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How to Collect Black Americana
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.
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.
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.
Get a Good Reference Guide on Amazon
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.