Ivory furniture case study: Conclusion


As in the case of the Englefield case study, this study has found that ivory objects were important to EIC families. Bequeathed between generations, families valued ivory inlaid cabinets both in monetary and emotional terms – as pieces that acted significant material reminders of their connection to the subcontinent. When families did not bequeath objects but rather placed them on the open market, the items similarly experienced important afterlives. When marketing ivory furniture, retailers and auctioneers often explicitly linked these pieces to their East India Company origins, naming the family or individual who initially brought them from the subcontinent. Similarly, when families publicly gifted ivory furniture to important individuals at court, publicity focusing on their East India Company origins further consolidated these links. In doing so, such individuals and firms ensured that objects continued to act as ‘souvenirs’, representing their place of origin.[1] They played important roles in consolidating the narratives of empire constructed by and about particular families, particularly in the case of the ivory furniture possessed by Marian and Warren Hastings. The materiality of these objects significantly aided the construction of their narratives, as it spoke directly to particular regions, through the veneering techniques of Vizagapatam and the solid ivory turning technologies of Murshidabad. At the same time, ivory itself was recognisably ‘Indian’ as European furniture using large amounts of ivory furniture was distinctly rare.

Uncovering these histories and links is important in demonstrating the ways in which objects from the subcontinent acted as sites upon which and through which contemporaries recognised that familial links to the East India Company and empire. Despite being made to European designs, these pieces often resisted naturalisation and remained linked to the narratives of empire that families and other individuals constructed. Becoming entangled in different forms of meaning making, these objects came to embody empire.

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[1] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 135.