EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 134 - January 09, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     5 of 6

Collector's Corner: Black Memorabilia

By Michele Alice

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Many people feel uncomfortable discussing Black memorabilia, but as the prices of these collectibles escalate, it is only natural to take a closer look at the subject.

Also referred to as Black or African Americana, the category comprises all those artifacts that were either part of black life and culture or bear African-American images. Old photographs, quilts, pottery, letters, dolls, figurines - these are but a few of the items avidly sought by collectors.

But it is those artifacts associated with slavery, like shackles or slave auction documents, and those that portray African-Americans in a derogatory manner, like "mammy" cookie jars or advertising art that exaggerates facial features, that have generated controversy.

More than a few individuals believe that collecting such items is tantamount to tacit approval of their racist messages. Others have come to view such items as historical objects that should be preserved in order to shed light on the context in which they originated.

Of course, as with all other collectibles, market forces are constantly at work, and over the past 30 years, prices of Black memorabilia have been affected by the confluence of two important factors. Antiques dealer Malinda Saunders was one of the first to recognize that 1964 Civil Rights Act curbed the mass-production of "any type of artifact depicting any type of race."

The result? The decreased supply of, for example, "Little Black Sambo" (A Little Golden Book) has routinely resulted in $50-100+ prices for this picture book.

The second factor was the phenomenal success of 1977 televised mini-series Roots, which kindled intense interest in Black history and artifacts. The result? Increased demand for McCoy Pottery's yellow "Mammy" cookie jars, for example, has meant online auction bids of up to $300.

Don't forget that the same condition rules apply here as elsewhere: mint and near-mint pieces always command better prices than do the same pieces that are damaged. And be aware that increased interest in any collectible oftentimes results in a spate of reproductions and fakes, so try to buy only from reputable individuals who offer money-back guarantees, and do your homework before making any large purchase. The resources listed below should help.

Editor's Note: When listing items on eBay, be aware of its Offensive Items Policy, which prohibit sellers from listing racially or ethnically offensive items on the site. eBay will allow historic collectibles like Black Americana to be listed, but not reproductions of those items.


"The Art and History of Black Memorabilia," by Larry V. Buster

"The Art of Collecting Black Memorabilia," by Philip J. Merrill

"Black Collectibles Sold in America," by P.J. Gibbs

"Black Memorabilia Around the House: A Handbook and Price Guide," by Jan Lindenberger

"Black Memorabilia for the Kitchen," by Jan Lindenberger

"Collecting Black Memorabilia," by J. P. Thompson

"The Encyclopedia of Black Collectibles: A Value and Identification Guide," by Dawn E. Reno

"Images in Black: 150 Years of Black Collectibles," by Douglas Congdon-Martin

"More Black Memorabilia: A Handbook and Price Guide," by Jan Lindenberger

Check this site for locations and dates of Black Memorabilia/Collectibles shows.

Antiques Roadshow - Tips of the Trade
Overview of the collecting of African-American memorabilia. Lots of info and tips from appraiser Philip J. Merril.

Do It Yourself Network,2033,DIY_13740_2278104,00.html
A televised segment from Celebrity Hobbies dealing with actor James Avery's collection of Black Memorabilia.

In Search of African America: One Collector's Experience
Online access to exhibition of the James Hicks collection of Black Americana. Nicely done presentation.

Middle Passage and African American History Museum
Collection is comprised of over 25,000 artifacts, some of which can be viewed online.

About the author:

Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ eBay ID: Malice9

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