Twenty of the most valuable and collectable Suffrage Antiques
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Representation of the People Act 1918, where women over the age of 30 were first given the vote, we’ve partnered with suffrage historian Elizabeth Crawford
, to compile the top twenty most valuable suffragette antiques on the market. The list includes Suffragette Banners, hunger-strike medals, and the iconic ‘Votes for Women’ sash, as well as tips on how to spot genuine, good quality antiques.
1) Suffrage banner – £20,000
Hundreds of banners were made to be carried in processions, particularly between 1907 and 1914. They are now incredibly scarce. I only know of two that have come on the market in the last thirty-five years. Amazingly one of these was auctioned in 2017 – having been held for years in a Leeds charity shop! It was eventually bought by the People’s History Museum in Manchester.
2) Hunger-strike medal – £10,000
One of the most iconic items to add to a suffrage collection is a Women’s Social and Political Union hunger-strike medal. These medals were first presented by the WSPU at a ceremony in early August 1909, given to women who had gone on hunger strike while serving a prison sentence handed down as punishment for an act of suffrage militancy.
The medals comprise a silver pin bar engraved ‘For Valour’, a hanging length of ribbon in the purple, white and green colours, and either a silver or a striped enamel bar, from which hangs a silver circle with the name of the presentee on one side and ‘Hunger striker’ on the other. If the ribbon terminates in a silver bar, this is engraved with a date denoting the day of the owner’s arrest. Some medals carry more than one bar, indicating multiple hunger strikes.
Each medal was presented in a purple box, with a green velvet lining. A piece of white silk inside the lid was printed in gold with: ‘Presented to [name] by the Women’s Social and Political Union in recognition of a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship a great principle of political justice was vindicated’.
These medals were made by Toye, a well-known Clerkenwell firm, and cost the WSPU £1 each – the medals now sell for thousands of pounds. They were treasured by their recipients who, in their old age, still proudly wore them on suffrage occasions; they are treasured today by collectors who recognise the bravery of the women to whom they were awarded.
3) Poster – £7000
Posters designed by suffrage artists to promote their cause were printed in their thousands between 1908 and 1914. They are, like the banners, now very scarce. I know of only five that have been sold at auction in the last 20 years. Reproductions are easily available, and collectors should ensure that a poster offered as genuine really is so.
4) Holloway brooch – £4,500
The 'Holloway Brooch' was presented to members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) who had undergone imprisonment and, as such, is now a very desirable addition to any suffrage collection. The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU in the Albert Hall on 29 April 1909. It was held to coincide with the meeting in London of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The presence on the platform of a large number of ex-WSPU prisoners and, to honour their sacrifice, the ceremonial presentation to them of the first 'Holloway' brooches was designed to make an international impression.
The brooch was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst. The portcullis symbol of the House of Commons, the gate and hanging chains are in silver, and the superimposed broad arrow (the convict symbol) is in purple, white and green enamel. Some of the brooches, but by no means all, are marked with dates of imprisonment.
Another suffrage organisation, the Women’s Freedom League, also presented silver brooches to their members who had been imprisoned and is equally collectable. The design shows a stylized representation of Holloway Prison.
5) Illuminated address to prisoners – £3000
Many WSPU prisoners, when released from prison, were given an illuminated address signed either by both Emmeline Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence or by Emmeline Pankhurst alone. The Address was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst and bore a lengthy message (which is personalised in ink in the first line) beginning: 'To [name]- On behalf of all women who will win freedom from bondage which you have endured for their sake, and dignity by the humiliation which you have gladly suffered for the uplifting of your sex, we, the members of the Women's Social and Political Union, herewith express our deep sense of admiration for your courage in enduring a long period of privation and solitary confinement in prison for the Votes for Women Cause....' and there's quite a bit more in the same vein. The text is set inside a deep decorative border of entwined foliage, with a heart at the bottom, the prison arrow device to the right side, the House of Commons barred device to the left and at the top three angels blowing trumpets - with the banner of freedom. The Addresses measure 14 inches x 21 inches and the colours of the decoration are purple, white and green, with gold highlighting.
6) Votes for Women Sash – £3000
Grosgrain sash in purple, white and green,
as worn across the body by members of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
7) Suffragette jewellery – £1000 - £4000
‘Suffragette jewellery’ is a minefield for the serious collector of suffrage items. The market is awash with items labelled as ‘suffragette jewellery’ that have no connection whatsoever with the suffrage campaign. If a brooch or necklace contains stones that approximate the purple, white and green (the WSPU colours) that does not mean they were worn by a suffragette. Be very careful before buying any item presented as ‘suffragette jewellery’. The only true items are those that we can prove were of a type sold by the suffrage societies. For instance, a silver and enamel pendant bearing the ‘Angel of Freedom’ motif. This was a design by Sylvia Pankhurst that was applied to a variety of objects – such as the bound volumes of the suffragette paper, Votes for Women – as well as to the pendant. The WSPU also sold brooches depicting Boadicea in her chariot, one in enamelled silver in the shape of a flag (waving ‘Votes for Women’), a shamrock, and a convict arrow bearing the purple, white and green colours. They also sold a most collectable dress object - a plated brass belt buckle, using a design known as ‘The Haunted House’ (the ‘House’ was Parliament).
8) Badges – £100-£2000
All the suffrage societies produced badges - and all are very much sought after by suffrage collectors. Even some of the badges produced by the WSPU are scarce and are ones that collectors are keen to add to their collection. The badges of the smaller organisations, such as the Women’s Tax Resistance League, also tend to be more expensive, reflecting their scarcity.
9) China – £750 for a plate, £1200 for a cup and saucer, £4000 for a teapot
In 1909 the WSPU began selling tea services, using a standard pattern from a Staffordshire pottery, H.M. Williamson of Longton, which was decorated with Sylvia Pankhurst’s ‘Angel of Freedom’ device. The tea services were originally commissioned in 1909 for use in the tea room of an ambitious fund-raising fair and was then sold off afterwards. Around 1912 Sylvia Pankhurst applied the design she used on her ‘Holloway brooch’ to the same pattern of tea service and both versions can occasionally still be found. The Scottish WSPU also produced, c 1910, a tea service that uses the ‘Angel of Freedom’ device but, appropriately, with added thistles. This china is amazingly scarce. Another suffrage society, the Women’s Freedom League, is also known to have produced china.
10) Toys – £1000
Toys – such as Jack-in-the-boxes, wooden figures and dolls that carry suffrage messages occasionally appear at auctions.
11) Games – £250 -£2000
Card games, such as ‘Panko’, and board games such as ‘Pank-a-squith are sought after by collectors. The value of the latter is increased considerably if it still contains the figures to move around the board.
12) Paper advertising souvenirs – £350
When major suffrage demonstrations were held in London a company produced souvenir paper napkins, often rather roughly printed, giving details of the event and often depicting pictures of the main speakers. These are extremely flimsy, and their survival is a testament to the care with which the original purchaser bestowed on them, bringing them back from an exciting day out.
13) Diaries, letters – £150 for a letter with good content
It is not only suffrage artefacts that are collectable, but also any diaries or letters that demonstrate a connection with the suffrage movement. Such items are, of course, invaluable as a research tool.
14) Newspapers – £150 for a single issue, £1000 for a bound volume
The suffrage newspapers, Votes for Women, The Suffragette, The Vote, and The Common Cause are always in demand. Bound volumes are particularly sought after.
15) Leaflets, pamphlets – £100+
The suffrage societies, both suffragette and suffragist, produced thousands and thousands of leaflets and pamphlets, beginning in the 1860s when the movement first started. All are greatly in demand.
16) Books – £100+
All books, fiction and non-fiction, contemporaneous with the suffrage movement – particularly those published between 1866 and 1914 are in demand. Some later autobiographies written by former suffrage activists are also now very scarce.
17) Real photographic postcards – £100-£200
Real photographic postcards depicting suffrage scenes or suffrage personalities achieve surprisingly high prices. Particularly sought after are photographs of suffrage meetings held, say, in a market square in a small town, or cards that contain a written reference to a suffrage campaigner or a suffrage activity.
18) Suffrage Artists’ postcards – £100-£200
The two suffrage societies run by artists – the Artists’ Suffrage League and the Suffrage Atelier – produced a range of ‘cartoon’ type cards promoting the suffrage cause. These are quite scarce and, therefore, valuable. The cards were, in the main, printed in black and white but some have additional hand colouring.
19) Comic china items – £80-£400
While the china tea services promoted the suffrage cause, other manufacturers of china items tended to see the movement in a rather more comic light and produced figurines of, for instance, a suffragette trampling on a policeman. Many of these types of items were produced in Germany.
20) Commercial Comic Postcards – £45+
In a similar fashion, commercial postcard publishers, in this the golden age of the postcard, produced cards that mocked the suffragettes, depicting them as big-footed, umbrella-wielding harridans. Many examples of this type of card are quite common, but collectors are always keen to add a previously unknown image to their collections.
The market is, of course, volatile and these retail prices are approximate – for items in fine condition.