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This outstanding mid-to-late 19th century figural trade sign is an extremely rare example of Black Americana, representing both a fantastic piece of folk art and a period of American history signifying the time of segregation known as the Jim Crow era. This trade sign advertised the practice of a town doctor, pharmacist or drug store that would have offered their services to an African-American clientele during the time when facilities and services were separated by race. This is a masterful piece of folk carving out of a dense, heavy hardwood, probably oak. The form of the head has slightly exaggerated features, which was a theme that embodied itself across numerous avenues of period advertising. A carved pill rests on the tongue of the figure, reinforcing the fact that the services advertised were of a medical nature. Clearly there is no text on the sign; it was not necessary, as the intention is clear, and underscores the fact that many potential patrons would have been illiterate. But the picture tells the story. Period construction details are evident in the small forged iron ring hammered onto the top of the head where the piece could be suspended from a bracket. The underside of the neck also has several hardware carved holes suggesting that the piece was once mounted on a post. Dimensions: 21 inches high x 8 inches wide x 10 inches deep. There are some slight age lines and mild cracks and some minor flaking of the polychrome color, all commensurate with age. Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted in the United States between 1876 and 1965. They mandated racial segregation in all public facilities with a supposedly separate but equal status for black Americans, but in reality this led to treatment and accommodations that were usually inferior to those provided for white Americans, systematizing a number of social, economic, and educational disadvantages. Even the U.S. military was segregated. Jim Crow is used to describe the segregation laws, customs and rules that arose after Reconstruction ended in 1877 and continued through the mid-1960s, eventually overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is a superb piece of genuine American folk art, fresh from a collection that was assembled over 40 years ago and one of the best works of American folk art that I have had the pleasure to own.

Item Details

Reference #:
Ethnic, Folk & Native American Art
c. 1850s-1890s
(Width x Height X Depth)
8.00 x 21.00 x
very good
wood, paint