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Fb2 Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce ePub

by Sarah Abrevaya Stein

Category: Politics and Government
Subcategory: Political books
Author: Sarah Abrevaya Stein
ISBN: 0300127367
ISBN13: 978-0300127362
Language: English
Publisher: Yale University Press; Not Indicated edition (November 25, 2008)
Pages: 256
Fb2 eBook: 1337 kb
ePub eBook: 1531 kb
Digital formats: lrf lrf txt lit

Ostrich feathers are regarded as high kitsch these days; Kylie sported electric blue plumes on her "Showgirl" tour last year, and Dita Von Teese favours pink for her burlesque shows, but milliners tend to opt for osprey or cock feathers and the general market is all but dead. However, they were once the height of fashion, and between the 1880s and the first world war, the trade was booming; their "value per pound almost equal to that of diamonds".

Ostrich feathers have, of course, faded from fashion, but any bubble can make an interesting study of human behavior. Sarah Abrevaya Stein has done that, and more, in Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press).

Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies, Department of History, UCLA.

-Mark Kurlansky, author of SALT: A World History. Plumes-in part the chronicle of a craze in early 20th-century millinery-speaks to our current moment of financial cataclysm. Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies, Department of History, UCLA.

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Stein, Sarah Abrevaya (2010). Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce. Yale University Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-0300168181. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution.

Sarah Abrevaya Stein’s elegant book opens by conjuring up a now forgotten world, a so-called Jerusalem on the cape of Africa, where . As such the book painstakingly recreates what Stein calls a lost world of global commerce. But Plumes is more than that

Sarah Abrevaya Stein’s elegant book opens by conjuring up a now forgotten world, a so-called Jerusalem on the cape of Africa, where hundreds of eastern European Jews found tremendous opportunity as ostrich feather merchants at the moment when these plumes became an international fashion craze. But Plumes is more than that. This slim volume about a seemingly superficial subject operates on many levels and carries a weighty historiographic agenda. Indeed, Stein uses this story to make timely and important interventions in Jewish history, economic history, and cultural history.

By Sarah Abrevaya Stein. One does not write a book about Jews and feathers with the expectation that it will prove timely

By Sarah Abrevaya Stein. One does not write a book about Jews and feathers with the expectation that it will prove timely. And yet the contemporary resonance of this story is breathtaking.

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The thirst for exotic ornament among fashionable women in the metropoles of Europe and America prompted a bustling global trade in ostrich feathers that flourished from the 1880s until the First World War. When feathers fell out of fashion with consumers, the result was an economic catastrophe for many, a worldwide feather bust. In this remarkable book, Sarah Stein draws on rich archival materials to bring to light the prominent and varied roles of Jews in the feather trade. She discovers that Jews fostered and nurtured the trade across the global commodity chain and throughout the far-flung territories where ostriches were reared and plucked, and their feathers were sorted, exported, imported, auctioned, wholesaled, and finally manufactured for sale.

From Yiddish-speaking Russian-Lithuanian feather handlers in South Africa to London manufacturers and wholesalers, from rival Sephardic families whose feathers were imported from the Sahara and traded across the Mediterranean, from New York’s Lower East Side to entrepreneurial farms in the American West, Stein explores the details of a remarkably vibrant yet ephemeral culture. This is a singular story of global commerce, colonial economic practices, and the rise and fall of a glamorous luxury item.

Comments to eBook Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce
Cezel
Reads like a PhD thesis project......AND we got a lot of important historical information about the effect of the feathers on the hat industry. Have used the info in sharing with Smithsonian and Audubon. This is a must for any hat museum. It is a bit much to slog thru but read it from cover to cover.
Mardin
very good
Silly Dog
Thank you
Jonariara
I write this without the book because I have given it away as a prize in a raffle, I think so much of it. The research was particularly thorough - the footnotes are as interesting as the text. I liked this book better than any other thesis turned into a book because it is so well written - her rhythm, vocabulary and personal voice are all excellent. The material is particularly fascinating, especially as I have an ostrich feather fan and a single plume inherited from my great-grandmother, and I am sure that people tried to establish ostrich farms in Australia before WW1, just as the South African farmers took our - South Australian - wattle seed at that time and set up wattle farms for the bark used in tanning, and killed an industry here because they had cheap (slave) labour.

But her main argument - that the Jews who ran the industry were particularly suited to it through the training they had received in similar European industries, because of the Jewish diaspora and because of the opportunities they had to set up an industry from the beginning and all the way along, that their languages - Yiddish and Judaeo-Arabic - allowed them to communicate with others significant to the trade - I loved this argument, answering the implicit anti-Semitism of any comment on Jewish control of any industry. The thinking, knowledge and wisdom of that position are inspirational, and evoke my gratitude. And my admiration. This is such an excellent work.
And she illustrates this argument with detailed knowledge of the industry, drawn from its records and personal letters, showing its development through Africa (I wanted to know more about the desert camel trains, carrying huge bags of feathers) and the development of the markets, in Europe and America, through family and relationship contacts.
i heartily recommend this book - I loved it.
Thetalen
An unusual story! Who knew that feathers were once worth as much as diamonds? Or that ostrich feathers could be "harvested" with no harm at all to the bird? This story is VERY well-researched and should inspire more inquiry into how global commerce was managed in the previous century.
Chilldweller
This is both a history of the ostrich feather trade, and also a history of the Jews throughout Northern Africa and also South Africa. Hard to belive that Ostrich feathers were as valuable as diamonds early in the 20th century. Wonderful read.
Eseve
Why is it that diamonds are regarded as high value and feathers are not? It seems like a silly question, unless one takes into account the foibles of human enthusiasms and the price tags we put on them. One hundred years ago, ostrich feathers were worth almost as much by weight as diamonds, and businessmen argued that they were equivalent in durability. A fine ostrich feather was "an investment for life" wrote one observer at the time, and went on that the plume "has been in fashion for centuries past, and will probably be for centuries to come. It holds its place like the diamond." Ostrich feathers have, of course, faded from fashion, but any bubble can make an interesting study of human behavior. Sarah Abrevaya Stein has done that, and more, in _Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce_ (Yale University Press). Stein, a professor who concentrates on Jewish Studies, takes a look at this episode which has not only been forgotten but its Jewish origins have been forgotten, too. _Plumes_ is an academic treatise, full of footnotes and wide research, but the peculiarity of its topic makes it funny and sad as well. Not only that, but studying of the feather bust is probably healthful for those of us a hundred years later who have our own economic woes.

Feathers had adorned hats and clothes for centuries, but in the 1880s they became a fashion essential, used on women's large, elaborate hats and on boas. The South African trade in ostrich feathers was coincident with the boom of the area in diamond and gold mines. Stein shows that Jewish workers, traders, manufacturers, and financiers were all involved in the feather trade. Her review shows that this was a process of history rather than any coordinated Jewish effort; Jews had spread out and had mercantile, lingual, and industrial skills that could flourish in new areas. "Jews brought certain elements of human capital to the ostrich feather trade: background in like industries, contacts of kith and kin within and across sub-ethnic diasporas and political and oceanic boundaries, copacetic relations with the reigning authorities, geographic mobility, and, no less important, economic need." That there could be this sort of Jewish involvement made it almost inevitable that some would use it as a focus for anti-Semitic thought, but it is hard to see any great conspiracy at this remove, especially since any such conspiracy would have to be one of the least successful ever. Before the bust things looked bright indeed. The harvesting and preparation of the feathers was surprisingly complicated, and the industry employed thousands. A big problem for American ostrich feather manufacturers was that there were import duties to be paid on feathers from London, so that ostrich farms sprang up in the South and Southwest. Governmental aid for such farms was sought, one Arizona representative declaring to his colleagues in the House in 1913, "No one need have any fear for the future of the ostrich industry. The feather is undoubtedly the most beautiful ornament of its kind, and as such is independent of fashion."

Counting on continued demand proved to be an unwarranted gamble. There were various reasons for the bust, beyond the mere capriciousness of Dame Fashion. There was a nascent preservationist movement which sought laws to halt the obliteration of wild birds at home and overseas, and laws were passed to protect them and their feathers. Ostriches, of course, were domesticated birds in no danger of extinction, but when the public started linking feathers and cruelty or extinction, ostrich feathers were included. World War One influenced women to dress practically to enter the workforce. The automobile made wearing big, feathered hats or boas impractical. Brokerage firms that had invested in feathers, and those that had stockpiled large amounts in order to take advantage of an expected upsurge in value, were ruined. The downfall provided some humor in the popular press, which suggested an ostrich for the Thanksgiving table ("Heaven help him who gets the neck."). There was a short relief from a fad of dressing kewpie dolls in feathers, and eventually some of the stock got turned into less-than-haute-couture feather dusters. This is a story of "livelihoods lost to the caprice of global markets," and any twenty-first century reader is going to find familiar its themes of luxury, greed, and economic chaos.
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