Beginning as early as the 1940s, Childcraft eliminated Little Black Sambo from its collection of stories. Childcraft, the well-known encyclopedic series geared to young children, was published by The Quarrie Corporation until 1949, when it was acquired by Field Enterprises. Until 1949, Little Black Sambo was routinely included in Childcraft's anthology of children's stories. However, the new edition of Childcraft, published in 1949 by Field Enterprises, omitted the story and no later Childcraft set includes it. The illustrations in older Childcraft sets consist of two color line drawings and thus are not quite as collectible as more colorful renditions of Little Black Sambo found in other childhood anthologies of the era.
In Part I of this series on selling anthologies, we already discussed the hidden flashpoints inherent in certain anthologies that can easily transform an otherwise so-so sale into one approaching or exceeding three figures. Not only is it crucial to know what to look for at the point of purchase, but sales presentation can be equally, if not more, important in order to maximize the value of an anthology.
Many booksellers seem to be under the mistaken impression that if you offer a book on an auction site such as eBay, it will automatically follow that the cream will rise to the top and the book will effortlessly attain its "true" value in the marketplace. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly in the case of anthologies, when the title of the book often gives no clue as to the treasures contained therein. A successful seller has to make it their goal to first recognize the profitable flashpoints and then advertise those flashpoints to the buyer through the use of clever titling and ample description in the text of the listing.
The difference in final sales price can be substantial solely due to proper marketing of an anthology that may not look like much from the outside but which can be a veritable goldmine for the seller who is able to recognize and market a flashpoint to a collector looking for that particular niche.
For example, many anthologies containing Little Black Sambo are otherwise nondescript volumes of assorted children's stories that can easily be overlooked by a potential buyer. Black Americana is a burgeoning and profitable niche of collectibility. You may agree that you would never pass up a reasonably priced title of The Story of Little Black Sambo, but would any of these books catch your eye?
Favorite Nursery Stories
The Children's Treasury
Anthology of Children's Literature
Better Homes and Gardens Story Book
Each of the anthologies listed above contains an illustrated version of Little Black Sambo for which collectors will happily pay you good money.
Whenever you run across a pre-1960 anthology volume of children's stories - no matter how boring it may appear from the outside - pick it up and browse through the contents for the magic words "Little Black Sambo." If you see the story listed, particularly if it is an illustrated version, know that a collector will most likely be interested. Be sure to include the words Little Black Sambo - rather than the name of the anthology - in your auction title.
Here are some recent sales prices realized in May, 2007 on the eBay site for children's anthologies containing Little Black Sambo:
The Children's Treasury (n.d.) - 32 page story with art by Charles Thorson $129.00
Anthology of Children's Literature (1950s) - Johnson, Sickles & Sayer $48.00
Better Homes and Gardens Story Book (1950) - $86.77
Some might question the ethics of profiting from an item whose very collectibility stems from its status as a racist book banned for offensiveness to African-Americans. This is a concern common to collectors and sellers of Black Americana, despite the fact that many collectors of stereotypical black memorabilia are black Americans.
In an article written by Julian Bond, National Chairman of the Board of NAACP, in the introduction to Antique Traders Black Americana Price Guide, edited by Kyle Husfloen, Mr. Bond explains why he avidly collects Black Americana.
"I value my collection, both for its material worth and its deeper meaning to me. Prices of black collectibles/memorabilia have risen sharply in the last two decades, as more and more collectors begin to buy and assemble collections of their own ... They have another worth - beyond scarcity and dollars - as well. They celebrate perseverance, endurance and success. They honor generations before mine ... They are our common past; silently, they face the future."
Other collectors have cited the historic value of black memorabilia both as a record of the racist attitudes held by society in times past and a safeguard against the perpetuation of the negative stereotypes reflected in the artifacts.
Jeanette Carson, a pioneer in collecting black memorabilia, put it this way, "They don't represent the way black people look. They represent the mentality of the people who produced them. I consider the negative items the black holocaust. You cannot sweep it under the rug."
So the next time you encounter a nondescript children's anthology containing a version of Little Black Sambo in its pages, remember that, while we cannot erase the past, we can preserve it for the collectors and historians of future generations.
Questions or comments?