The artifact of the month for January is one of the new pieces that came to us last year. It is a cigar case constructed of two lacquered papier-mâché panels connected with an accordian-like fabric lining. On one side is an image of Queen Victoria while the other side shows a sailor branding a slave, underneath which is written “Extinction of Slavery–Civilisation of Africa.”
Although not certain of the exact history of this particular cigar case and the purpose for the images, we do know that the image on this case very closely resembles Nathaniel Currier’s lithograph titled “Branding Slaves”. Nathaniel Currier began the company that eventually came to be Currier & Ives, who were very well known for their lithographs. It is thought that Currier’s lithograph was based on the painting “Scenes on the Coast of Africa” by François-Auguste Baird, who was an outspoken opponent of slavery and the slave trade.
It is believed that the reason for the portrait of Queen Victoria on the other side is because shortly before her reign slavery was abolished in England, a ruling she seemed to gladly uphold. Also, her husband, Prince Albert, was a chair of the African Civilization Society, a group hoping to put an end to slavery. As for the specific history of this piece, we may never really know, but I’m glad we have added this important piece to our collection. It will be a great educational tool.