Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a worldwide bestseller after its initial publication in serial form in the US in 1851.

The novel tells the story of Uncle Tom, an honourable slave who refuses to beat or betray his fellow slaves, even when his brutal white owner threatens him with death.

The book struck a chord with campaigners for the abolition of slavery, both in the US and Britain, where it sold 200,000 copies on its first publication in 1852. George Cruikshank made the illustrations for the British edition. Soon scenes from the story were appearing in other media, including on ceramics, jigsaw puzzles, card games and wallpaper.

The Manchester firm Heywood, Higginbottom, Smith and Company produced this rare surviving example of Uncle Tom’s Cabin wallpaper in c1853. The images on the paper depict the same scenes illustrated in the first American edition of the novel. It was a mass-produced product, intended to provoke debate in the public interiors where the firm’s papers were often used.

This paper now joins the extensive wallpaper collection at the Whitworth, where it will provide a rich subject for discussion on slavery and its legacy in the context of art and design history.


From the collection of Edna Hilburn Little Greenwood (b.1888-1972); Inherited by the current owner Debby Hertz. Loaned to the Whitworth 2018.

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