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Rare Suffragette Memorabilia Auction Sheds Light on a Stirring Era of Women’s Activism

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In a tribute to the fervent fight for women’s suffrage, a distinguished collection goes under the hammer at Bonhams in a timed online auction concluding on 3rd October. Entitled “Votes for Women: The Lesley Mees Collection”, this sale promises a treasure trove of Suffragette Memorabilia and historical artifacts representing one of the most significant private collections on the Suffragette movement.

Hunger strike medal awarded by the WSPU to Maud Joachim
Hunger strike medal awarded by the WSPU to Maud Joachim  in silver and enamel construction, the top bar fitted with pin, the obverse engraved ‘For Valour’ and picked out in purple enamel, the suspension bar in silver with the date ‘October 19th 1909’ picked out in white enamel, middle bar of purple, white and green enamel stripes (the reverse engraved ‘Fed by Force 1/3/12’) Estimate £12,000 – £18,000

The Suffragette Memorabilia collection is an assemblage of passion and scholarly endeavor by Lesley Mees, who began her journey while researching for a PhD on women’s history from the 1980s onwards. Mees recounts, “It was a time when contemporary literature, such as books, pamphlets and newspapers on the women’s suffrage movement was relatively abundant and affordable. I became increasingly fascinated by the bravery of the courageous women who were prepared to risk their lives, their health and sometimes their position in society to stand up for their rights.”

Over the decades, the collection burgeoned with invaluable pieces from antique and book fairs, auction catalogues, and later online auction sites. Among the 109-lot collection, one notable acquisition is a hunger strike medal awarded to Maud Joachim in 1912, with an estimate value of £12,000-18,000.

A whimsical yet poignant piece among the lots is a Suffragette money box shaped like a pillar box, estimated between £4000-5000. The functionality of this money box—where a Suffragette figure pops up with a notable squeak or screech upon a coin’s insertion—resonates with a deep historical reference. In 1911, the audacious suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was apprehended for attempting to set ablaze a pillar box on Parliament Street, an act which inspired other suffragettes to similarly protest using letter boxes.

Rare Suffragette money box in the form of a pillar box containing a painted figure of a suffragette
Rare money box in the form of a pillar box, containing a painted figure of a suffragette wearing a purple dress and ‘Votes’ necklace, sticking out her tongue and waving a flag inscribed ‘Votes for Women’. Estimate £4,000-£5,000

Noteworthy among the collection is a distinctive chess set, “Topical Chessmen (Suffragettes v The Law)”, where figures of prison guards, society women, burning buildings and more replace the traditional chess pieces, depicting the societal narrative of the time. Created by disabled soldiers and sailors under The Incorporated Soldiers and Sailors Help Society, this chess set, estimated at £3000-5000, possibly remains as a singular edition as no other sets have been discovered.

Suffragette Chess Set Topical Chessmen Suffragettes v The Law figural chess set
Suffragette Chess Set Topical Chessmen Suffragettes v The Law figural chess set, comprising 32 carved wood and polychrome painted pieces, worn, some noses missing, Queen 70mm. high, pawn 75mm. high; in original cardboard box with printed label ‘The Incorporated Soldiers and Sailors Help Society, 122 Brompton Road, London S.W.’ Estimate £3,000-£5,000

Furthermore, the collection sheds light on the era’s opposition with a selection of anti-suffrage memorabilia including a poster, Suffragette insignias, Panko Playing Cards and illustrations, dolls, figurines, crested ware, and a jack-in-the-box, echoing the tumultuous journey towards gender equality.

Anti-Suffrage Jack-In-The-Box
Anti-Suffrage Jack-In-The-Box. Jack-in-the-Box containing the figure of a snarling suffrage supporter, bisque head with grey wiry hair and a Tyrolean style hat with feather, contained in a wooden box covered in tartan paper, printed with the legend ‘Votes for Women’, figure . Estimate £800-£1200

Mees’s meticulous efforts have culminated in a spectacular collection that transcends mere memorabilia. It encapsulates the fervent spirit of the countless brave women who challenged the status quo. As this collection finds new custodians, the essence of a critical epoch in the fight for women’s rights will continue to inspire and educate. The Lesley Mees Collection invites bidders to own a fragment of history, to revere and reflect upon the audacious legacy of the suffragettes.

For more information visit Bonhams.com

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Panko Playing Cards information and price guide


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