This pottery figure group depicts Uncle Tom, a central character from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, just a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War. The book was a runaway success in both the United States and and Britain. The story of Uncle Tom publicized the suffering of enslaved Black Americans and generated huge support for the abolitionist movement. However, because of the passive acceptance by the main character of his situation, the phrase 'Uncle Tom' gradually became an insult within Black communities.According to scholar Margherita Desy, " these "Tomitudes" (as the Uncle Tom's Cabin or UTC spin-offs were termed at the time of creation in the 1850s) generally were based upon the UTC book illustrations. The first American edition of UTC included 6 or 7 images by Hammatt Bilings and the scene on this mug is not one of the original illustrations. By Christmas of 1852, after the book had taken off in the United States, Jewett & Co., the publishers, sold an "extra-illustrated" copy, that was advertised as having 100 Billings illustrations. UTC was pirated in England and eventually published with illustrations by the well-known illustrator, George Cruikshank - well-known for his work with Dickens' novels. You will note the difference in the two illustrators' styles - Billings' as subtler and finer, whereas Cruikshank's are a little bolder and "cruder" in their depiction of the black population - note the exaggerated eyes in many of the images - Billings avoided that type of emphasis. By 1855, the image of Uncle Tom was being adapted and corrupted for other political notions and the spin-offs begin to take on a very decided, exaggerated look. Tom becomes less human in feature, as does Topsy, and even Simon Legree becomes quite devil-like in his features. This grossness of the main characters would continue throughout the rest of the 19th century. Because of this, it is sometimes easy to date a piece, especially early Tomitudes, as they very closely resemble the book illustrations and/or in their character depictions are quite sympathetic to Mrs. Stowe's message in the book." It appears that this illustration on the cup is derived from the pirated British edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin printed by George Routledge and Co., 1852. This version has eight engravings. This image appears as the frontispiece and was designed by George Cruikshank and engraved by Dalziel Brothers (George and Edward). Molded cup with applied ear-shaped handle, decorated in black enamel on the handle with a three leaf spring design and a stripe, the rim is decorated in black enamel, the front of the cup is transfer printed with a scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin, it depicts Tom on a stool with two other Black women, he is pointing to the Bible, the inscription below reads, "UNCLE TOM teaching the two Negro women the Bible." Condition: the cup is cracked in several places, a piece of the side of the mug has been broken and reglued, there is a long hair line crack near the handle from the lip to the base of the handle.
slavery; enslaved persons; antislavery movements
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