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American middle and upper classes live between ideologies of mobility, equality and opportunity and expressions of status valuing that which is old, inherited or unique.

While elite collectors raided Europe over the past century (and eventually contributed to museums as rich store-houses of the global past), antiques as inherited and acquired goods have wider domestic meanings. While memories and family histories may be linked to humble objects from the past—quilts, furniture, books, paintings and photographs—more extensive antique sales have also drained Europe and, increasingly, the Third World in order to supply proof of connoisseurship, status and even ethnic heritage. For offices, hotels and other institutions as well, antiques (or quality reproductions) project status and sobriety. These evaluations, in turn, sustain an everhotter market among serious collectors and museums for the best specimens of both American and foreign production in the past.

This burgeoning market, ranging from flea markets, shops and decorators to elegant auction houses, nonetheless limits the accessibility of the past while opening the door to reproductions as cultural capital. Often sold through museum stores or high-end retailers, these may be direct reproductions of jewelry artworks or furniture, but also entail reproduction of motifs—indicating knowledge as much as copying—transposed to ties, appointment books, children’s toys, etc. Gentrification and home-ownership have also fostered markets for “antique” fixtures or adaptations of modern conveniences, while hotels and offices have affirmed these tastes. Reproduction posters, dolls and collectibles extend this marketing of the past into lower-end sales, generally without questioning the heritage reproduced or the divisions embodied in both “authentic” and “fake” appropriation.

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