Black memorabilia, sometimes called Black Americana, describes objects and ephemera relating to African American history. In general, the more racist an object or image is, the more valuable it is.
Most of this material was originally produced from the 18th through the mid 20th centuries and is very popular among some collectors, many of whom are African-American. It's a matter of opinion as to how one justifies trading in these items and whether it is morally defensible.
Prices for authentic pieces have soared over the past decade, which in turn causes more fakes and reproductions to be produced. Most fakes these days are imported from China and many are "aged" to look like they are old. When shopping for "vintage black Americana" always do some research to check for similar items and read the claims sellers make with a great deal of skepticism.
Check out this screen grab from eBay:
Every one of these images is framed and the descriptions all claim that the item is either "original" or "vintage." Prices range from $18.95 to $650. Question: What are the chances that there would be this many exact copies of an "original print" for sale on eBay at the same time? Common sense dictates that the answer is "slim to none."
Here's how these sellers describe their item:
"Original Vintage1909 Black Americana Memorabilia "Blackbird" Print By W.F. Bell"
"Vintage 1909 Black Americana Memorabilia "Blackbird" Print By W.F. Bell"
"Vintage Original 1909 Black Americana Memorabilia "Blackbird" Print By W.F. Bell"
"1909 "Blackbirds" Picture W. F. Bell - ORIGINAL PRINT & FRAME! - Black Americana"
"w f bell blackbirds picutre in black wooden frame copyrighted 1909"
"Great piece of Black Americana! "Blackbirds" by W.F. Bell printed in 1909. Over 100 years old!! This is an original print and is in almost perfect condition! There seems to be little to no aging of the paper. It has been placed in a nice frame which has assisted in keeping this print in pristine condition!!!"
"RARE ART PIECE!!! Blackbirds" Black Americana Artist Reproduction Print not a copy.. vintage print."
"This is an antique framed print. This is NOT a recent reprint."
Vintage is a term that has been misused so much that it has become meaningless. Even the loosest definitions require the item to be at least 20 years old, rather than say, recently imported from China.
Describing items such as the above as "original" "antique" or "vintage" is, at best, dishonest. Here's another example:
There is always an ample supply of "Mammy coin banks" for sale on eBay. Vintage? Antique? Nope. Made in China. Just because it looks old doesn't mean it is old.
Here are the search results for "Aunt Jemima Recipe Box"
The seller who is asking "$495 or Best Offer" claims, "Up for consideration is an original vintage MAMMY AUNT JEMIMA BLACK AMERICANA RECIPE Box circa 1950s. Made by Precision Ware, this is an extremely rare piece. Made of plastic and is in absolutely the mintiest condition we ever have seen this in. Measures about 5.25" inches long by 4" inches deep by 3.75" inch height. Mammy's head is in 3-D relief. Very rare in this condition. Comes from a personal collection. We rate this better than mint"
Rare? Well, that's debatable when there are eight of them for sale at the same time, priced from $28 to $495.
Another popular Black Americana Memorabilia item is Mammy salt and pepper shakers:
Another popular variant are the Luzianne Mammy salt and pepper shakers:
Smilin Sam from Alabam:
Reproductions of "Smilin Sam from Alabam" are offered for sale on Amazon:
Another blog post by Ken Padgett