The Pineapple Theft Wave
Pineapples began to be grown in European warehouses in the eighteenth century, but at great expense, in the ballpark of $15,000. Eating them was considered wasteful, so they were used as fancy dinner ornaments, and passed from party to party until they rotted. People who weren’t rich enough to own pineapples, but wanted to look like they were, rented them. Pineapples were so precious they warranted security guards. 1807 Old Bailey transcripts show several pineapple theft cases, including one of a Mr. Gooding who got transported to Australia for seven years for stealing seven pineapples.
In the nineteenth century, the increased reliability and cargo capacity of steamships enabled the bulk importation of pineapples. The resultant availability of pineapples at ever lower costs diminished their prestige. That annoyed the upper classes, for whom pineapples had once been a marker of status. Indeed, the notion that pineapples were available – and affordable – to all and sundry galled the snobby set. Cartoons of working class people eating pineapples became visual metaphors of the downside of progress in what the elites saw as a world turned upside down.