Black collectibles are items of Americana that resemble the image of a black person or which are made by a black person. A wide selection of ethnic collectibles can often be found in antique stores. These vintage items include housewares, postcards with artwork or photos of African-Americans, mammy figurines, memorabilia featuring well-known black actors and musicians, and artwork created by blacks. Some of these objects were made by hand, and many were mass produced.
Items featuring the images of blacks were popular from around the 1880s until the late 1950s. The earlier black collectibles often portrayed blacks in a disparaging manner, with exaggerated features and postures intended to connote inferiority and laziness. As beliefs changed and African-Americans were more accepted and welcomed into the mainstream, the way in which blacks were depicted changed. The skin tones on these black collectibles became lighter, the images of black women became thinner, and the objects transformed from being derogatory to merely being representative.
Images of Aunt Jemima and other mammy representations are prevalent in black Americana. Dolls, whisk brooms, and housewares often depicted this stereotypical image of a black female servant. Little Black Sambo is another figure commonly seen in black collectibles. Depictions of Little Black Sambo are featured in children's story books, old record albums, postcards, and other objects.
Housewares are the most common black collectibles. These objects include cookie jars, spoon rests, salt and pepper shakers, toothpick holders, and pitchers. Vintage tea towels, pot holders, tins, labels, and signs featuring African-Americans are also fashionable among collectors of black Americana.
Cast iron mammy coin banks are popular with aficionados of black collectibles. The stereotypical style of dress was painted on these banks, and often the mammy sported an apron and kerchief. These banks are so popular that reproductions have been made that look like the genuine article. Buyers of black collectibles must beware of reproductions being sold as antiques and should learn how to discern the difference.
Some people believe that black collectibles are insulting and that collecting them helps perpetuate the days of discrimination. Others appreciate them for their role in history. Some prominent African-Americans have been very open about their collections of black memorabilia and view them as a celebration of their culture. Examining the way African-Americans have been depicted on various objects throughout the years can provide a fascinating journey into the history of the people and the country in which they live.