg and editor of Becoming Americans: Our Struggle to Be Both Free and Equal.

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