A survey and comparison of luxury item ownership in the eighteenth century Dutch Cape Colony

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP14/2011
 
Publication date: 2011
 
Author(s):
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
 
Abstract:

What we know about the material culture of eighteenth century Cape Colony settlers is mostly limited to qualitative evidence found in official documents, letters, travel accounts and other correspondence. This paper uses a new quantitative source – the MOOC probate inventories – to ascertain the nature, growth and distribution of luxury good ownership in the Cape Colony. The survey reveals a marginal increase over the course of the eighteenth century in per capita ownership, although the trend masks greater movements within different wealth groups, which supports the notion of high inequality within the European society at the Cape. Yet, even given such inequality, the evidence suggests that even the poorest had access to the most basic amenities. In fact, comparisons with European and North American regions suggest that the Cape settlers were often more affluent, refuting the notion that the Cape Colony was an “economic and social backwater”.

 
JEL Classification:

N37, D31, D63

Keywords:

South Africa, Cape Colony, French Huguenots, VOC, wine, slaves

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1 March 2021
Even with the release of data showing a record high unemployment rate in 2020Q4, it turned out to be a fairly good week for the SA economy. Daily new COVID-19 infections remained well contained, while the second batch of 80 000 J&J vaccines arrived (albeit controversially with the grounded SAA being the carrier). In addition, relative to the October...

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