People have been trying to flaunt their wealth for centuries. Today, it may be a designer handbag, expensive sports car, or massive mansion, but status symbols have drastically changed over the years. In order for people to distinguish themselves as some of society’s best they would brag about owning random items such as pineapples, books, and even mummies. Some would show it in their physical attributes including having black teeth or being overweight. Get a history lesson with these unique status symbols of the past.
People Went Crazy For Cups Of Chocolate
Before chocolate was a delectable dessert food, it was actually a drink for the rich. From the 1500s to the 1800s, chocolate was only available as a drink. This would be similar to hot chocolate or chocolate milk. People were only able to eat chocolate if the cocoa was mixed into another food.
The popularity of drinking chocolate during the Victorian era led to the mass production of chocolate bars. This allowed peasants and common people to enjoy the rich and tasty treat. The painting shown in the photo depicts the wealthy Penthievre family in 1768 indulging in some cups of chocolate.
Women In This Country Wanted Black Teeth
In present day people will spend extra money trying to make their teeth as white as possible, but that wasn’t always the norm. Wealthy women in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia used to prefer a totally different look. Most of these women would actually blacken their teeth to show their status.
They blackened their teeth using a process called lacquering, or ohaguro, which doubled as a dental sealant and protected them from tooth decay. Having black teeth wasn’t just a fad– it was practiced for hundreds of years!
Having A Board Game Was A Luxury
It seems as if every home in America has board games, but they used to be considered a rare status symbol. This dates back to ancient Egypt with leaders such as Queen Nefertari (pictured) owning the game Senet.
Owning a board game meant someone was rich enough to regularly enjoy leisure time and pay to have it expertly crafted. According to Mustard Seed Money, board games used to be given to diplomats and aristocrats “as a way to curry favor and show off their importance to others.”
Why Red And Purple Items Were Valuable
Red and purple items may not seem so rare now, but they were hard to come by in the past. In order to make red items, people needed to get the dye from a cochineal bug. The red dye was turned into European officers’ robes, clothing for kings, and some of the first American flags.
Purple dye was even more expensive and was worn by the elite including kings and judges. People would get the color from a mucous gland in the rectums of sea snails thousands of years ago. Fast forward to the 19th century when a scientist was able to find his own version of the purple dye after working on a cure for malaria.
Owning Your Own X-Ray Machine Was Special
As the United States moved toward technological advancement at the start of the 20th century, the culture started to reflect that. One item that everyone wanted to own to show their status was an X-ray machine. People were amazed at how a machine could take photos of their insides, which was unlike any contraption out there.
X-ray machines would draw crowds and anyone who even owned photos of their X-rays could make others very envious. Unfortunately, many people didn’t know at the time how hazardous taking multiple X-rays could be.
English Monarchs Kept Pineapples On Display
Most Americans have likely tried pineapple and see it regularly out and about, but it was once one of the rarest delicacies. Christopher Columbus brought it back after visiting the Americas because it was completely unknown in Europe. He delivered it to Ferdinand II who caused it to become a status symbol.
Lords and ladies in 17th and 18th century Europe would display pineapples to show off their wealth and it was soon grown in new heated greenhouses. According to The Week, each pineapple cost about eight thousand dollars to grow. This meant they were usually only for display and seldom eaten.
Obesity Was A Sign Of Success
In contemporary society people, especially women, are bombarded with ideas of how they should look. From models in magazines, actors in film and television, and more, the body most desire would not fit into the category of obese. Throughout history, obesity has actually been seen as a sign of success.
Most jobs were acts of physical labor, so people were able to burn a lot of calories per day. Someone who was obese was able to have people do their tasks for them and had enough money for excess food. This can be seen in figures such as Buddha and George IV, Prince of Wales (pictured).
Brides Wanted Pure White Wedding Cakes
One of the most important items any wedding is the cake, but there were some special requirements for it during 16th-century England. Wealthy fathers who wanted to send their daughters off to be married needed to provide a pure white wedding cake.
Pure white sugar was a lot more expensive than brown sugar and it was also a lot harder to produce. Also, the color white has the symbolism of being “pure,” which is what brides were supposed to be on their wedding day.
White Collars And Cuffs Were In High Fashion
During the 16th and 17th centuries, people believed they could contract illnesses through water. They thought the only way they could prevent themselves from getting sick and staying clean was through clothes; specifically their shirts and underwear. In order for people to show that they were clean, they would wear white collars and cuffs.
According to the BBC, people at the time thought a shirt served the purpose of keeping the body clean. They believed that it was even more effective than the steam baths used by their ancestors.
People Paid A Ton For Tulips
Tulips are one of the most beautiful flowers and are usually associated with the springtime, but they used to be one of the most popular status symbols in the world. During the 17th century, Dutch people would pay thousands to own the bulbs of these flowers.
According to a 1741 book titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay, a singular tulip bulb was equivalent to “four fat oxen, a thousand pounds of cheese, two hogsheads of wine, and 10 more items.” The craze only lasted a short while and tulips soon became worthless.
Long Pointed Shoes Were So Impractical
Style has drastically shifted over the years and some of history’s most fashionable pieces would most likely confuse contemporary society. One of those pieces is the crackowe or poulaine shoe. These are a long and pointy shoe that could measure from 6-to-24 inches in length.
People knew these shoes were impractical at the time, which is why they became a status symbol. The shoes represented wealth and the people who wore them had enough money not to work. Even Edward III of England gave each class of men different lengths for how long their shoes could be.
Books Were Held Down By Chains
When books were first produced, they were extremely rare and expensive. This meant that special libraries needed to be built to protect them from being stolen. Chained libraries started to pop up with the chains being attached to each book’s spine. This is the reason why books have spines and aren’t just papers clipped together.
They were displayed with the pages facing out, so people would have to pull the book all the way out of the shelf to see its title. Before books, monks would watch over individual scrolls to prevent theft.
People Would Hire Hermits
Some people may add a nice couch or a fresh coat of paint to make their homes complete, but 18th-century English and German nobles had different ideas. In order for them to feel like they had a complete estate, they would hire a hermit.
These weren’t actual hermits, rather they were actors who would dress up in tattered clothes and be poorly groomed. Their purpose was to preach to and scare guests who were visiting the estate. Aristocrats would let them live on their land for a set amount of years and by the time their contract was up they had enough money to never work again.
Foot Binding Was An Ancient Chinese Tradition
One of the most ancient practices in China was for women to bind their feet. Their “lotus feet” were a sign of beauty and wealth and it also meant that the woman was interested in marrying into an affluent family. The process would start when they were seven-years-old and last until adulthood.
Women would have to break their toes and the bones in the arches of their feet and bind them tightly together. Their feet would end up measuring about three inches in length and prevent them from being able to work or walk. Foot binding was outlawed in 1912.
Gout Was “The Disease Of Kings”
It seems absurd that an ailment would be seen as a status symbol, but gout was considered to be “the disease of kings.” Gout occurs when crystalized acid forms around joints such as toes or knuckles and is caused by a diet of rich, fatty, and high-sugar foods.
Gout would come with excruciating pain where the person infected would have to rest for days or weeks until it dissolved. Someone who got gout was seen as privileged and wealthy because it meant they could afford a lot of expensive food and didn’t have to work.
Squirrels Were Kept As Pets
Today, it would be a little suspicious seeing a squirrel inside someone’s home, but they used to be a desired pet. Their popularity as pets skyrocketed after Benjamin Franklin published a poem about his pet squirrel named Mungo. It read, “Few squirrels were better accomplished, for he had a good education, had traveled far, and seen much of the world.”
Most owned gray squirrels, but red and flying ones weren’t uncommon. Similar to the photo, rich aristocrats would keep their pet squirrels on a gold chain to make sure they didn’t misbehave.
Babies Were Dressed In Miniature Soldier Boots
In order for parents in ancient Rome to show the public their babies’ status in the world, they would dress them in replicas of their fathers’ shoes. These shoes were designed to look like both soldier shoes and a high-status boot. These leather shoes were very high quality including a full set of iron studs on the sole.
Parents would also dress their babies in colored sock with each color belonging to a different social class. Families were meant to march on parade with their soldier fathers, so making sure everyone was dressed in clothes that matched their status was crucial.
Aluminum Was Worth More Than Gold
Aluminum wasn’t mass produced until the 19th century, so anyone who owned anything made from this material before that time was considered an elite. For example, Napoleon III owned a valuable aluminum cutlery set admired by many. Wealthy French people would even display aluminum bars with their other valuables.
While aluminum is one of the most common elements on earth, it was extremely difficult and time-consuming to separate it from its ore. This is why it’s cheaper today to melt down existing aluminum products rather than make them from scratch.
People Would Have Parties To Unwrap Mummies
Parties in 19th-century England were unlike any in history. Wealthy Victorians became enamored with ancient Egypt, so they started the trend of mummy unwrapping parties. They would pay a ton of money to receive the mummies and would unwrap them for guests to observe.
One man named Thomas Pettigrew turned this into a profession where he would unwrap mummies in front of thousands of people on the streets of England. “These unrolling parties were disgusting really. Bodies are supposed to be treated with respect – you can’t deal with people in that way,” said Egyptologist John J. Johnston.
Fountain Pens Were Hard To Come By
For thousands of years people were forced to keep a separate ink supply with them when they wanted to write with a pen. This all started to change during the late 1800s with the invention of the fountain pen. These became luxury items because they were incredibly expensive.
Fountain pens remained a status symbol up until the mid-20th century after the supply of cheaper ballpoint pens increased. While fountain pens aren’t often seen in homes, schools, banks, and offices anymore, they have started to make a comeback.