In protest over the injustice of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) published her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1852 to unprecedented popular acclaim. Readers snapped up 10,000 copies in just a few days and a phenomenal 300,000 over a few years, making "Uncle Tom's Cabin" the best-selling book on the market. Part abolitionist tract, part sentimental romance, the novel described the sufferings imposed by Southern slavery and struck a chord in America and abroad. Yet, for all its abolitionist fervor, readers embraced it mostly for its sentimentality. No one figured more prominently in the novel's starry-eyed depiction of American innocence than little Eva, daughter of a slaveholder, who patiently endures her protracted death of consumption comforted only by the affection of Uncle Tom, the slave she had befriended.
The novel inspired a whole new industry of souvenirs. Manufacturers produced candles, toys, figurines, and games featuring characters and stories from the novel. These tended to ignore the book's depictions of the cruelty of slavery and focused instead on the sweet virtue of little Eva. This chimney ornament, made in Staffordshire, England, depicts Tom holding little Eva on his knee as she reads the Bible to him. It was the most common scene among all the souvenir reproductions inspired by the novel.