Our world is filled with status symbols, including purses, clothes, and what we drive. We can probably assume that to some degree, that it’s always been that way. The only thing that has changed is the objects that are involved. This list of 10 things that are common or even undesirable now were once used to flaunt riches.
Originally from South America, pineapples were discovered by Christopher Columbus on one of his voyages to the New World. When he brought some back with him many Europeans were smitten by the new delicacy, so much so that the new fruit was being woven into artwork and furniture. The pineapple made its way to England in the 17th century and by the 18th century, and was immediately known as a sign of wealth. A single pineapple cost the equivalent of $8,000 today. If you weren’t wealthy enough you could even rent one. Because they were rare, most people never ate them; they just displayed them until they were so rotted that they needed to be thrown away.
2) Board games
Board games were not something that the peons played; they simply were too busy toiling in the fields and working to keep their homes in order. If you had time to play a board game it was because you were rich enough to have the time. Diplomatic rulers used to even gift the games between each other, each created with with incredible detail out of expensive materials.
3) Dark teeth
The desire to have dark black teeth seems unlikely, yet it occurred twice in history in two different locations. Until the 18th century in Japan, people had a tradition called Ohaguro, which was primarily practiced by married women. Ohaguro involved dying your teeth, often as part of a coming of age ceremony. The dye included a variety of ingredients depending on the region, but most utilized a combination of iron, gallnuts, and spices. Lacquered teeth were a symbol of maturity and beauty. Showing off a mouth full of white teeth was sometimes compared to smiling with a mouth full of maggots or exposed bones. Visitors to Japan, especially westerners, were disgusted by the tradition, and in the interest of re-entering the modern world, Japanese nobility outlawed Ohaguro.
It also occurred in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sugar was a luxery that could only be afforded by the rich. Withe limited dental care and the sugar, the teeth of nobility rotted quickly. It became a status symbol to have darkened teeth. The lower class would intentionally darken their own with a variety of cosmetics.
4) Long, pointed shoes
Pointed shoes are still around, but they have nothing on those of 15th century Europe. They were so popular that laws were passed to dictate what length was acceptable based on what class you were in. Peasants were allotted no more than six inch points, while nobility could wear two feet of shoe points.
Tulips, imported from the Middle East, became a hit in the Netherlands in the 1600s and were the root of the Tulip Mania
craze. Because everyone wanted them, the value of the rare flower grew quickly and people were spending the equivalent of thousands of dollars in today’s money for a single bulb. Many people did not even grow the tulips themselves, but would just display the bulb itself. Ultimately the bubble burst and it almost drove the country into bankruptcy.
Similar to the pineapple, sugar needed to be imported and therefore became a sign of wealth. To show off their sugar, people would create sugar sculptures that were known as “subtleties”, although they were usually anything but. Sugary deserts were created arount this time, some of which, such as meringue and macaroons, are still a part of our desert plate today. Unsurprisingly. this sugar fad was a large part of the dark teeth that were mentioned above.
If you were a rich European or had descended from royalty, it was likely that you had some kind of ruins somewhere on your estate. The “new rich” didn’t have this luxury. So they made their own ruins. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when all things Gothic and Romantic ruled, rich folks had their own fake ruins built on their properties. They were known as “follies”, like this castle here, which was built in the 18th century as a ruin.
8). AGA stoves
The Aga cooker was invented in 1922 by the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish physicist Gustaf Dalé, and became status symbols in English homes during the 20th century. They remained that way until they were released in the US in the 1980’s, which cause the stoves to lose their appeal to the British as it seemed that they were no longer exclusive.
And, of course your faux-ruins weren’t complete with the magical man living in the depths all alone. In the 18th century, aristocrats would hire men on as fake hermits to add character to their garden space. These men usually got room, board, and a stipend, and are thought to be the origin of modern garden gnomes.
Americans in the early 20th century were enamored with the ability of X-rays to take pictures of their skeletons. Crowds gathered at the machines to see the x-ray in action, and owning your own personal X-ray picture became a status symbol that people displayed in their homes.