Black ephemera collection is a trove of more than 40,000 items

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Jackson’s International Auctioneers and Appraisers of Fine Art and Antiques is offering the Ken Oden collection of African American and African postcards and ephemera Aug. 24-25. The collection consists of more than 40,000 individual pieces.

Sparked by an acquisition of nine postcards in an antique store nearly two decades ago, Ken Oden (a McKeesport, Pa., native) went on to acumulate a unique collection of printed material which reflects the black experience in America and throughout the world. The collection offers a distinctive glimpse into a past whose history is filled with stereotypes, prejudices and euphemisms portrayed through moving real photo images and colorful and creative artwork which, were it not for its often repulsive nature, would in many cases be considered charming.

Working with major dealers and auction houses coast to coast as well as in Europe, Oden’s final product was a 458 album collection of over 42,000 pieces representing over 5,500 publishers and 125 different categories providing a visual archive of images reflecting the often forgotten African and African American experiences in the United States, Africa and Europe.

While then NAACP does not condone the collecting of black memorabilia, representatives have, in the past, gone on record as saying they “do admit and recognize that these items can be used as an educational tool for children and adults who have never seen them. It reminds young people that things have not always been like this for black people in America” (Benjamin L. Hooks, Jr., executive director of the NAACP in the New York Times, December 1988).

In delving into this collection, where almost no stone in black history (both American and worldwide) was left unturned, one can experience a veritable walk through the shadowy past of imagery and expressions which are profound and moving and just as frequently disturbing.

One of the most attractive facets of this collection is the quality and quantity of the real photo postcards, over 3,000 in all. As most collectors know, one of the unique aspects of real photo postcards is the fact that more than a few examples are truly “one-of-a-kind,” because of the basic method used to produce such cards. Towards the last quarter of the 19th century, itinerant photographers crisscrossed the country producing real photo images printed on photographic paper with postcard backings. It was common for such photographers to stop by any given small town and print real photo postcards of various well-known local scenes such as churches, schools, Main Street as well as people at work and play. Scenes were sometimes only printed in very small quantities making these photos a truly unique and accurate glimpse of everyday life from America’s past. Perhaps more than any other postcard category, real photo values are primarily subject driven.

Included in the sale are examples of real photo postcards depicting Southern scenes of African American children at play and work as well as African American athletes and athletic teams (including Negro League) from the 1920s and earlier who represent the unsung heroes who laid the foundation for those who would go on to break various racial barriers in the ensuing decades. Patriotic images are also represented in the collection often depicting proud African Americans dressed in the uniform of one of the armed forces.

One of the most remarkable groupings of material in the collection to be offered will be that relating to the amazing life of Josephine Baker, a black woman who was the biggest European celebrity of her time, but ridiculed and refused service in her native country, America. The collection contains more than 350 pieces including over 150 real photo cards, autographed letters, programs, and cigarette cards all featuring Baker.

Some of the images being captured were nothing short of beautiful, such as those captured through the lens of Casimir Zagourski (1883-1944), a Polish born photographer who after a military career in the Russian Air Force and the Polish Army left Eastern Europe and moved to Africa in 1924. He made a series of memorable portraits published in an album entitled “Vanishing Africa.” Much like the photography of American Edward Curtis, whose work saved for posterity the noble images of the various Native American cultures, Zagourski’s Africa was incredibly romanticized and he produced some of the most magnetic and empathetic images of the colonial period. Through the collection of more than 450 cards, one can experience different aspects of everyday life, such as housing styles and traditional grave sites. He depicted a place of culture, where scarring as body ornament was prevalent and skull deformation (head shaping) was practiced as a sign of beauty. Zagourski shows us glimpses of an Africa before the Western world changed most of their culture, houses, customs, and how they lived and died.

While all of the above should pique the interest of both novice and advanced collectors, one should be aware that it is simply the “tip of the iceberg,” so to speak. There is hardly a postcard or ephemera category that is not represented including tin type photographs, cabinet photos, stereo views, holidays (including Christmas and black Santa, New Years, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day), golliwogs, kewpies, Krampus, minstrels, greeting cards, sheet music, die cuts, fans, ink blotters, Victorian trade cards, book matches, playing cards, first day issue envelopes, minstrels, NAACP stamps, magazine ads, fold out postcards, and postal stamps to name a few.

The preview will start on Aug. 9. Full color, illustrated auction catalogs are $35. For more information contact Jackson’s at 1-800-665-6743. ?


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