These novelty figures were made during 40’s & 50’s. This kind of Black Americana or blackmoor collecting is sometimes uncomfortable for folks. Obviously it was a different time from now. During the last century a lot of races were depicted by stereotypes & in unfair ways that by today’s standards would be unacceptable. My goal with my blog is to share our collection and this is part of it. I don’t share it to make people feel bad or uncomfortable, I share it to show what existed during that time.
I have been collecting these figures for sometime. For all of us who really enjoy the tiki/tribal feel, we try to create microcosms in our collection. It is not enough to just have a tiki cup on a shelf, you have to layer your collection to make it more interesting. I am always looking for a new way to add layers to our collection.
As you can see these figures were painted with bright color accents and sometimes things like skirts, bows, spears and even earrings were added.
Gilner, an American ceramics company who was known more for its pottery and pixie figures produce something called “Happy Cannibals”. They would adorn planters with small tribal figures and also created standalone figures. NAPCO also produced tribal figures.
Most of these figures were mass produced from Japan and were more than likely travel trinkets tourists would pick up to remember trips to far off & exotic places. People were always bringing back trinkets from their trips, sometimes it was a souvenir tablecloth, souvenir spoon, salt and pepper shakers and even these figures.
Our collection is elaborate and diverse. Things that were once normalized in the past are looked at with different insight today. Though some may be offended by these figures and might even feel it perpetuates the stereotypes, I promise you that is not my intention. In the end my only mission is to share my collection.
Wow, really enjoyed these! The one with the zebra was very cool!
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Great collection – I love the casual way they mixed and matched their “exotic” signifiers: a Polynesian lady riding a zebra!
I’m glad you’re taking a risk in putting this collection up on your blog – relatively few people hold the condescending views of their great-grandparents today, and even then, these weren’t precisely racist by the standards of their day, so much as thoughtlessly joyful, but lacking in sensitivity. Even National Geographic magazine could fall into this trap back in the 40s.
Please keep your great posts coming – you’re the keeper of the flame for American 20th century kitsch and culture!
Gilner Pottery Is the maker and the figurines are called Happy Cannibals.
I worked at antique auctions for years and these would pop up from time to time.
Gilner also made many of the pixie and elf figurines of the 50s.
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