A Rare c.1900 Papier-Mâché Tobacconists’ Indian ‘Black Boy’ Advertising Shop Window Display Figure

Origin: English
Period: Edwardian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1900-15
Height: 21 inches
Width: 8.5 inches (at base)
Depth: 3.5 inches (at base)

The painted papier-mâché advertising figure designed to be displayed in a shop window, probably to advertise tobacco, modelled as a young negro youth in white shorts with agog expression, his arms held out before him (probably once holding a pipe or plaque), and with three red indian feathers as a head-dress in his hair, the whole standing on a buff painted rectangular wooden plinth base, hails from Edwardian period England.

The figure is in fair condition considering it is of papier-mâché and over a century old, though he does have expected chipping to most areas and some small cracking to one leg though structurally he is stable and sound. His colours remain relatively vivid, his face is in good overall order as is his body with the most amount of chipping and wear to the hands where he was once holding a pipe, almost certainly for tobacco. He proves wonderfully decorative in this condition and we feel he proves charming and more desirable than if he were restored.

Now, much more of a rarity, models like these were common in the late nineteenth and early to mid twentieth century, standing either in the window or out on the door, and used for dramatic advertising effect.
The stylized depiction of a red indian was used for tobacco advertising from around 1810. By 1860 the accepted sign for tobacconists was the cigar-store Indian. As tobacco got popular the signs for the tobacconists followed naturally and since tobacco was connected to Indians in the popular imagination, these signs were usually Indian figures. They appeared in front of tobacco shops, usually over doorways, and were called Black Boys or Virginians. Using the familiar negro boy as a model, the makers of tobacconists Indian Figures gave them a headdress of tobacco leaves or feathers and usually a kilt, or small shorts as we see here. The right hand usually held a long clay pipe and sometimes under the left arms was a roll of tobacco and they measured anywhere from eighteen to thirty inches. Many of these figures, whether they be crafted in wood or later composite, were destroyed due to their now un-politically correct nature and today they prove scarce.

Delightfully decorative, this rare collectable has a mischievous manner and a beautiful aura despite it not being politically correct.