When I was determining the topic for this column about the many knockoffs that were made copying some of the more prominent sports artists, the first thing that I thought of was the fact that have been a number of ersatz statues that have mirrored the works of Fred Kail, Hartlands and the comical statues of L.L. Rittgers.
The black sports figurines that used the same themes as L.L. Rittgers are particularly interesting.
Although the founding fathers of the U.S. claimed that all men are created equal and that we should all have the opportunity to pursue happiness, we have not always lived by those words. There is no reason to rehash our history and the inequities we have bestowed on certain races, but this country has been guilty of many of these injustices. And, of course, the sports world and even its collectibles wound up reflecting the bigotries and prejudices of the nation at large.
Postcards and banks
The shameful stereotyping of blacks in sports themes goes back to before the turn of the 20th century. A series of postcards of blacks playing baseball were issued in the late 1800s. The cards showed blacks with oversized lips and other exaggerated features, and they were usually portrayed in a negative light.
Around the same time, mechanical banks became a favorite toy for Americans. Banks such as the “Jolly Nigger” and “Always Did ’Spise’ a Mule” (shown in the photos at right, center of page) poked fun at the black race. A sports bank called “Darktown Battery” (shown in the inset photo directly above) involves a black pitcher, catcher and batter. The name itself is condescending, but the portrayal of the characters is even more obscene. The bank turns up in major auctions and top-condition specimens sell for thousands of dollars.
Fast forward a half century to the late 1940s, where the baseball “gods” finally, although grudgingly, allowed a black player to play America’s Pastime. Just a few years later, the series that spawned this article came out. These figurines copied the works of L.L. Rittgers’ famous sports series. They portrayed black African natives in the same comical poses as the Rittgers statues (shown in the photos at right). Included in this series were baseball, football, boxing, basketball, golf and bowling sets. All were made with stereotypical features that are quite offensive.
A decade later, bobbing heads were the rage at baseball stadium souvenir stands (shown in the Colt .45 statue at left). A series of black nodders were issued in the early 1960s that were not popular sellers at the time.
Not all the major league teams were represented in this series that has become one of the most collectible today. There were two different facial styles produced – both with stereotypical features.
There is a litany of other figurines, toys, dolls and ephemera that also portrayed blacks unfavorably. Although some are repulsive and show the darker side of human beings, they are very important and highly sought collectibles. They can help remind us of less tolerant times when more often than not, all people were not accorded the same rights and respect as human beings.
The very fact that such collectibles can be so disturbing serves as more than adequate justification to put the spotlight on them in this context.