The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Height: 3.000 cm
Gift of Sir A.W. Franks
P&E MLA 1887,3-7.I.683 (Pottery Catalogue I. 683)
Anti-slavery medallion, by Josiah Wedgwood
England, AD 1787
'Am I not a man and a brother?'
Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95), a nonconformist, was keenly interested in political and social questions, like his friends Thomas Day, the social reformer, and Erasmus Darwin, inventor and poet, who both wrote in condemnation of the slave trade.
Wedgwood issued this jasperware medallion in 1787. It has an applied relief of a kneeling slave and the inscription 'Am I not a man and a brother?' and was modelled after the seal for the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in that year by Thomas Clarkson. Wedgwood sent medallions to Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania in February 1788, and they were an immediate success. Clarkson wrote: 'some had them inlaid in gold on the lid of their snuff-boxes. Of the ladies, several wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion…was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice and, humanity and freedom.' The design was also used in printed form on plates, enamel boxes for patches, as well as on tea caddies and for tokens.
It took from 1786 when Clarkson published his Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species until 1807 for a bill in Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade to receive Royal Assent. However, trafficking in slaves continued. The anti-slavery society was founded in 1823, by the efforts of William Wilberforce, but British slaves did not finally gain their freedom until 1838.
S. Margolin, '"And Freedom to the Slave": Antislavery Ceramics 1787-1865' in Ceramics in America (Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, 2002), pp 81-109
T. Clarkson, The history of the rise, progr (, 1808, London reprint 1968)
A. Dawson, Masterpieces of Wedgwood in th, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
R. Reilly, Wedgwood (London, Macmillan, 1989)