African American, African ephemera set world record prices in Iowa auction

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Appealing to many more than just general black memorabilia collectors, the Ken Oden collection of African American and African ephemera and photography saw world record prices realized in several categories when it was sold Aug. 24-25 at Jackson’s International headquarters in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The extensive collection drew more than 200 registered bidders from 13 countries and most regions of the U.S. including buyers from Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and California. The collection of African American and African photography, postcards and ephemera that McKeesport, Pa., native Ken Oden, who was also in attendance at the sale, amassed was sold to the highest bidder in a unique specialty auction that garnered national press coverage.

Sales of note include a Frederick Douglass ambrotype circa 1870s, while only 4 1/4 inches by 3 1/4 inches in size, this rare beardless image sold for $24,000, finding a new home at the new African American Culture Wing at the Smithsonian.

Real photo sports postcards saw active bidding with the first lot, a lot of two Homestead Grays real photo baseball postcards circa 1930s, selling for $3,120 to a New York buyer against a $600 to $900 estimate. Another sports lot featuring a U.S. Army 24th infantry Manilla league baseball team circa 1913 crossed the block at $6,600.

Considered perhaps to be some of the more controversial, while certainly historically important cards on the sale, a group of seven real photo lynching cards totaled over $21,000. Also selling well were a pair of real photo postcards featuring convicts, which, after some heated bidding, brought $9,360. Other real photo postcards also sold well, especially of those featuring baptismal scenes, cotton picking cards and those featuring shacks and shanties with a group of three lots bringing $4,200. Another lot of four cards featuring the Springfield race riots, circa 1908 and including a photo of the tree where Burton was hanged by a mob, brought $1,560.

Oden had accumulated an impressive grouping of cards including real photo cards featuring minstrels. One such lot with five cards from the early 20th century with circus and side show scenes brought $1,320.

Another grouping that was well represented in this collection were real photo postcards by Ukrainian born famed photographer Casimir Zagourski, who settled in the Belgian Congo in 1924. Up until his death in 1944, Zagourski spent the years traveling around Africa photographing people, places and local traditions. A group of 20 lots of cards by Zagourski totaled over $10,200. European postcard dealer Francis Greese, who had sold many of the Zagourski cards initially to Oden for his collection, was happy to see many “old friends” back up for auction when participating in the sale.

Besides cards featuring African real photo scenes, a grouping of cards featuring Caribbean scenes including Martinique, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua and Curacao crossed the block at $2,040.

A nice grouping of Josephine Baker collectible items were offered including a Folies Bergere ephemera grouping and a signed letter by the famed entertainer. The entire grouping brought nearly $15,000 and was spread to buyers over three different countries.

As the sale concluded, Oden’s entire collection was dispersed throughout the globe and into the hands of new owners. Oden said of the sale, “It was good to see a number of fellow enthusiasts and although I will certainly miss the hunt, it’s good to know that the cards will now be enjoyed by others.” Company president James Jackson stated this about the sale: “What we have noticed over the last two years about the auction industry continues to be true: people will pay top dollar and travel any distance for truly unique, rare and hard to find material.”

The next auction to be held at Jackson’s International is scheduled for Oct. 26-27 and includes the Dr. Brad LeMay collection of Russian Imperial treasures, as well as Asian, European and American decorative works and fine art.

For more information on Jackson’s International, visit


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