A single consignment of 15 anti-slavery lots provided a spot check on this niche market at Nantwich auction house Wilson55 (22% buyer’s premium) on July 21.
The powerful image of a chained kneeling slave and the resounding phrase Am I Not a Man And A Brother? has a particular place in ceramics history.
The first was made in 1787 on the founding of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It is thought to have been commissioned by committee member Josiah Wedgwood, modelled by the sculptor Henry Webber and prepared for production in black on white jasperware by William Hackwood who is credited with coining the slogan.
The motif ultimately became the emblem for the British anti-slavery movement and many versions of the kneeling slave found their way onto objects made in ceramic, metal, glass and fabric.
Medallion on top
A c.1790 Wedgwood black and white jasper medallion led the field at Wilson55. The framed 1¼in (3.2cm) medallion had two small chips, probably from a previous mount, but was otherwise in untouched original condition and sold just shy of top estimate at £2400.
The slogan and figure featured on a double-sided intaglio fob dated c.1830, with Am I Not A Woman And A Sister? - an addition adopted by American abolitionists in 1825 - to the reverse.
With gilt bronze mounts, the 1¼in (3.5cm) fob, in perfect condition apart from minor ageing wear, was estimated at £500-1000 and sold at £1300.
A 2¼in (6.5cm) early 19th century pearlware nursery mug was transfer printed with a polychrome scene of slavers driving African prisoners towards a ship.
It was printed with a verse from a William Cowper poem Forced from home and all its pleasures, Afric’s coast we left forlorn, to increase a stranger’s treasures, O’er the raging billows borne. With no restoration or damage bar firing faults to the rim and overall crazing, it sold above estimate at £1300.
While it had a profound effect on the abolitionist movement in the US, pieces relating to Harriett Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin are generally more numerous. Supply can outweigh demand.
Four of the six lots referencing the work, mostly mid-19th century Staffordshire figures and crockery, failed to sell and the other two went below estimates. Best of them were figures of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe, bringing an under-estimate £90.
Highest bid of the Cheshire sale day came among the modern ceramics: an impressive £11,200 for a Spode Stafford Flowers dinner, tea and coffee service (a design produced from 1985-2015) comprising more than 200 pieces and pitched at £2000-4000.