University Collections of Art and History

Object Record

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Catalog Number 2008.9.145
Object Name Cup, Coffee
Description This cup is from a service probably made for William Beckford (c. 1709-1770), a sugar planter and politician.

William Beckford was born into one of the richest sugar plantation families of Jamaica. Born in Jamaica and educated in England, he inherited his father's and elder brother's extensive estates, which included thirteen plantations staffed by 3,000 enslaved Africans. He was active in the colonial government of Jamaica, serving in the General Assembly.

Beckford moved to England in 1744, where he acted as a merchant, primarily selling sugar produced on his own extensive estates, and banker. He entered politics, serving as a member of Parliament from 1747 to 1770, first for the borough of Shaftesbury, and then for London. He was also active in the government of London, serving as alderman, sheriff, and lord mayor. Politically, Beckford was somewhat of a reformer, supporting the efforts of Prime Minister William Pitt to strengthen Parliament, extend voting rights, and support the rights of the American colonies. Beckford was also a supporter of the radical reformer John Wilkes, and voiced his support directly to King George III.

There was a seemingly insatiable demand for sugar in the eighteenth century, and sugar planters made vast fortunes. Many, like Beckford, chose to reside in England rather than on their Caribbean estates. These nouveaux riche absentee planters were often criticized for their associations with slavery (which was beginning to be opposed by some), their lavish lifestyles, and their involvement in politics. Absentee sugar planters were among the most noticeable of the new fortunes made in the eighteenth century through trade, slave-based agriculture, and growing professions like law, banking, and government administration.

Beckford married Maria Hamilton in 1756. They lived in London and on their vast estate, Fonthill, in Wiltshire. They had one child; the author and collector William Beckford (1760-1844), who is credited with creating the genre of the gothic novel. In addition to his legitimate son, Beckford Sr. also had six illegitimate children.
Year Range from 1755
Year Range to 1760
Material Hard Paste Porcelain
Place of Origin Made in Jingdezhen, Possibly Decorated in Guangzhou (Canton), China
Collection The Reeves Center
Credit line Gift of H.F. Lenfest and Beverly M. DuBose III
On View Reeves Center, Chinese Armorial Gallery
Gallery ID Number 2146