A box of Cracker Jill (not Jack) charms
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    Auction Finds

    Jumping jack black woman toy

    When I saw the photos for the upcoming auction at the home of an African American family, I was thrilled. I was hoping that the negligible number of photos gave no true picture of what was inside the house.

    So I went hoping to find some African American collectibles and artwork that I could bring home. When I got to the estate sale, the usual furniture was laid out on the lawn, along with some gardening tools. On the porch the auctioneer had assembled glassware, books, shelving, Bose speakers, a Wii set and a Nintendo entertainment set (that was snatched up), among other things.

    The jumping jack woman toy at rest.

    Inside were lots of shoes with high-priced designer names and figurines by artist Annie Lee, some Lenox Evening in Harlem porcelain sculptures I had not seen before, Coach purses and prints.

    What caught my eye, though, was a pancake-flat wooden piece with the image of a brown-skinned woman painted on the front of what looked like a puppet. The piece had been cut out of laminated wood, painted in bright colors and lacquered. The back was unpainted.

    An up-close view of the woman's face on the toy.

    When I picked it up to examine it closely, I saw that it was an articulated female figure with parts that moved at the pull of a string hanging below her bare feet. I recognized it as a jumping jack toy, because I had found a Santa Claus like it a couple years ago. A few years before that, my auction buddy Janet had picked up an articulated Black Americana paper doll toy.

    I pulled the red string and all at once, her two arms moved outward to reveal something hidden behind her back. From the left came a basket of fruit similar to the basket she balanced on her head. On the right, her arm merely stretched out farther.

    The best discovery, though, were the boy and girl who scooted from behind her skirt on either side. They were shown with torso and head – him stripped of clothes and waving, her wearing a blue and white striped top with her hands on her hips.

    The pulled red string revealed the toy's hidden pieces.

    I searched the back of the toy for a maker but found none. The piece reminded me of some German Hellerkunst wooden cutouts I had gotten in box lots at auction before. Those were larger, not articulated and were meant to be applied to a wall in a child’s room because they were fairytale figures.

    This woman was a nice find, and I wondered where the owner had bought it. I also wondered if these were German-made and when they were made. The features of the woman and children were not stereotypical, although there were hints of red applied to their lips but not glaringly so. They must have been contemporary.

    The piece was also similar to the German Hampelmann toys familiarly known as jumping jack, which appear to be made of solid wood with some depth and not flat like the woman piece at auction. Hampelmann toys originated in Oberammergau, a town in the southern Bavaria area of Germany, according to the website puccimanuli.com. They first became popular during the 18th century and continued into the 19th century, the website said.

    The back of the jumping jack piece was unpainted.

    They were originally carved by hand and some examples are in the Oberammergau Museum, which shows off the wood-carving history of the area. They represented folk heroes and modern people, according to the website, which suggested that they could be hung from windows, placed on shelves or used in other rooms in the house.

    As for the piece I bought at auction, I’ll place it on my fireplace mantel next to the two paper jewelry boxes I also bought. Those were labeled “Made in India.” A friend wondered if the boxes had been made in that country and the images painted on later.

    If you recognize either of these items and can offer more information, please drop me a line.

    Two stiff-paper jewelry boxes made in India with folk-art drawings of Black Americana images.



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    1. Hi there, I actually recognize the box at the bottom of the post. I purchased many of them back in the late 80s and early 90s at a store in DC. I think the store was called Beautiful Things. Those boxes were made overseas in China, I vaguely recall. There were many different scenarios. My favorite was one I bought for my grandmother that depicted an elderly couple on a porch. The one you have featured. I think I paid $2 or $3 for those and owned maybe six.

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