Museums boost anti slavery interest

10th September 2021

Eight pieces of pottery made to celebrate the Anti Slavery movement in 19th century Britain have sold at auction for ten times their estimate.

The jugs, mugs and plates, featuring enslaved African figures appealing for freedom, were expected to make around £1,800 when they came under the hammer as part of the Robin Simpson Collection of Commemoratives on 8th September, but the total was closer to £20,000.

“The sudden leap in prices has been entirely driven by museums trying to redress the balance of white art in their collections,” explained Woolley and Wallis specialist, Clare Durham. “Recent events have rightly caused many institutions to try and improve their collections in relation to black history, meaning that they are all chasing the same pieces as they come onto the market.”

Among the buyers at the auction in Salisbury were the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, the Clark in Massachusetts (bidding through H Blairman & Sons of London), and another major unnamed English museum. A private American collector also managed to acquire two pieces, but expressed surprise at the prices realised.

The movement for the abolition of slavery began in England in the late 18th century, with ceramicist, Josiah Wedgwood, among the champions. In 1807 the passing of the Slave Trade Act abolished the trading of slaves throughout the British Empire, although it was not until 1833 that an act was passed to make the keeping of slaves unlawful.

“The plates, jugs and mugs that British potters were producing to advertise the abolition movement were made to be used,” continued Durham. “There are records of ardent abolitionists using such wares to publicly declare their stance to their guests and to promote the ideals of freedom and equality.”


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