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First launched in 1761 as a satirical response to The Briton, the Earl of Bute’s toady ‘house’ magazine, The North Briton was initially fairly light-hearted in its attacks on “the King’s incompetent friend”. Prime Minister Bute was an easy target. He was a poor speaker,
he was considered too close to
the King, he was Scottish and it was generally believed that he was having an affair with the King’s mother.

However, in issue 45, dated April 1763, Wilkes went a step
further in denouncing the King’s speech at the opening of parliament in praise of the controversial Peace of Paris.

George III was greatly offended, sued for seditious libel, and Wilkes was arrested. However, at a landmark court hearing the following year, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that, as MP for Middlesex, Wilkes was protected by privilege from arrest on a charge of libel.

His discharge was greeted with great popular acclaim and Wilkes, the first of the ‘paper tigers’ in English journalism, left the court as a champion of liberty.

It was not to last – he was later banned from the Commons, sentenced to 22 months imprisonment and fined £1000 – but Wilkes returned to politics to become Lord Mayor of London and a campaigner for religious toleration, and parliamentary reform. He was also a critic of the Government’s taxation policy in the colonies and spoke out against war with America in 1776, adding a trans-atlantic appeal to those few surviving objects that carry his name.

Literature on the subject of early English political pottery records several similar plates and bowls to this one painted with portraits of Wilkes (1727-1797) and this example offered by Mellors & Kirk of Nottingham on December 4-5 was exceptional for its sophisticated portrait roundel deftly painted onto a wet oxide.

Facial characteristics and anatomical correctness are not something one typically associates with delft (even wares of this relatively later period), but this portrait is remarkably faithful to a well-known engraving of the period and clearly shows Wilkes’ best-known physical attribute – crossed eyes.

Found in excellent condition, said Nigel Kirk, in a home in Derbyshire, it was bought by Kensington Church Street early pottery specialist Gary Atkins for a client at £5800 (plus 15% buyer’s premium) some distance above the £1500-2000 estimate.