Reader asks about Emory Douglas’ Panther posters
Each Friday, I answer readers’ questions about items they own, helping them with the research on the history and directing them to resources to determine value.
This week I’m focusing on one question – about the works of the man who helped create the image of the Black Panthers on paper.
I have some historical original newspaper posters by Emory Douglas that were saved for 40 years. We just saved the posters, not the entire paper. They are in excellent condition. Please see photos, and would they be an appropriate item for auction. I have attempted to purchase one online and cannot find any of the like. Please advise.
Yes, your Emory Douglas posters would be a good choice for auction. Several of them have been sold at Swann Auction Galleries’ African American manuscript auction. Some of the vintage Black Panthers’ memorabilia have sold for way more than the estimated value (Huey P. Newton in the wicker chair sold for $16,000 in March 2011 and a restored poster sold for $2,200 a year later).
In March 2011, a circa 1970 “Free Bobby, Free Ericka, Free Ruchell Magee, Free Angela, Free Kathleen, and All Political Prisoners” sold at Swann for $7,000.
Douglas started out as an artist for the Black Panther Party newspaper and became its minister of culture in 1967, a year after it was founded by Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, CA. Considered a revolutionary artist, he created the visual imagery of the party’s message of protest and defiance through its leaders and the community it fought for.
His graphic in-your-face finger-pointing designs were featured on posters and printed in the newspaper, which he designed and directed until it closed down in the 1ate 1970s.
“When the Black Panthers started the newspaper the whole idea was to have lots of pictures and art because a segment of the African American community wasn’t a reading community. But they could see the pictures, or they might understand the captions and get the gist of what was going on. That stayed in my mind,” Douglas is quoted as saying in a 2007 exhibit – “The Visual Rage of Emory Douglas” – at the Museum of Contemporary Art Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. “People used to say that my artwork kind of cut to the chase, so they would get the message right there. We were trying to give the paper a certain feel.”
A print like the one below was included in the 2007 exhibit, with Douglas explaining his style in creating it: “I used to do posters with ink, markers, and those kinds of materials. I would use ball point pens and develop that style. That came from trying to expedite things. I liked woodcuts but I didn’t want to take all that time to do woodcuts, so I developed a bold style,” he said.
As for selling your posters, Swann is a good place to start since it has a track record for sales of Douglas and other Panther posters. Wyatt H. Day coordinates the auction. You could also look for a major auction house in your city or town that handles high-end sales. Remember that auction houses charge a commission for selling your items.
Also keep in mind that items up for auction are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them at a given point in time (as in the second Newton poster). Douglas produced a lot of posters over that decade, some more desirable than others.
In researching, I found that Douglas had teamed up in the past few years with several print-makers to reproduce some of his Panther newspaper posters as silkscreens or seriagraphs in limited editions – some selling as low as $50. I found on eBay two of those reprints that had sold for $100 and $200, and a Panther newspaper with a Douglas print for $139.
They’re no match, though, for the originals that appeared in the actual newspaper. But it makes them affordable for people who are newly discovering Douglas or who may have thrown away their old Panther newspapers and posters years ago.