Posts Tagged suffragette jewellery
Suffrage Stories/Collecting Suffrage: Countdown To 12 October And Release Of The Film ‘Suffragette’: The WSPU ‘Flag’ Brooch
To celebrate the release on 12 October of the film ‘Suffragette’ (with which I had a slight association) I will post each day an image of a suffrage item that has passed through my hands.
For my current catalogue – No 189 – which contains a good deal of suffrage material – as well as general books and ephemera by and about women – see here.
An enamelled WSPU brooch – in the shape of a purple, white and green flag.
Unusually, it’s possible to date this brooch pretty accurately. It is marked on the back with the maker’s name ‘Toye’, which was in usage between 1898 and 1909 when the passing of a new Companies’ Act meant that henceforward it was known as ‘Toye & Co. Toye produced much of the WSPU merchandise, including the hunger-strike medals. The company is still in business and re-produced the hunger-strike medals that you will able to see being worn in the film ‘Suffragette’.
The 31 December 1908 issue of Votes for Women lists all merchandise that the WSPU was selling at that time – and the flag design is not listed.
However we can see from the 14 May 1909 issue, dating from the time that the WSPU was about to launch its big fund-raising event – the Exhibition at Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge -, that the number of items the WSPU was selling had increased – and now included this brooch.
It is described as ‘Flag (words “Votes for Women”) 1/- each.’ I fear that over the last 108 years the brooch has rather risen in value. But I think we can be pretty certain that this design was manufactured no later than the Spring of 1909.
This week’s issue of the Antiques Trade Gazette contains a letter from me protesting against the mis-describing of random pieces of Victorian/Edwardian jewellery that have a combination of metals and/or stones approximating to the purple, white and green of the WSPU, as ‘suffragette’.
Here is the text of the letter:
‘As a long-established dealer in suffragette memorabilia I must try once again to take a stand against the mis-labelling as ‘suffragette’ of any pieces of jewellery that contain stones approximating to some shade of purple (or pink or red), white and green.
I see on page 32 of this week’s ATG that two auction houses so described 3 brooches/pendants. I have no idea if the intrinsic value of the items was commensurate with the sale price achieved, but of one thing I am certain – there was nothing in the lot descriptions that convinced me that these pieces had any association with the suffragette movement. I only hope that those bidding were not doing so with any thought that they were acquiring a piece of suffragette history. It should be obvious to anyone with any historical sense that it is necessary to have a much more detailed provenance – a documented history – other than some woolly description about ‘purple, white and green’.
The ‘colours’ were the invention of one of the leaders of the WSPU, Mrs Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, as a way of creating a ‘brand’ for the WSPU and were first used in June 1908 at a grand rally held by the WSPU in Hyde Park.‘The Public Meeting Act’ of December 1908, mentioned in the ATG piece, was intended, although notably unsuccessful, to prevent suffragettes from heckling ministers – not to prevent suffragettes themselves from holding meetings. It was not until years later – in April 1913 – that there was any prohibition on the WSPU holding meetings in public parks. Moreover, Britain was never such a repressive country that suffragettes found it necessary to wear jewellery ‘in the colours’ as a secret token of allegiance. Quite the reverse; women wore their badges (also now very collectable) proudly –advertising the WSPU and many other suffrage societies.
Since each of these societies followed the WSPU lead and adopted an individual combination of colours of their own I am surprised that auction houses and dealers have not yet leaped onto that bandwagon. For instance, the colours of the main suffrage society – the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies – were red, white and green. Just think how many pieces of jewellery with stones in those colours could be described as ‘suffragette’ if we were seriously to follow the ‘purple, white and green’ rule.
I have studied the suffragette movement in depth – in all its manifestations – and can report that there is no evidence that ‘suffragette’ jewellery was made in anything like the quantity flooding the auction houses and, of course, Ebay. Moreover the only commercial company known to have made and retailed ‘suffragette jewellery’ as such was Mappin and Webb (Stanley Mappin was a convinced supporter of the WSPU – joining in the suffrage boycott of the 1911 census). I would be interested to learn of any documentation citing any other commercial company as maker of ‘suffragette jewellery’.
Other jewellery was made by individual artist craftswomen- such as the well-known enameller Ernestine Mills – to sell at fund-raising suffragette bazaars and may well have included references to suffragette colours and motifs. On occasion one can find pieces that demonstrate clearly their suffragette provenance. One such is a pendant made – in purple, white and green enamel – from a design by Sylvia Pankhurst. The pendant is long since sold but I use the image of it as the identifier on my website – womanandhersphere.com – on which those who really want to know about ‘suffragette’ jewellery can find more information – as they can in the entry under ‘Jewellery and Badges’ in my The Women’s Suffrage Movement; a reference guide, published by Routledge. Ignorance should not be a reason for allowing auction houses and dealers to perpetuate the ‘suffragette jewellery’ myth. As I say, I specialize in suffragette memorabilia but could not possibly bring myself to sell something as ‘suffragette’ if I was not certain that it had an authentic provenance.’
I don’t suppose this will make a jot of difference – but I try. A suffrage collector told me recently that, after buying an item on Ebay and then doing a little research, he realised that the item was not of original suffragette provenance. When he protested to the Ebay seller, he was told, ‘Prove it’. That was not a valuable item, so it was not worth the trouble of engaging in a prolonged battle with a seller who lacked both historical knowledge and a conscience. However, I am sure there are cases, particularly of jewellery, where sales are made that would not have been without the spurious ‘suffragette’ description.
Buy only from a reputable dealer.
This circular brooch, containing a photograph of Emily Wilding Davison in academic dress, formerly belonged to her friend and champion, Mary Leigh. The photograph of Emily Wilding Davison (for the photographer/publisher of the postcard see here) is rather worn and has a little ink scribble on it – though what the intention – if any – of this is, I cannot say.
The photo is held in the brooch frame by a card showing Sylvia Pankhurst’s WSPU design, in purple, white and green, of ‘the sower’. This may originally been a component in a WSPU badge. Written on it in capital letters, in Mary Leigh’s idiosyncratic style, is ‘LIBERTY. NO SURRENDER. E.W.D.’.
This is a piece that, unlike so much else on the market, clearly merits the description ‘suffragette jewellery’. I do not think that this commemoration photo of Emily Wilding Davison was issued by the WSPU in this particular style of circular brooch, but suspect that Mary Leigh herself put the photo in it. The brooch is edged with alternating little pink and white stones. It is worth noting that Mary Leigh, even with her close acquaintance with WSPU imagery and branding, did not bother to select or commission a brooch with stones reflecting more closely the WSPU colours.
In a previous post on Suffragette Jewellery I commented on the danger of assuming that any piece of jewellery that a dealer described as ‘suffragette’ had, in fact, anything to do with the suffragette movement. However it is still possible to discover items the provenance of which cannot be doubted.
Below is one such.
The image for this original painted miniature portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is derived from the photograph of her by the Kensington photographer, Martin Jacolette (see below). In it she is wearing a Holloway brooch, which dates the photograph to no earlier than April 1909.
The portrait miniature is very pleasingly painted and, although no artist’s signature is visible, I did wonder if it might not be by one of the Brackenbury sisters (Georgiana’s much later portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is in the National Portrait Gallery). The portrait is set in a metal pendant, on the back of which is inscribed ‘Presented to Mrs Marie Leigh Drum Major by the N.W.S.P.U. Drum and Fife Band in memory of her courageous fight for woman’s freedom December 1909’.
In the autumn of 1909 Mary Leigh had been forcibly fed while serving sentences in Winson Green and Strangeways prisons and in December an action for damages was brought on her behalf by the WSPU against the Home Secretary. The WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, reported that, on 16 December 1909, ‘Ushered to the strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” , played by the WSPU Band, Mrs Leigh, the Drum Major received a royal welcome at St James’s Hall. Looking rather pale but as determined as ever, she delivered a stirring address.’ As Christabel Pankhurst, who was presiding, commented, ‘The Government did not know with whom they were dealing.’ The pendant was probably presented on this occasion.
The pendant, which has its original chain, has set around its edge three little stones – one white, one purple and one green. In this case the choice of stones clearly did have WSPU relevance. The pendant is in its original box – similar in material to that used for the hunger strike medals. Contemporary painted portraits of Mrs Pankhurst are exceedingly rare and with this particular provenance – unique. I have never seen another pendant like this, but wonder whether Mary Leigh was the only recipient of such an object. Might there be others waiting to be discovered?
One of my bêtes noires is the misnaming of any vaguely Edwardian piece of jewellery that comprises stones approximating to some shade of purple (or pink or red), white and green as ‘suffragette’. I have long ago ceased remonstrating with reputable auction houses – they should know better. Ebay, of which one cannot expect very much, is, of course, rife with a lack of historical awareness.
While such pieces may be decorative and even of some intrinsic value, I would be very sorry if anyone paid over the odds for a piece of such jewellery thinking that they were buying an association with the suffrage movement. There are plenty of unscrupulous or ignorant dealers who peddle such notions. I think the term ‘suffragette jewellery’ should be reserved for pieces that have a provenance associated with a suffrage society or an individual who either made or wore it with ‘suffrage’ intent.
Above is an example of what I mean – a ‘true’ piece of suffragette jewellery – a silver and enamel pendant, bearing the ‘Angel of Freedom’ device designed in 1908 by Sylvia Pankhurst. I bought – and sold it – some years ago – and have never found another. As second best to owning the real thing, I have ever since used the image on my trade cards.
I will tell the stories of some other pieces of ‘true’ suffragette jewellery in future ‘Collecting Suffrage’ posts.
Here and here are two articles that attempt to demistify the subject of ‘suffragette jewellery’. Or you can read the entry on ‘Jewllery and Badges’ in my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide.