Uncle Tom’s Ceramics

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  • Title: Uncle Tom’s Ceramics: How a Popular Antislavery Novel Became Popular Postslavery Knick-Knacks
  • Author(s): Kenneth DiMaggio
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Image
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Image
  • Keywords: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tomitudes, Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Volume: 9
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2154-8560 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2154-8579 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2154-8560/CGP/v09i01/1-10
  • Citation: DiMaggio, Kenneth . 2018. "Uncle Tom’s Ceramics: How a Popular Antislavery Novel Became Popular Postslavery Knick-Knacks." The International Journal of the Image 9 (1): 1-10. doi:10.18848/2154-8560/CGP/v09i01/1-10.
  • Extent: 10 pages


Today it is a given that a popular blockbuster movie like “Star Wars” will have numerous, licensed incarnations ranging from clothing and china to action figures. The spin-offs from a popular movie may seem to be a modern creation. In the mid-nineteenth century, a best-selling novel created a similar frenzy in various nonliterary commodities. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” would get adapted into a popular play, which then inspired various other Uncle Tom novelties or “Tomitudes,” starting with high quality Limoges Tom-themed vases, wallpaper (depicting scenes from the novel), and English-made figurines often pairing Uncle Tom with Little Eva in brotherly embrace. The latter objects were not only a good example of how a popular work of fiction would later get transformed into cheap, mass-produced commodities, but they were also projections of how the culture that absorbed Stowe’s provocative work later idealized a postslavery world in America after the Civil War.