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The Lady Lever’s star objects: slavery medallion

7 October 2015 by Lisa

medallion-blogWhile the Lady Lever Art Gallery’s South End galleries are closed for redevelopment, we have chosen a selection of ‘star objects’ from these galleries that you can now see online. Here is our Senior Curator of Art Galleries, Alyson Pollard, to tell us about one of her favourites: 

“There are so many amazing objects at the Lady Lever Art Gallery; each has its own story and significance. One of my favourite pieces is a Wedgwood medallion made to support the movement for the abolition of the slave trade. This tiny oval medallion, made about 1787, in black and white jasper, is only 3cm by 2cm in size. It’s not an ornate piece and it’s not technically the best piece in the collection, but its emotional impact is huge.

The design on the medallion, of a kneeling enslaved African in chains, is based on the seal of the committee of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Josiah Wedgwood was an active member of the committee.He asked William Hackwood, who worked for him, to model the design for the medallion. The words ‘AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER’ are moulded around the edges.These small medallions were given freely to supporters of the society.

Ladies could have the medallions set into hair decorations or pieces of jewellery, gentlemen could have them set into the top of a snuff box. By wearing the medallion the fight to abolish the slave trade was kept in the public eye. The medallions were the 18th century version of today’s political campaign badge.

Wedgwood sent 400 medallions to Benjamin Franklin, President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, so that he could give them to supporters in America.Franklin wrote and thanked Wedgwood, telling him that he had seen many people affected by the powerful image on the medallion. He thought that it would have;

“……….an effect equal to that of the best written Pamphlet in procuring Favour to these oppressed People”

This small piece of Wedgwood undoubtedly had a huge impact in Britain and America and it is a remarkably clever piece of 18th century promotional material by Wedgwood. Today, two hundred years after it was made, the medallion’s striking imagery and simple inscription still have huge emotional and moral impact.”

Browse more of the Lady Lever’ star objects

You can see more of the gallery’s star objects online, which will be redisplayed when the South End opens again in 2016.

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