Marianne's Reviews > Nothing New, A History of Second-Hand

Nothing New, A History of Second-Hand by Robyn Annear
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it was amazing

“Second-hand means different things to different people. To some it’s an abhorrence, to some a necessity, to others a curiosity, a business, an aesthetic, an obsession, a mode of time-travel. It is all but ineradicable: things don’t just disappear because our use for them has ended.”

Nothing New: A History of Second-Hand is the sixth book by award-winning Australian author, Robyn Annear. Who has never been into a second-hand shop, or never op-shopped? Those who raise a hand are surely missing out! Robyn Annear takes us there. But not just in today’s world. Annear takes us back, way back, to show us that second-hand is no recent phenomenon.

As she looks at both the many different commodities and the myriad of sources from which they are obtained, she steers us through the changing rationales and attitudes about second-hand.

“In Europe, second-hand persisted as the unremarked norm from antiquity until the late eighteenth century, during which time industry lacked the capacity, or the demand, to produce new goods for everybody. ‘Making do’ was how people lived and all that they expected.” So it was the necessary norm until “… conspicuously new became fixed as the desirable norm, did second-hand come into focus as a distinct category, inferior by definition” giving it a stigma.

When affluence and leisure time allowed for the idea of collections, that stigma disappeared and retro/vintage with patina became sought after. Want became more important than need, and op shop were finds bragged about.

As Annear guides the reader through the wealth of information, the what, who, how and why of second hand, she adds some surprising snippets: while clothing, household goods, books, building materials and cars are common items for reuse and/or repurposing, people of today may be surprised that in earlier times:

Cooked food scraps from wealthy kitchens were sold (or sometimes given) to the poor: that era’s fast food.
Kitchen fat was saved to convert to candles and soap and wartime nitroglycerin.
Used tealeaves were mixed with new, an adulteration (like shoddy mixed with new wool), creating an inferior product.
Bones were converted to a host of products: toothbrush or cutlery handles, buttons, glue or gelatin.

Rags were used for paper manufacture, shoddy (wool) or flock (stuffing).
The rag and bottle shop were the recyclers of their era: truly, nothing new under the sun.
Scrap wool was an ingredient of Prussian Blue dye.
Military attire and livery often found its way to third world countries to outfit despots and their militias.

It was common practice for servants to be given clothing cast off by their masters, their perks (from perquisites; see, you just learned something!), which were sold for cash to clothing brokers (fripperers).
Old clothing was also exported overseas: the poor Irish needed it; the Australian colonists disdained it; modern-day African countries clamour for it.

Where did the goods come from?
Whether it be children earning pocket money, or on an industrial scale: “Collecting, sorting and scavenging not only kept valuable raw materials in steady circulation, but spared civic authorities from dealing with refuse…. Waste wasn’t waste while a use could still be found for it.”

Historical sources included: War looting, mudlarking, pawn shops and auctions, Army surplus.
Rummage or jumble sales led to the genesis of the opportunity/thrift shop.
Sales of lost (or, really, found) property (umbrellas being the most ubiquitous item), storage unit auctions, flea markets and garage sales.
Exchange marts morphed into online sites like eBay, Gumtree, Freecycle, so now, sources are legion.

Annear still finds the physical shopping most attractive: “Serendipity. Never knowing what you’ll find. Sometimes nothing, sometimes gold; most often, fool’s gold. Expectations are worthless when op-shopping, and so it is the perfect sport for a glass-half-empty person… the gonzo X factor, the inscrutable hints of past lives, the bargains.”

Annear’s extensive research (to which the sources and further reading list attest) is apparent on every page. With her many (always interesting and often funny) footnotes, this makes an utterly fascinating read.
This unbiased review is from a copy provided by Text Publishing.
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Reading Progress

November 17, 2019 – Shelved
November 17, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
December 8, 2019 – Started Reading
December 9, 2019 –
page 77
December 10, 2019 –
page 218
December 10, 2019 –
page 273
December 11, 2019 – Finished Reading

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