Among the more memorable forms of suffrage artifacts are those English tea sets distributed by the WSPU and the WFL along with the several varieties of luncheon ware produced by Alva Belmont, Newport, Rhode Island socialite and founder of the Political Equality Association.
Mrs. Alva Belmont There is a certain air of mystery surrounding the dinnerware ordered by Mrs. Alva Belmont from the English manufacturer John Maddock and Sons both in terms of when it was used and how many different pieces exist. It was once thought that they were produced for a suffrage event that took place in 1909, but mint marks on the back of several of the pieces suggest a later date. They were probably made for the Council of Great Women Conference that took place in 1913 in conjunction with the opening of a new Chinese Tea House on Belmont’s estate at Marble House and the simultaneous return of her daughter, Consuelo, from England. Currently, Marble House has five different pieces on display, a 9″ luncheon plate, a coffee cup and saucer, a bread or cake plate, and a soup bowl. There is a possibility, somewhat unlikely, that a full size dinner plate also exists.
Additional Pieces There are at least three additional pieces known of Belmont dinnerware manufactured in the same design, a small creamer, an oval celery plate, and a small berry dish. While they could have been used at Marble House, there is no record that they necessarily were. The creamer was sold for 25 cents at the Political Equality Association’s shop in New York, and the other pieces could also have been distributed there.
NAWSA Demitasse Probably the most widely distributed of all examples of American suffrage china was this demitasse sold by the National American Woman Suffrage Association for 50 cents each. Both cup and saucer were embellished with a small gold rim that was inscribed “Votes for Women.” The cup is marked on the bottom “Hutschenreuther Selb Bavaria–The Art China New York Import Company.”
St. Louis World’s Fair This tiny cup was distributed at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 by the “Madison County Chapter 8439 PHK.” Because of the misspelling in “Women’s Sufferage Committee,” it was probably intended as a joke item and not connected with any official suffrage organization.
Perhaps the best known of all English suffrage china tea sets is that designed by Sylvia Pankhurst featuring an image of an angel, facing left, blowing a horn, all done in the official purple, green, and white colors of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The set made its first appearance at the famous exhibition at the Prince’s Skating Rink at Knightsbridge, London, held from May 13-26, 1909. Known pieces include a teapot, a tea cup and saucer, a dessert plate, a small milk jug, and a sugar basin. Parts of the set, manufactured by the firm of Williamsons of Longton, Staffordshire, were later reissued in a larger size.
Another Sylvia Pankhurst design featured her famous “Portcullis” or Holloway Prison image that was originally appeared on badges given to those members of the WSPU who had been imprisoned for suffrage activities. The arrow pictured on these cups represents the “prison arrow.” In addition to the cup and saucer pictured here, a creamer is also known. Although unmarked, the china was probably made by the firm of Williamsons.
Minerva Club China The Minerva Club was an outgrowth in 1920 of the Minerva Cafe, which hosted luncheons and lectures during WWI. It was developed by the Women’s Freedom League, the breakaway organization from Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. Pieces in the set, as seen in the pictured soup bowl, all contain a rim in green and gold, which, along with white, were the official colors of the WFL. The small medallion transfer includes an image of Minerva, the Roman Goddess of War, Wisdom, and Protection, along with the words “Women’s Freedom League—Minerva Club.”
For further information about these and other examples of suffrage dinnerware, consult my forthcoming book from McFarland Press, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study.