Many items designed to help anti-slavery efforts


by Anne Gilbert

Black History Month brought to attention many little known facts and collectibles for sale.
In 18th-century Great Britain, protests against slavery began long before the American Civil War in the following century.
This resulted in many decorative utilitarian objects and art made in Britain. They helped to further the cause. It began with protest against the slave trade in England and the West Indies. As the abolitionist movement grew and more Europeans moved to America, many abolitionist-themed ceramics, glass, prints, paintings and medallions were created.

An 1834 Great Britain anti-slavery freedom medal. (photo courtesy of eBay)

It is a little known fact that Josiah Wedgwood used his talents to aid the abolitionist movement. He was a founder of The Society for the Suppression of The Slave Trade. His medallion bearing the words “Am I not a man” became the rallying cry for the movement. He distributed many copies of the medallion free to other supporters. Often they were set into jewelry, such as rings or necklaces. While most are in museums, those that come up for sale are priced high, at thousands of dollars.

Historically, Benjamin Franklin, who acquired several of the medallions in Philadelphia, also handed them out to anti-slavery supporters. He was among the many Americans interested in the anti-slavery movement.

English writers such as Thomas Clarkson and William Wordsworth were ardent abolitionists. Wordsworth wrote a poem on the subject. Through their efforts, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in England in 1833. They then turned their efforts to America’s abolitionist movement.

In America, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” with illustrations, inspired the anti-slavery movement in America.

Other women and the churches were the first to actively take up the cause. In fact, this American movement was one of the first political movements in this country in which women played an influential role. Religious beliefs and networks set up by the Quakers, Methodists, Lutherans and to some extent the Baptists, were important to the movement.

An authentic 19th-century anti-slavery plate. (photo courtesy of a private collector)

CLUES: While original items cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, reproductions can be affordable. They include everything from books to letters. A reproduction of the Wedgwood medallion can be had for a few hundred dollars. The originals were also inlaid on snuff boxes and turned into hat pins. Images were also transfer printed on milk jugs and cups.

Consider that when once thousands of these items were made, there are many yet undiscovered and can go unrecognized at a garage sale or flea market. After all, a small medallion or hat pin may not look important.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun Times and the Miami Herald since 1983. She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles and art and appeared on national TV. She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.