Objects associated with the suffragette movement come up from time to time at auction or offered by dealers but those associated with specific individuals are the most valuable.
Among the top lots that recently came to auction was this rare suffragette banner offered on June 20, 2017, by the Gary Don saleroom (which charges 21% buyer’s premium including VAT) in Leeds. It had been found in a charity shop. Three of the edges of the banner are marked Manchester – Women’s Social & Political Union, and the centre in purple with First in the fight – Founded by Mrs Pankhurst – 1903.
Also in June 2017, a collection of poems written by the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst while she was in prison and published in 1922 was sold at Forum Auctions. Writ on Cold Slate sold at £1300. The lot also included a 1907 first of The Convert, based on Elizabeth Robins’ play, Votes for Women!, which advocated militancy as the only means of achieving female suffrage.
Back in 2003 a rare silver medal for valour was offered at auction. The Women’s Social and Political Union medal for valour was awarded to Mary Richardson, the Canadian-born militant suffragette who, in protest at the re-arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst in March 1914, slashed the ‘Rokeby’ Venus with an axe at the National Gallery. The silver medal, hallmarked for Birmingham 1912, is believed to carry the greatest number of award bars given by the WSPU during the hunger strikes - an indication that no one was force-fed more often than 'Slasher' Richardson. It was sold at auction by Dix Noonan Webb on December 16, 2003, for £19,000 (plus 15% buyer's premium).
Antique website loveantiques.com created its own list of valuable items in partnership with Elizabeth Crawford, suffrage historian and book and ephemera dealer. The top items that have sold include a suffrage banner, hunger-strike medal, suffrage poster, sash, jewellery, badges, a tea service and toys.
Crawford said: “Items from this period have never been more in demand thanks to the centenary of the act and the popularity of the movement. Anyone with suffrage memorabilia in their family, especially if it’s gathering dust in the attic, would do well to get it valued and consider putting it in front of serious collectors at auction or by getting in touch with a reputable dealer. If it’s in good condition, you really could be sitting on a small fortune.”
Will Thomas, managing director at LoveAntiques.com, said: “We’ve had several items from this important time period sold through the site and have seen an unsurprising increase in demand around the centenary celebrations.”
The Museum of London is currently holding an exhibition of images and objects chosen from its vast collections of suffragette material. Included in the show is a suffragette banner, originally designed as a quilt by Ann Macbeth, head of the embroidery department at the Glasgow School of Art. It is composed of 80 pieces of linen embroidered in purple cotton with the signatures of 80 suffragette hunger-strikers. The Suffragettes: Collection in Focus runs at the Museum of London, London Wall, from February 2-January 6, 2019.