10 Tips I’d Like Vendors To Consider When Selling Black Memorabilia 

I’ve been an avid collector of Black memorabilia for more than 25 years. In this time, I’ve visited more than 100 antique shops and countless vendors at antique malls throughout the world. Unfortunately, I’ve come to expect being triggered due to the way Black memorabilia pieces are displayed or sold when antiquing in the US. 


Let’s face it: it’s difficult for some of us to look at or purchase Black memorabilia because of the time periods and circumstances that they represent. There’s rarely any cultural information attached to the item, not even a brief description that explain their historical context. This, in part, creates an environment where people are negatively triggered by merchandise, fueling unnecessary riffs between customers, shop owners, and vendors. 


I believe there's a golden opportunity to give Black memorabilia the careful attention it deserves and curate an optimal experience for customers who purchase from antique shops and malls. I’ve noted 10 Tips based on my quest to find Black memorabilia. I’m sharing them with a hope that “certain” antique shop owners and vendors might be willing to change their ways.

Tip 1 - Remove ropes and strings

Never attach string or rope to the neck, hands or bodies of Black dolls or figurines. It’s creepy and brings to mind, for some Black customers, the legacy of lynching and incarceration of Black bodies in the US. Instead, use quality labels with safe adhesive.

Tip 2 - Know your product, don't offend

Understand what you’re selling, along with it’s history and context so that you can briefly describe it on the label appropriately and accurately. I once bought a dark wood-carved face of an Egyptian man that had the following inscription on the tag: "Monkey Wood Bust(?)." Is this a wood bust of a monkey or a bust made of monkey pod wood? Associating Black people with monkeys is a racial trope. 

Tip 3 - My history, your history?

Stop telling customers (and yourself) that these items “are a part of history.” Dare to be more specific about that history. Share the context of how these items were produced, who used them, and for what likely purpose. Also, never tell me or any other Black person that “this is your history.” If it’s my history, why do I have to pay you for it? And, never describe a piece of Black memorabilia as “cool” or “cute” when the piece mocks Black people or Black experiences.

Tip 4 - How much for oppression?

Stop price-gouging. How much profit should you make on symbols of oppression? There’s something wrong when your Black memorabilia pieces are priced so much higher than your other merchandise. This is especially true for reproduced items and those of bad quality due to use and aging.

Tip 5 - Sell it openly

If you’re going to sell it, sell it prominently. Don’t conspicuously add your Black memorabilia to shelves or hide it at floor-level. 

Tip 6 - Sell all year

Sell Black memorabilia year-round. Stop only bringing the items out during Black History Month, Juneteenth, or Kwanzaa. The Black dolls get along with the white dolls, I promise.

Tip 7 - Unlock the cabinets

Ditch the locked cabinets and free the Black pieces. It’s triggering to ask grumpy or less-than-cheerful vendors, who are almost always white, to unlock the “cell block” to touch a piece of Black memorabilia. People are likely stealing or destroying your items because you didn’t follow similar guidance to these 10 Tips

Tip 8 - Where's the price?

If the price is missing from the tag, it’s clear to me that you don’t want to sell it. I’ve had too many experiences where I’ve expressed interest in an item and saw the vendor go to eBay to find a price. The price is usually much higher compared to other places. There’s also the chance that the item has been in the same location for a long period of time. 

Tip 9 - Make connections

Make connections in your local or regional communities with Black people, Black institutions, and others who can be a sounding board for your efforts. Consider donating some of your profits from selling Black memorabilia to Black causes. 

Tip 10 - Leaving a legacy

Your children probably think it’s strange that you peddle such items. They’ll likely have no qualms with letting your collection go when you die. Some may be ashamed of the items and don’t have the context or language to describe what they’ve inherited. For avid Black collectors like myself, it would represent a tragedy if Black memorabilia suddenly disappears. 

What if you considered these simple tips?

These 10 Tips can lead you and your associates on a journey towards a deeper appreciation for Black memorabilia and guide efforts to sell them—respectfully and plentifully. This keeps Black memorabilia in circulation and a testament to those times. Blactiquing™ is the intentional act of collecting, preserving, and sharing stories of Black experiences based on items from antique stores. In 2023, I’ll launch A Museum of Black Experiences in Saginaw, Michigan, which will be informed by the Blactiquing™ collection of more than 6,000 pieces and infused with contemporary Black art and historical interpretive pieces.

Below, a recent experience at an antique mall in Howell, MI.