Take the medal awarded to Anna Lewis, estimated at £4000-6000 as a good example – and the latest of a now long run of impressive events for these emotive, poignant reminders of the Suffragette struggle.
It sold for a hammer price of £22,000 in the Coins, Militaria and Collectors auction at Lawrences in Crewkerne on May 16.
What made the difference in this case between a top estimate of £6000 and a result more than three times higher?
The medal was marked with the words Hunger Strike and For Valour with a date of February 10, 1914. Perhaps significantly, however, it also came with two badges in the form of a portcullis grill adorned with a ‘government property’ arrow enamelled in the green, white and purple of the Suffragette movement.
These silver badges are actually brooches, designed by Sylvia Pankhurst. The silver portcullis represents parliament. They were awarded by the Women's Social and Political Union to members who served a period of imprisonment for their militant suffragette activity.
Such brooches were first presented to former Suffragette prisoners at a mass demonstration at the Albert Hall on April 29, 1909.
Another factor is that photographs, badges and other ephemera accompanied the lot, making it highly desirable to collectors of women’s history.
Little is recorded of Lewis’ later life, but it is known that she lived until the age of 87 and set up a home to care for other women activists who had suffered for their beliefs. Lewis herself never quite recovered from the damage to her throat from being force fed.
Lawrences said: “From the moment the sale was announced, we were inundated with enquiries from around the world. At the auction there were a number of phone bidders competing against collectors in the room and online bidders from a number of foreign countries. Bidding rose rapidly, slowing as it reached £18,000 and progressed more slowly from this point as two determined bidders competed to secure the lot.
“The final premium-inclusive figure of £27,250 was very pleasing for the vendor and auctioneers as this made it one of the highest prices ever achieved for such a medal.”
The medal was consigned by a local collector who had owned it for many years.
Heading to Australia
As reported in ATG No 2386, another recent noteworthy Suffragette medal auction result came at Nottingham saleroom Mellors & Kirk on March 20 when the honour awarded to Selina Martin made a hammer price of £27,000. It was bought by an Australian museum.