Planned Obsolescence

My daughter visited this weekend and iterated that she had stopped drinking the Apple Kool Aid and purchased herself a Galaxy phone. I applaud independent thinking and my daughter is inclined to figure things out for herself. So I mentioned that one of the early principles of capitalism was planned obsolescence or more prosaically the creation of products that were designed to fail in the long run. She was quite clearly offended by this concept. I, too, am offended by it as my three year old toaster oven seems completely over the hill, not to mention five phones in twelve years, several computers, etc.

Eighteenth century English furniture was built to last. One of the primary reasons is that the clients were not just difficult, they were basically in the position to bankrupt any cabinetmaker who did not make things of quality. This was particularly true in the early part of the 18th century when the market was so narrow for the high end makers. When the middle class started to expand, it became less true simply because there were more clients to turn to. The overall quality of furniture, in a broad sense, declined although it took years for it to lose the luster of the early 18th century makers.

My daughter has been furnishing her new apartment with things purchased off of Craig’s List. When I mentioned that I had bought some items for very little money at auction—that is 18th century furniture and that these pieces had survived 250 years, she was extremely interested. Her curiosity is based on the economics of the situation, first and foremost, but her sense of responsibility to the environment and her revulsion at the concept of planned obsolescence are also a factor. It is as good a way to get into the antiques world as any.

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