During the century after 1750, Great Britain absorbed much of the world's supply of gold into its pockets, cupboards, and coffers when it became the only major country to adopt the gold standard as the sole basis of its currency. Over the same period, the nation's emergence was marked by a powerful combination of Protestantism, commerce, and military might, alongside preservation of its older social hierarchy.
In this rich and broad-ranging work, Timothy Alborn argues for a close connection between gold and Britain's national identity. Beginning with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which validated Britain's position as an economic powerhouse, and running through the mid-nineteenth century gold rushes in California and Australia, Alborn draws on contemporary descriptions of gold's value to highlight its role in financial, political, and cultural realms. He begins by narrating British interests in gold mining globally to enable the smooth operation of the gold standard. In addition to explaining the metal's function in finance, he explores its uses in war expenditure, foreign trade, religious observance, and ornamentation at home and abroad. Britons criticized foreign cultures for their wasteful and inappropriate uses of gold, even as it became a prominent symbol of status in more traditional features of British society, including its royal family, aristocracy, and military. Although Britain had been ambivalent in its embrace of gold, ultimately it enabled the nation to become the world's most modern economy and to extend its imperial reach around the globe.
All That Glittered tells the story of gold as both a marker of value and a valuable commodity, while providing a new window onto Britain's ascendance after the 1750s.
A polished exploration of the debates over gold in the long eighteenth century, this book succeeds in transforming gold from a technical instrument of the fiscal-military state to a conducting medium for many of the sacred cows of British national identity. It is a dazzling example of the kind of explorations and analysis of the complexities of cultural value and exchange now possible through searchable historical corpora. Alborn's All That Glittered is a treasure trove of contemporary references and an unalloyed pleasure. * Martin Hewitt, Anglia Ruskin University * Tim Alborn has a reputation as one of the most original historians of modern Britain, and All That Glittered yet again shows his ability to transform debates. His novel and imaginative approach to the culture of gold shows how it was castigated as useless adornment or praised laudable distinction, wasted in Iberian idlenessor used in British enterprise. These shifting and contested meanings are complemented by a subtle grasp of how Britain lost and obtained its gold through paying allies in war or by trade. Here is an impressive fusion of cultural and economic history, told with great insight and style. * Martin Daunton, University of Cambridge * In All That Glittered, Timothy Alborn accomplishes that rare feat-a history that is at once finely grounded and spectacularly creative. This book recasts the geopolitics of gold, its monetary career, and its mesmerizing claim to define civilization itself. * Christine Desan, author of Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism *
Timothy Alborn is Professor of History at Lehman College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of Conceiving Companies: Joint-Stock Politics in Victorian England and Regulated Lives: Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914.