It carries the image of a privateer and the words Success to the Brooks, while to the reverse is an oval medallion of a young woman in the guise of Hope and the initials MEB dated 1797.
The vessel, built on the cheap in 1781 and operated until 1804, was infamous. Owned by Joseph Brooks (1746-1823), a Liverpool merchant whose family had provided the city with its neoclassical town hall, it was the ‘Brooks’ and its 609 enslaved Africans stowed head-to-toe, that was the subject of a shocking engraving published in 1788. The image proved of incalculable value to the abolitionists’ cause.
The beaker, probably made for a member of the owner’s family, appears to be the only one known.
“Anti-slavery memorabilia and documents are very collectable, but rarer by far are those such as this which openly advocated the evil trade at the very time that the clamour for its abolition was at its height,” said auctioneer Nigel Kirk. Estimated at £500-700 at the auction on March 18 to reflect two large hairline cracks, it ultimately sold at £5500.
Ten years after the beaker was made an act banning the slave trade throughout the British Empire was passed in 1807, although it was not until 1833 that slavery itself was outlawed in Britain and most of its colonies.
Politics were at fever pitch in the latter years of the 18th century. Another rare English creamware mug, sold for a multi-estimate sum at a Gorringe’s (21% buyer’s premium) weekly sale on March 16, tells of the hysteria that greeted the Catholic Relief Act of 1778.
The so-called Papists Act allowed Roman Catholics to join the army and purchase land if they took an oath of allegiance.
The transfer-printed scene is a simplified version of an anonymous print titled Sawneys Defence against the Beasts, Whore Pope and Devil that first began to circulate in February 1779. To the left of the composition stands a Scottish soldier in Highland dress who shouts Be Gone Judas alongside clerics who cry No Faith Kept with Hereticks.
Meanwhile, across the River Tweed the forces of Popery are triumphant. John Bull lies prostrate on his back, trampled underfoot by the Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed Beast of Rome, while nearby the Pope addresses the king saying I Absolve Thee From The Breach of Thy Oath.
The guide on this rare 6in (15cm) mug, that was in great condition save a minor chip to the foot, was £80-120. However, bidding reached £1500.