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How to Collect Black Americana

Updated on February 5, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

What is Black Americana

Black Americana is a term used to refer to any collectible that has an African- American theme. Most of these items were produced between the late 1800s and the 1950s, and most are not particularly complimentary towards African Americans.

Often the figures are caricatures, with features that are out of proportion. Many times there are racial slurs involved in the text and derogatory connotations.

So why in the world should we collect it? What is the draw?


Why We Collect It

Simply because it is a part of the past of the United States. It is a period of history that needs to be remembered, not with pride, but with sober judgement. Just like 19th century authors, like Mark Twain, used offensive racial slurs in their writings, companies used these depictions in their advertising. It makes them no less valuable historically. It makes them no less collectible. Do not let the offensive nature of these items keep you from collecting. These things need to be remembered.

"Those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it." George Santayana


Ephemera are papers and things that were originally meant to be thrown away. Sheet music, menus, advertising, cartoons, post cards, and posters are good examples of ephemera. Seed companies, like Dixie Seeds, put out these images, on seed packets. Old produce crate labels are still affordable but very collectible. Photographs are another example of collectible ephemera.

eBay is an excellent source of nearly any collectible out there, and Black Americana is included. Look for items that can be framed. Be careful of reproductions, they can be hard to spot.

Mammy Salt from my personal collection.  Image:(c)2008Marye Audet
Mammy Salt from my personal collection. Image:(c)2008Marye Audet

Black Americana Kitchen Items

Kitchen items are very collectible, and fun to display. They usually contain bright colors. For this reason it is easy to display them in a country style kitchen, they fit very well!

Items to search out would include:

  • Mammy Cookie Jars
  • Salt and Pepper shakers
  • Milk Glass Spice Sets (rare)
  • Pie Birds
  • Wall pockets
  • Products; canned foods, coffee cans etc.
  • Advertising
  • Calendars

A collections of cookie jars up on the top of cabinets, or several different Black Americana themed objects grouped in a display can be an excellent, and interesting, focal point.

Displaying Your Collection

How you decide to display your collection should be totally dependent on your preferences and your style. Some people like to have items out where they can be looked at, touched, and used (if appropriate) while others prefer to have them safely behind glass.

The best way to display any collectible ois to do it in a quantity. Most items will look better when massed with other items rather than sitting alone on a table. Pull the colors of your collectibles into the room by using fabrics and paints in the same colors. Display your items in unusual ways, unique combinations, and small groupings that tell a story to the viewer.

Expect To Pay

With such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby collecting Black Americana, the popularity of this genre of collectible cannot be emphasised enough. Expect to pay premium prices for items.

Surfing the web I came across the following items and prices:

  • Cookbook $10
  • Sheet Music $40
  • Valentine's card $15
  • Bull Durham ad $50
  • Horsman Composite doll $100
  • Tea towel $47
  • Salt and pepper $65
  • Rare book $250

Invest in a good antiques price guide, preferably one that specializes in Black Memorabilia, so that you know if you are getting a deal or getting rooked. Keep your eyes open for for that rare find at the thrift shop.

Collecting Black memorabilia can be a fascinating hobby. Knowing the stories behind the items you collect, and being able to share them, will allow you to be part of passing on the value of a rich, cultural heritage to the generations to come.

Collecting is not condoning. It is remembering.


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    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I will. :) Good luck!

    • profile image

      Sleepygirl 6 years ago

      Thank you for researching. :-) I have since seen on Ebay a chef and lady chef that were white. Not quite the same mold, though. My mold seems to be the same as the normal painted ones with the spoon and kerchief in her hair. If you happen upon any info., would you please keep me in mind? Thanks, again!

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I can't find any information on that. I'd suggest taking them to a local antique dealer or appraiser that you trust.

    • Sleepygirl profile image

      Sleepygirl 6 years ago

      I found an all shiny white ceramic salt shaker that looks like the painted ones. The cook has the pinafore, scarf in her hair and a spoon in her hand. The bottom has Japan marked very simply. No label that says Japan. Just the lettering imprinted. Can you tell me 1) how rare it is, and 2) about how old it might be. Also, if I sell it would it be more valuable than the painted ones? Thanks for your help!

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 6 years ago from United States

      My friend with three adopted african american kids loves to collect this type of memorabilia. They have some cool stuff.

    • profile image

      Ebony 8 years ago

      I believe you can call a dog a duck all day. It dont make it a duck. You can call racist acts non racist all day and it is still racist.

    • janddplus4 profile image

      janddplus4 8 years ago

      My family has several Sambo books that we consider heirlooms. The caricatures as well as the stories reflect a time and place long ago. Some may be offended. We treasure these books. It is amazing to see how far we have come. We could never put a price on our beloved Sambo books. They are a piece of our family history as well as our national history. And, no, my family never owned slaves. We were poor sharecroppers, generally worse off than many slaves. And, no, we are not racist either. No more biased than anyone else.

      Even better than Sambo is Memin Penguin. It is Mexican cartoons/comics depicting a Black Latino. They do not consider it at all racist or derrogatory.

    • profile image

      dave 8 years ago

      Why are blacks not called just plain American,like the rest of us Italian German,Irish,ETC.Soon there will be a campaign to call the ,whites soon to be a minorty,white americans.

    • profile image

      Just had to Chime in.... 9 years ago

      WOW... it is simply amazing to me, how much negative energy can be placed into a discussion on RACE - I am a beautiful Black/African American Christian Woman, who just happens to sale Black/African American Figurines, which I am very please to sale. I think it is very important to rememebr that everyone's opinion is just that "their opinion" it is okay to not agree and see things differently when it comes to likes and dislikes, with regards to taste.... fact is: we were all created differently yet, the same.

    • profile image

      jennifer bhala 9 years ago

      God made all colours equal.

    • profile image

      DeniseS 10 years ago

      I am the Marketing Rep at an In Home Care Company. I enter many homes of older white persons that make many racial comments. Not malicious comments against any race. But they do request that no black homemakers enter their homes, etc. Well, you would not believe how many of these homes that I have spotted Black Americana Salt and Pepper Shakers in. Some people have them in their living rooms displayed with other nicknacks. Some in their china cabinets in the kitchen. I always comment on the shakers in hopes that maybe they would want to sell them to me. lol. But always the story has been that these people have owned these items for many years. So far, the count has been more than 40 years. I do not know how I ended up loving Black Memorabilia. I just seen an item here or there in yard sales and they caught my eye so much that I purchased them. I sure wish those elderly people would just let those shakers go!! lol Just once. It really is an amazing mystery to me and a curiosity that these people have them in their homes for one, and they wont let them go, for another. I want those Salt Shakers!! lol

    • profile image

      JulieP 10 years ago


      If you buy a cup with a swastika, then you clearly are not offended by the swastika. What that says about you, you can draw your own conclusions.

      Would you ever buy a cup, even a really beautiful one, that said "America sucks!" on it? What would you think of a person who did?


    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Julie- I am deleting your comment because it contained a swear word. If you wish to comment again without the word than I will be glad to post that comment.

    • profile image

      wajay_47 10 years ago

      Omni, you have absolutely no authority to tell anyone what to buy, what is appropriate and how to display anything he/she owns. And I have absolutely no obligation to listen, let alone actually practice! And yes, if I like the cup, I'd buy a cup with a swatika on it! Now, in your mind, does that makes me a Nazi???

    • ommi profile image

      ommi 10 years ago

      Collecting black america is one thing, but collecting stereotyped black america is another. Yes it is an important part of history, but it is a part that should not be sitting out on ones Kitchen table or put on display proudly. Would you drink from a cup with swastica's on it just because is was a colletable part of history. No. It would be inapropriate and insensative because of what it represents no matter how big of a part it played in history.

    • Isabella Snow profile image

      Isabella Snow 10 years ago

      I dont agree with your logic. I agree every society has a scapegoat, but rarely are those scapegoats made to be slaves, and accepted as such, by the world in general. Poles are regarded as stupid even by other Slavs, but its not because of the color of their skin, and its not because of the color of their eyes. Your Germany comparison should be re-labeled as a Nazi comparison, which was actually based on more than just race and religion.

      Im not sure what your comment about Arabs means, as they are not white, and I say that as someone who is half middle eastern. The logic is not important however, as its highly unlikely I would agree with it anyway. Im just saying, if you're going to justify collecting "Mammies" and things like that, it sounds odd to say its acceptable because people bash Poles or other nationalities. Its 100% unrelated, and that's all I was saying. The US is almost a free country, you can collect what you like.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Knitting- I suggest you gcheck ebay for average prices adn then get a good collectibles guide.

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I disagree., Isabella. Every culture, every race, every society is hammeered on by another. Women bash men, men bash Germany it was religion/eye color..Arabs are not considered white where i live, nor are Hispanics, Asians, etc. Whites have been caricatured, so have every other race.

      Collecting Black Americana, which was the original subject, for the people who collect it, has NOTHING to do with discrimination or prejudice.

      It reminds me of an interview I saw with John Cleese. He said basically that on Monty Python they sought to offend everyone...and then he siad..

      "Belgians? The bloody Belgians! I hate them!"

      Ell- I think you should do what you are led to do. period. You don't have to explain yourself, nor do I.

      W A- I agree.

    • Isabella Snow profile image

      Isabella Snow 10 years ago

      This is a bit shocking, really. Personal feelings aside, however... you cannot legitimately compare races to nationalities and it really detracts from your stance. Poles, Irish, whatever - they are all white, and the predjudices are societal, not racial.

    • profile image

      wajay_47 10 years ago

      A couple of years ago, I gave a friend of mine, a fellow musician, four figurines depicting black musicians. There was a guitarist, standup bass player, trumpet and a saxophone player. I absolutely will not spend anytime "soul searching" to determine if I had done something to offend anyone! I bought the things and if anyone doesn't like it, go somewhere else to whine about it. There are too many people running around looking for reasons to feel offended. Guess there's money in it isn't there - Jesse Jackson, Al Shapton?

    • elleissa profile image

      elleissa 10 years ago from California

      Actually I used the word "colored folks" to prove a point. I wrote, " ...when a person wakes in the morning to eggs and bacon to a set of deragatory salt and pepper shakers in the image of God's creation on their kitchen table to remind them where "colored folks place is...", this was to put into perspective the ideas at that time, I used a reference and a common thought, that was held at that time hopefully to make anyone reading this understand that the motive of this Black Americana collectibles back in it's time was to robb the dinigithy and the image of being counted human from people that were clearly a people created by the same God. And my ancestors exploited that. And anything so shameful and so manipulative is an embarrasement and shame to me. Of course I know the politically correct word to use (you only have to read my articles to know I am not ignorant nor unscholarly).

      People throw the word "racism" around without even understanding what it really means. Actuall people are misguided by the meaning of racism. You see racsim is a hate word. I think what you mean to say was bias. We can be biased and yet not racist. And I've known both type of people. If you want to find out if you are "biased" you can take Harvard University's test on the subject be my guest. I don't have to defend myself, yet I feel that for the sake of my brothers and sisters who are of all nationalities, colors, and beliefs that no one should have any type of memorabia depicting any people negatively. I just don't see the point. If it's "fun" to collect Black Americana, that's fine. I just won't be doing it. Here's the Harvard University Research test site in the event that anyone is interested to see if he or she is as you call it , "racist".

      And for the record Harvard's test found that my scores came out to be in favor of having no preference for either black nor the white race. Which means 17% of soiciety has my view. Even to the extent that they asked me submit my findings on why I believe my scores were such. I can only say this, I grew up in a culture where we are equal. The president of my class was Arabic, the homecoming queen was hispanic and the homecoming queen a black man. In my high school you were successful by choice not by who you were, but by what really counted, what kind of persona you were. In fact many of my school mates have a link to my profile here, and if anyone feels that I have called outside the box will bring it to my atteniton. But for the sake again of keeping it real...I will always speak what I feel to be true because I am judged not by man but by someone greater who will call me to account for who I have been in this world. And He is a judge who's opinion is the greatest one of all.

    • profile image

      knitting_dude 10 years ago

      I have a set of ceramic figurines male and female that are as you say not particularly complimentary towards African Americans how do I know the nature, value and displayability of these figures?

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I realized there would be passionate disapproval..and that is fine. I think that anyone who says that they are completely without a touch of racism is decieved. To one extent or another we are all carrying alot of baggage, it is hwat you do with it. You should do what is in your heart. To the pure all things are pure.

      A Christian film company was cited for using "caricatures" of Arabic people only a few years ago, in Christian cartoons...Have you seen how the classic Irish cop is represented in the media? What about Polish people, or, if you are in Texas, Aggies? Rednecks?\

      There is NO culture/race/religion/people that have not been made fun of at one time or another to one extent or another . Pretending that it doesn't exist, taking an offense, is not the way to deal with it.

      Sarah, that is a good point..Curious, I know many African-Americans that collect Black Americana. Do you have an opinion on it? I would like to hear it.

    • profile image

      sarah  10 years ago

      Elleissa, just remember you just called me colored folk that is not the right word it looks like you are living in the past somewhat too. It's AFRICAN-AMERICANS/BLACK

    • elleissa profile image

      elleissa 10 years ago from California

      No wonder racism, beliefs and tales were passed on so easily to children.  I mean when a person wakes in the morning to eggs and bacon to a set of  deragatory salt and pepper shakers in the image of God's creation on their kitchen table to remind them where colored folks place is, I now understand exactly how for many many generations childrens minds were infilterated with terrible images that were impossible to shake(no pun intended). With all due respect,  I'll pass on this hobby. I just can't imagine that those salt and pepper shakers were held by the same hands that condoned and did nothing to stop the atrocities that brought harm on brothers and sisters in this country otherwise those salt and pepper shakers would have been destoryed for the shame of it. (this comment isn't aimed at you, but our country is still hurting from the aftershocks of racisim today and there is a divide b/c of the hurt that own ancestors inflicted. Even if Oprah buys this stuff, I just can't)

    • profile image

      wajay_47 10 years ago

      Marye, excellent hub with an excellent video. Thanks.