This child's cup, with its charming transfer print scene depicts an adult instructing a child. The purpose of the cup was twofold. It was a drinking vessel but also a teaching device used to instruct children in the virtues of industriousness. The cup's combination of practicality and moral instruction was characteristic of Victorianism, the foremost social philosophy in nineteenth-century America.
The nineteenth-century was a period of great change in America. New industries were developing, people were leaving their farms to seek work in the cities, and immigrants were arriving in great numbers from Europe. People were forced to adapt their traditional values to the new industrial, urban and consumer cultures. The values promoted under Victorianism: industriousness, obedience, attention to detail, a deference for authority, and time thrift were the virtues prized in workers in the new factories and shops. This process of adaptation called Modernization, is one of the most important social processes studied by archaeologists working on nineteenth-century American sites.
Victorianism held that people's character was deeply influenced by
their physical surroundings. Beautiful objects could improve the mind
surroundings could stunt a person's emotional and social development.
People placed great emphasis on creating a well designed and decorated
home to cultivate refined behavior in their family. They gave children
toys and printed cups such as the one pictured above to encourage desirable
including vases and figurines, and specialized serving ware such as
the trays pictured here, cluttered the Victorian home as people tried
to express both their economic affluence and their adherence to Victorian
information on this web page was based on a more extensive essay on
Victorianism in Chapter
4: Consuming Aspirations: Bric-a-brac and the Politics of Victorian
Materialism in West Oakland, a chapter in Putting the “There”
There: Historical Archaeological of West Oakland. The complete
report is available for free download here.