Reader seeks original copy of Negro Motorist Book – Me, too!
  • On a search for ‘Negro Motorist Green Book’
  • Readers ask about Negro Motorist Book & swizzle sticks
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    Auction Finds

    First look at copy of Negro Motorist Green Book

    The book looked much smaller than I had imagined. I guess I was expecting something with more volume and heft, given its enormous importance in the lives of African American travelers during the 1930s-1960s.

    The Negro Motorist Green Book up for auction last week at Swann Auction Galleries had lost much of the color on its cover, and was missing some pieces on its spine (the catalog said the spine was “partially perished,” likely from so much use and age). It sat in a lighted glass case at the auction house, propped upright, making it easy to see.

    I first learned about Victor H. Green’s book a few years ago, and found a reproduced downloadable copy of the entire 1949 edition on the web. The book was famous: Julian Bond remembered his parents using it. An Atlanta writer wrote a children’s book and play based on it.

    The book was a lifeline for African Americans on the road at a time when they were not allowed to sit down and eat in a restaurant or use the bathroom in a service station or be treated with respect when they bought and paid for the gas.

    Negro Motorist Green-Book

    Up-close view of the cover of the Negro Motorist Green-Book sold at auction.

    The Negro Motorist Green Book told them where they could find restaurants and cafes, hotels and private homes, taverns and nightclubs, garages and service stations that would welcome them. Green’s “little guide” – as it was described in the catalog – contained the names of places in cities in the United States, along with Bermuda, Mexico and Canada (but those were few).

    Black travelers could order it from Green, or pick up the book and maps at gas stations owned by Esso Standard Oil Co., one of the supporters of the guide. Most of the places were obviously run by African Americans but some were white-owned. Here’s a 1956 reproduction of the guide on the web – the 20th anniversary edition with illustrations and photos, which sold for $1.

    Green’s travel guide was first published in 1936 and lasted until around 1964. The guide at auction contained 48 pages with photographs, and was copyrighted in 1941, according to the auction catalog.

    “Curiously enough, for something so common at one time, COPIES OF THE GREEN TRAVEL GUIDE ARE EXTREMELY RARE TODAY,” the catalog noted.

    The book was not the only guide of its kind for black travelers back then. A year ago, Swann sold another supplied to travelers by the Trott Inn restaurant in Philadelphia. The guide was started in 1946; it was taller and narrower than the Green Book, 103 pages with illustrations. It included places in the South and along the East Coast, as well as Canada, Mexico, Haiti, the Caribbean and the Philippines.

    Negro Motorist Green Book

    A full view of the cover of the Negro Motorist Green Book sold at auction.

    This guide provided information about noted African Americans, according to the Swann catalog. Interestingly, I had come across a reproduced copy at an antiques shop outside Atlanta a few months before encountering this one.

    The book at last year’s auction was titled “Travelguide 1953,” the year it was printed. “Vacation and recreation without humiliation” was its motto, according to the catalog. It was distributed as “Compliments of Trott Inn.” It’s not clear if the restaurant produced the guide. It sold for $4,000 (including the buyer’s premium) at Swann.

    Both guides were small enough to hold in your hand, which likely made it easy to access when you were on the road.

    At the auction of the Green Book, the guide was the last item to be sold. I expected the bidding to be lively and fierce. There were only two bidders, on the floor and on the phone. The bidding soared past the estimated $7,000 to $10,000 in the catalog. It ended with a price of $18,000. The actual price paid was $22,500 with the buyer’s premium.

    Not bad for a book that sold for 25 cents in 1941 or was given away for free. Were there others like these two? Do you know of any?

    Travelguide by Trott Inn

    “Travelguide 1953,” compliments of Trott Inn in Philadelphia.

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    1. Thank you for sharing the story of the Negro Motorist Green Book. I saw the Swann Auction listing and would have loved to have been there in person to see it. Your description was a delight to read. Do you know who won the auction? Was it an institution? I’m hoping it might be scanned and available for online viewing in the future.

      Best wishes, and again, thank you for the wonderful informatoin you share through this site.

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