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Showcase Britain

Britain at the Vienna World Exhibition 1873


Christina Baird

Showcase Britain explores the diverse aspects of British participation in the Vienna World Exhibition (Weltausstellung) of 1873. The exhibition covered a vast spectrum of human endeavour and achievement. The British involvement encompassed not only the national submission but also the British individuals who visited and contributed to the displays.

The book offers a snapshot of British aspirations and commerce at a singular point in history through the lens of the exhibition. The central theme is explored through various perspectives: the ceramic collections, the Fine Art collections, British connections with China, the act of collecting, the visitor experience, and the mobility and re-use of collections, with particular reference to the display from India. The British submission is compared and contrasted throughout with that of the government of Japan, a newcomer to international shows, whose collections presented a competitor to Britain’s and a focus for British acquisition and emulation. Finally, the exhibition is viewed in the wider context of international exhibitions held in London in the following decade.

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Appendix 7: Edward C. Bowra and the Chinese Port Catalogues


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Edward C. Bowra and the Chinese Port Catalogues1

The 1873 Chinese Port Catalogues of the Chinese Customs’ Collection, chosen for display in the Weltausstellung, which were compiled by Edward Charles Bowra, provide information not only about the commodities selected for the Exhibition but also about the ports, producers and personalities involved.2 The selections of items are illustrative of particular commodities shipped from the ports and goods with potential for future trading. The Catalogues also record information such as whether items were to be sold after the Exhibition, returned to the owner or given to the agent. The prices and values for items are estimated, although the final prices and destinations of objects after sale are not known. Fourteen Chinese ports were represented in the Exhibition and exhibition items ranged from industrial and agricultural products to silks and decorative items.3 Items from each port were categorised under twenty-six headings. Such a system differed from previous displays of similar material.4 ← 159 | 160 →

The Chinese Port Catalogues provide a comprehensive overview of the objects brought to Vienna and allow us to see the types of commodities coming in and out of various ports in China for international and domestic markets. Items coming into China from Europe are not listed except in the case of the port of Shanghai. The dominant category of exports represented is that of textiles and clothing, with agricultural goods in second place and chemical products in third, as...

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