Back to ASC home

Cypress/West Oakland Historical Archaeology Project

Introduction | Part I | Part II |Part III |Part IV |Appendixes & Reports

~ Chapter 4 Detail ~
bric-a-brac

Victorians had a penchant for filling their homes with bric-a-brac, and working-class West Oaklanders were no exception. In Chapter 4, archaeologist Paul Mullins considers the social meanings of decorative objects in the lives of neighborhood residents. The two unique porcelain figurines pictured here were amongst trash discarded at 828 Myrtle Street by paper hanger Harry Pierson Chapman in the 1890s. They depict a man and a woman sitting on chamber pots, which Mullins interprets as typical of the oblique social commentaries and ambiguous symbolic mechanics of bric-a-brac. The chamber pot figures romanticized their consumers’ distance from a distinctly non-genteel practice; they indirectly illuminated the dilemmas of public sanitation, and they provided whimsical and ambiguous symbolism.

Download complete chapter | Return to Part II