Marketable Values: Inventing the Property Market in Modern Britain (Hardcover)
The idea that land should be—or even could be—treated like any other commodity has not always been a given. For much of British history, land was bought and sold in ways that emphasized its role in complex networks of social obligation and political power, and that resisted comparisons with more easily transacted and abstract markets. Fast-forward to today, when house-flipping is ubiquitous and references to the fluctuating property market fill the news. How did we get here?
In Marketable Values, Desmond Fitz-Gibbon seeks to answer that question. He tells the story of how Britons imagined, organized, and debated the buying and selling of land from the mid-eighteenth to the early twentieth century. In a society organized around the prestige of property, the desire to commodify land required making it newly visible through such spectacles as public auctions, novel professions like auctioneering, and real estate journalism. As Fitz-Gibbon shows, these innovations sparked impassioned debates on where, when, and how to demarcate the limits of a market society. As a result of these collective efforts, the real estate business became legible to an increasingly attentive public and a lynchpin of modern economic life.
Drawing on an eclectic range of sources—from personal archives and estate correspondence to building designs, auction handbills, and newspapers—Marketable Values explores the development of the British property market and the seminal role it played in shaping the relationship we have to property around the world today.
About the Author
Desmond Fitz-Gibbon is assistant professor of history at Mount Holyoke College.
“[A] detailed and thoughtful analysis of a bewilderingly elastic concept.”
— London Review of Books
"Marketable Values is an interesting history of exactly what the subtitle says: the institutions and practices that created the forerunner of today’s anonymous, professionalised property market out of the thickets of traditional social relations that still characterised property ownership at the end of the 18th century."
— The Enlightened Economist
"Anyone who has ever dealt with realtors (known in the UK as estate agents) will not be surprised to learn that the workings of the property market are sometimes impenetrable and often based on irrational dreams and desires. Unlike other rationalized commodities, however, landed property is immovable and, in England, its ownership was for many years complicated by a bewildering array of inheritance, tenancy, and usage restrictions. Fitz-Gibbon offers a detailed and convincing account of how this unique form of property, personal but not portable, came to be packaged, commodified, and marketed in Great Britain during the 19th century. The marketization of property entailed not only the professionalization of auctioneers, conveyancers, and estate agents, but also a cultural transition to perceiving land as a commodity to be bought and sold, not inherited. Fitz-Gibbon is particularly adept at charting these cultural contingencies as mediated through the press, estate agents, and other intermediaries situated between buyers, agents, and sellers. This book offers a thoughtful and nuanced analysis of not only the commoditization of landed property in England, but also the social and cultural meanings of land during the 19th century."
“Fitz-Gibbon has written a fascinating account of the everyday experiences, social relationships, and individual desires that built the ‘real estate market’ in nineteenth-century imperial Britain. With great wit and a Dickensian eye for detail, Fitz-Gibbon introduces the people and knowledge systems that produced the modern idea of a property market. The Victorian auction house, trade press, file cabinet, and ‘horrors of house hunting’ thus all find their rightful place in the history of capitalism.”
— Erika Rappaport, University of California, Santa Barbara
“Marketable Values provides much-needed insight into how a market for property emerged and the role of agents and auctions in creating and communicating value. With its original research, fresh approach, and clear voice, this book will make an important contribution to consumer culture and the creation of markets in modern society.”
— Frank Trentmann, author of Empire of Things
“Markets and commercial practice are products of culture and imagination, of statistical constructs and legal formulations. Fitz-Gibbon provides an outstanding analysis, full of insight and rich detail, of that most fundamental of all markets: property. His engaging book will appeal to cultural, social, and economic historians, and more generally to anyone who has experienced the emotion of buying and selling a house.”
— Martin Daunton, University of Cambridge
"Marketable Values is an extraordinary work of the highest quality. If house and estate agency, land surveying, auctioneering, and legal documentation might be thought unlikely topics to excite the reader, Fitz-Gibbon positions them center stage in the process of urban development spanning the late eighteenth century to ca. 1925."
— The Journal of Modern History