The Black, White and Shades of Grey in Collecting Black Americana

According to Howard Dodson, director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, “There are two kinds of collectors of black Americana: those who are interested in collecting as a financial investment and those with a passion for finding ‘the missing pages of history.’”


…There is also some concern that part of the drive in purchasing black Americana is pimpin’ black culture.: that this adoption of old images and negative stereotypes is being glamorized in a perverse way. Like hip-hop’s bad ‘rap’ (pun intended), collecting black Americana is sweeping the nation in a concerning way.


Deanna Dahlsad‘s insight:

As a white chick, I don’t dare collect this stuff — even if I, as a collector of similar negative sterotypical items about women, understand the desire to document the horrible past.

See on

From Suffragettes To Grave Robbers: The Grand Magnificence Of Charles Halls Miniature Metal Figures

Since I love all things pertaining to women’s history, from kitschy to suffragette, I’ve become smitten with these eight female figures in a suffragette band:

I’d never seen anything like them before, so here’s what the seller, dahntahntoys, has to say about them:

54 mm solidcast women’s Suffragette Band by Charles Hall, bought in 1970s at the MFCA show. Eight pieces in mint condition. See photos. Colorful Victorian era female musicians and placard carriers for Women’s Right to Vote.

That still didn’t tell me very much, so I began to research Charles Hall.

Information is disappointingly scant. Charles Hall is said to have been a former police officer in Glasgow, Scotland who started his scale miniature toy production with some Scottish regiments figures about the mid 1970s. Eventually, he produced up to 350 different figures.

According to a collector known as Bill The Bandman (who has some Charles Hall band sets and other toy soldier bands available for sale on eBay):

During the 1970’s when Britains where not producing metal band figures;three prolific makers emerged in the English speaking world. They all made complete lines from their own masters and moulds. …The least know was a Scottish maker who named his line after himself CHARLES HALL.

Charles produced two areas of personal interest to himself from 1975 t0 1985 which were German Bands and Salvation Army Bands. In the early 1990’s Hank Anton of the USA bought Halls moulds but never produced very many sets from the line.

Along with the suffragettes, there are Dixieland jazz bands (and other bands with black musicians) and the largest variety of Salvation Army figures ever issued.

But Hall also seems to have specialized in miniature scale versions of many civilian figures, including fictional characters, figures such as Scotland Yard’s finest, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Hitler, Dracula, the beautifully odd Burke and Hare (Edinburgh’s most infamous grave robbers), and others… Including, perhaps, the most interesting miniature collectible toy pieces: Hitler and oddball Nazi caricatures.

I’d love to hear from collectors or anyone who knows more about Charles Hall and his wonderful scale miniatures!

For further information, collectors recommend Collecting Toy Soldiers, by Richard O’Brien.

Image credits: Charles Hall suffragette band photos via dahntahntoys; Charles Hall of Scotland figures, “listed as Camerons,they look to be Gordons,” via Treefrog Treasures Toy Soldier Forums; Dixieland band set of figures by Charles Hall via Bill The Bandman; Holmes & Watson by Charles Hall, via James H Hillestad’s article on Sherlock Holmes; Charles Hall Edinburgh Scotland “Burke and Hare the Body Snatchers” with Coffin and Corpse, circa 1985, via Live Auctioneers; Adolph Hitler (black overcoat at salute, 1978), S-Trooper Hitler caricature (on a spotted mule) and a caricature of a pregnant Irma Griese (1979), via Bill The Bandman.

Racist Greeting Card Collecting

George sent in this vintage greeting card…

Along with the following information:

I have a stereotype birthday card from Canada.

It is approx. dated between 1916-1931 by William E. Coutts Co. Ltd.

On the front printed: HAPPY BIRFDAY
(with caricature of small dark child with bright red lips, bow in hair, in dress, holding Good Wishes cards)

OF (and inside card printed, with same picture of girl in
a shy, flirting pose)


(Signed by Tiny)

On the back of card, COPYRIGHT WM. E. COUTTS CO.

Coutts came to Toronto in 1895. In 1916, he founded the William E. Coutts Company, Limited. In 1931, Mr. Coutts entered into a gentlemen’s agreement with Mr. Joyce C. Hall of “Hall Brothers Inc.” and then purchased 40% interest in the William E. Coutts Company, Limited in 1948. The Hall Brothers Company became Hallmark Cards Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri, one of the world’s largest privately held companies.

It is unusual for a black stereotype card to come from a large greeting card company from Canada besides the USA. I cannot find any other Canadian racist examples like mine.

Contact me when you can.

As I told George, most of my cards of this nature I’ve sold. (It’s not just a “make money” thing; I feel these items are better off in the collections of those persons more dedicated to preserving their own history. Yeah, and as a white person, I not only feel that guilt many white people do, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea of being found with such things in my possession — will others know I’m preserving history, or just think I’m a racist who “likes” the things? So unless the items fit into my other areas of collecting, I move them on to other collectors.)  But I have made a number of blog posts about racist items (both items I’ve owned and those I’ve found on the web); most of them can be found at my Kitsch-Slapped blog, under the category Colorful Prism Of Racism.

Yet George’s comment about the US having produced more racist or stereotypical greeting cards is intriguing… I don’t know if that’s a purely anecdotal statement base on what George has seen, or if there’s some data behind it. But it’s an interesting perspective. We Americans sure have a problem accepting our difficulty with race — then and now.

As I noted in my review of The Very Best from Hallmark: Greeting Cards Through the Years, by Ellen Stern, there was no admission of any racist Hallmark greeting cards — and very few cards featuring people of color period. So the documentation of our racist history is probably best left to collectors who are more interested in cultural history than in preserving a pristine corporate image.

Which reminds me that as Americans, we resist calling racist cards what they are, racist. Instead, we call racist depictions of African-Americans “Black Americana.” ( Do Canadians use “Black Canadiana”? I don’t know; you Canadians will have to tell me.) Is it more or less respectful to use such a term?

However, even if using such an intellectual term to white-wash the racist reality of the past seems almost as pejorative as the words and illustrations used, at least it’s some sort of (sideways) recognition. Other racist, prejudicial or stereotypical depictions of races and ethnicities are referred to as “not PC” or “not politically correct,” as if it was just a minor social faux paus that was made. (Ditto gender stereotypes.) So maybe the term “Black Americana” is better than that. I don’t know…

But in any case, help George and I out here.

Share your knowledge and observations on racist and stereotypical vintage greeting cards (and other items too). George is especially interested in Canadian cards, but I’d love to hear from collectors in all countries. What do you call this category of collecting?  Did America produce the most of these items?

Share your thoughts in the comments. Give us links to your posts on this area of collecting. Send me your images and comments via email ( Do all of the above!