Here’s something you don’t see every day. It’s a hand-drawn political banner advocating the cause of parliamentary reform. It was probably produced during the early part of 1832. We can be reasonably sure of this because the image was copied from a satirical lithograph published in The Weekly Dispatch on 1st January of that year.

The original image shows Britannia carrying a banner which bears the likenesses of Grey, Russell, Brougham and other leading Whigs. Behind her are two ships: the Reform which appears to be speeding forward under full sail, and the Anti-Reform which is slowly sinking below the waves.

Whoever copied the design onto the banner has made a few changes, presumably to reflect the fact that the image would be seen from a distance and therefore did not require the same level of detail as the print edition. The portraits of the Whig leaders have been removed from the banner entirely, whilst the image of the sinking ship Anti-Reform has been replaced by a portrait of Lord Brougham. The Reform is portrayed in profile rather than landscape and it’s name has been erased from the hull, meaning it serves more as generic symbol of British maritime power and / or mercantile prosperity than a specific metaphor for the Reform movement. The British lion has been shifted from the left to the right-hand side of the image in order to avoid crowding out the ship. A scroll has also been included at the top of the banner, which reads: “Now is the Winter of our Discontent Made Glorious Summer” – a quotation form Shakespeare which would appear again in the history of popular political unrest in Britain. 

The image was painted in oil on a linen canvas which has subsequently been laid down on more modern boards. It measures 94 x 69cm. Despite the rarity of these items they are not hugely valuable, possibly because their size makes it very hard for collectors to store and display them. This example, which is admittedly in less than mint condition, was recently sold at auction for just under £700. Let’s hope it’s found a good home.

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