It was underbid in the room by an English collector but is now going to the US.
The inscription Wilkes And Liberty No. 45 to the barrel-shaped mug is as good as a date as it refers to the publication of the 45th issue of John Wilkes’ sharptongued periodical The North Briton.
Wilkes was a hero to the likes of Samuel Adams and John Hancock and as both a critic of the government’s taxation policy in the colonies and a supporter of the rebels in 1776, he has considerable transatlantic appeal.
The buyer in Salisbury was Robert Hunter, editor of Ceramics in America and a long-time collector-dealer of English political ceramics. He said: “There are a lot of collectors interested in Wilkes-related objects in America as we associate him with the cause of Independence.”
The few surviving objects that bear his name carry a premium among political memorabilia collectors. In August 2016, Essex saleroom Sworders took an unexpected £2800 for a badly damaged creamware teapot with the same legend Wilkes and Liberty No 45.
A handful of Delftware plates carrying Wilkes’ portrait (often showing his best-known physical attribute – crossed eyes) have appeared in the past decade, including that sold for £4500 at Bonhams in 2014.
This rare and well-preserved mug also, it seems, reappeared at auction after a brief sojourn in a private collection. Remarkably, what is almost certainly the same mug was offered at Tennants in Leyburn as part of a ‘country house’ sale in September 2011 when, correctly catalogued, it slipped through the net, selling for just £300. Who said British ceramics were a poor investment?