Saturday, October 18, 2014

Black Americana Memorabilia - Blackbirds 1909 print - Mammy Coin Bank - Aunt Jemima Recipe Box -- Mammy Salt and Pepper

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:

Blackbirds 1909

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" 

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:

Mammy Salt and Pepper

Another popular variant are the Luzianne Mammy salt and pepper shakers:

Luzianne Mammy Salt and Pepper

 Smilin Sam from Alabam:

Smilin Sam from Alabam

Reproductions of "Smilin Sam from Alabam" are offered for sale on Amazon:

Smilin Sam from Alabam on Amazon

Another blog post by Ken Padgett

Friday, October 17, 2014

Black Americana Memorabilia - Smoking Sambo, Coon Chicken Inn Glass

Smoking Sambo

Smoking Sambo Vintage Fakes

The Smoking Sambo fakes sell for up to 100 dollars, though recently the price has come down quite a bit, due to so many fakes being offered on eBay.

These thin cardboard pyrotechnic novelties were once sold in mid-20th century fireworks stands. The fold-out prop on the back was to help the card stand up so a cigar-like smoke bomb could be placed in the mouth and lit. After quite a bit of suspenseful smoking an eventual explosion was supposed to blow the head off the card.

Authentic examples of this kind of Black Americana paper novelty had the manufacturer's name (United) and use instructions printed on the reverse side, so a completely blank back side is a sure sign of a reproduction. 

Always remember that printed items like this are very easy to make and available for purchase brand new for just a few dollars each from online suppliers.

Coon Chicken Inn Glassware 


The Coon Chicken Inn was a highly successful restaurant chain from the late 1920s through the 1950s. All glass items with the Coon Chicken Inn trademark should be avoided. ML Graham, grandson of the restaurant's founder, has flatly stated that all glass items are fakes. "In all the original artifacts that we have of my grandparents' inns," said Graham, "there are no glass tumblers or glass ashtrays. I have seen many of them offered for sale, but they are all reproductions."

And in fact they aren't even reproductions, since there are no original items of this type to reproduce. All they've done is print a Coon Chicken Inn logo on a modern item and price it at more than 10 times what it's worth. If people want to buy novelty items like this, they are free to do so, but merchants who advertise these items as "Vintage" are committing fraud.