An auctioneer who sold a vibrant mix of political memorabilia from three suffragette sisters for thousands of pounds on July 2 broke down in tears as bids sent the collection soaring beyond all expectations.
Isabel Murtough, valuer for Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers, recently uncovered the find at a free valuation event and took to the rostrum to sell it.
With an estimate of £1,000-£1,500, she hoped it would make significantly more, but she was overcome with emotion when a heated bidding battle saw the gavel fall at £16,000.
Colleagues had to pass her a tissue as the price rose higher and higher as several online bidders and four phone bidders battled to secure the lot. Isabel’s voice began to shake with emotion and tears started to flow as the bids kept coming.
But she couldn’t stop smiling afterwards and said: “This was a hugely important collection, and the price exceeded all my expectations. I hoped it would make £10,000 but to see it reach £16,000 was overwhelming.
“I have to confess I didn’t know much about the suffragette movement until I made this find but, after doing my research, I learned so much. These women went to jail and on hunger strike to fight for women’s right to vote. Discovering more about what they went through has had a deep impact on me.
“The seller came to a free Hansons’ antiques valuation event with the collection, which included badges, sashes and more than 100 period postcards. I knew at once that it was extra special. The owner said she’d place the item in our auction if I thought it would make more than £150.”
The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said after the sale: “I am shaking like a leaf. My two daughters were watching the sale online with me and we were all in tears.
“Congratulations to Isabel and Hansons, they were brilliant. It was so emotional and meant such a lot to us that these women, our ancestors, were recognised as the legends they were.”
The collection was bought by a London-based historian, author and dealer in suffragette memorabilia, Elizabeth Crawford, who was recently awarded an OBE for services to education and the understanding of women’s history particularly relating to the suffragette movement. She runs website www.womanandhersphere.com.
She said: “This collection is very unusual and it will give me great pleasure to research and catalogue these items. I will be looking into the lives of the sisters. As a dealer, I can’t promise that all the items will stay together but some of them will go to important institutions which could not have afforded to buy the collection in its entirety.”
The rich archive, which belonged to suffragette sisters Edith, Florence, and Grace Hodgson - one of whom went to prison for the cause – was discovered tucked away in a forgotten shoe box in a cubby hole under the stairs.
The sisters kept everything relating to their political fight including numerous badges, white enamel Votes for Women pins, the famous suffragette sashes, a leaflet providing ‘hints for women who have never marched in a procession before’ and even a Women’s Freedom League pennant featuring Holloway Prison and the words, ‘stone walls do not a prison make’.
Meanwhile, 101 period postcards featured leading lights in the movement including Emmeline Pankhurst, Lady Constance Lytton, Mrs Pethick Lawrence, Mrs Borrmann Wells, seen at work in prison, and Anna Munro.
Due to the interest in the suffragette movement sparked by the 100th anniversary of women over 30 winning the right to vote in 1918, Isabel predicted major interest in the collection.
The items were inherited by the owner’s late husband. She said: “The three suffragettes were his great-aunts and he used to catch the train to visit them with his family. They were born in Islington and lived in a three-storey house in London. Each had a floor to themselves. They never married or had children but there was one other sister, May, who did marry and moved away.
“When the last sister died my late father-in-law, May’s son, cleared the property and many items were sold. But he was a hoarder and kept many things. When he passed away 12 years ago at the age of 94 we found the box of suffragette items in a cubby hole under the stairs. It was one of the last things we found as we were clearing the house.
“It was a complete surprise. We didn’t know the sisters were suffragettes and, until we took the items to be valued, I had no idea one of them had been imprisoned. It’s been amazing uncovering our family history in the last couple of weeks. One of my daughters has done hours of research to find out more about the sisters.”
It’s known that the Hodgson sisters, Edith, born in 1880, Florence, born in 1881 and Grace, born in 1888, lived at 39 Laurier Road, Dartmouth Park, London. In the 1901 census Edith was a milliner, Florence was noted as working for The Post Office and Grace was 13.
By 1911 all three are absent from the census, probably in protest. Many suffragettes deliberately avoided census night. Grace, the youngest sister, appears on the role of honour for suffragette prisoners, 1905-1914, but it is not known why she was sent to jail.
The suffragette archive was sold at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on July 2. Among several other items, it included two Women’s Freedom League 1909 pin badges, two guilloche enamel Votes For Women bar brooches; two button badges featuring portraits of Mrs Charlotte Despard, president of Women’s Freedom League; two Census Resisted No Vote No Census button badges and a green hand-made pouch bag featuring a Votes for Women WFL patch. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.