Thursday, August 11, 2011

Elijah Lovejoy Plate

In the late nineteenth century, collectors of Americana eagerly sought examples of transfer-printed earthenware produced by Staffordshire factories in the 1830s-40s for export to the United States. Popular subjects included historical monuments, as well as patriotic and political themes and views of American cities. These  wares often were issued in series, fueling the collecting craze, especially for blue, that continues today. 

This interesting, light blue transfer ware plate displays the etchings of the U.S. Constitutions First Amendment, recalling the protection of free speech and the press.  This artifact of liberty and freedom is referred to as the anti-slavery or abolition plate, one of the very few produced to commemorate the life of Elijah Lovejoy.

Lovejoy was an active advocate for anti-slavery and an Abolitionist editor who published an antislavery newspaper in Alton, Illinois in the 1800s.  Lovejoy fought for free speech and press on the subject of slavery and as a result of exerting resistance against slavery he was murdered in 1837 defending his printing press from an anti-abolition mob. 

Upon his death, several plates were produced in England and shipped to New York to raise money for the purpose of freeing slaves.  In addition to the etchings of the First Amendment, on top of the plate’s border appears, “Lovejoy, the first Martyr to American Liberty, at Alton, Nov. 7, 1837.”    

  In addition to  the words of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the plate has a scalloped rim with a border of eagles with American shields and four medallions; two with quotations from the Constitution, in the third, a pair of scales, and in the fourth, Justice pardoning a slave.    It is a rare and wonderful, patriotic Staffordshire piece commemorating the First Amendment and the battle over slavery.

One of these plates was donated to the Los Angeles Museum of Art by William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst shared the taste of his generation, and beginning around 1910 and continuing throughout the 1930s, he assembled extensive collections of English transfer-printed earthenware, creamware, and lusterware. He was active at most every major auction of Americana in the 1920s and 1930s, where quantities of English pottery typically accompanied colonial American furniture. 

On the back of the plate reads the following:
"The antislavery plate, “The Tyrant’s Foe,” is one of several versions that Hearst owned. It commemorates Elijah P. Lovejoy (1802–1837), editor of a newspaper in Alton, Illinois, who faced down an angry pro-slavery mob after they had thrown his printing presses into the Mississippi River on three occasions. Killed while defending freedom of the press and of speech, Lovejoy became a martyr for the abolitionist cause, which was originally supported by the sale of these plates".

Another of the plates, shown below, was presented to Gustave Amsterdam, a prominent Philadelphia philanthropist and activist, by the Philadelphia Urban Coalition.  It has a custom stand. 

And lastly, another of these very rare, historical plates was donated to the Damon J. Keith Law Collection of African-American Legal History by the Honorable Avern Cohn.  Judge Cohn donated this historical gift to present an opportunity for others to learn of Elijah Lovejoy’s commendable efforts in upholding the First Amendment of the Constitution.  It is displayed in the Rare Book Room on the Second Floor of the Wayne State Law School.