Sunday, April 3, 2011

LEFT INSIDE: Aunt Jemima String Puzzle

This week's item left inside one of my books is a relic from the early 20th century, between 1914 and 1926. (I did some research on the R. T. Davis Mill Company mentioned on the reverse of the puzzle. Quaker Oats bought the company in 1927 and Aunt Jemima and all related products became their property.)  Once again, I can't remember what book it came from. All I remember is that it was something a friend of mine found. Back in the days when I was selling like a maniac on third party bookselling sites, I hired her to do nothing but scan the hundreds of books I was putting up for sale online.  She showed it to me one day when I came home.  I'd never seen anything like it before and made sure I kept it in a safe place.  Today I discover it's quite a rarity among ephemera of this type.

The front:

The reverse. Somewhere in its long life the second tag got torn off.

I'm sure I'm going to get a flurry of comments calling me ignorant, racist or insensitive. All I can say is it's part of our shameful American past.  I take it in the same light as I do movie characters played by actors like Stepin Fetchit, the stories of Octavus Roy Cohen featuring Florian Slappey, the Amos & Andy radio show, the stories of Uncle Remus and the numerous illustrated versions of Little Black Sambo.

If you feel you must leave a comment calling me un-PC, please don't do it with the cap lock on. Name calling I can take. I just don't like being screamed at.

Thanks for being tolerant of the Archie Bunkers of our past who designed children's playthings. Now pass me the maple syrup!


  1. Am I the only one who finds this version of AJ slightly creepy? At first glance, she looks like John Wayne Gacy in blackface.

  2. I should've saved this for Halloween. She is spooky, isn't she? Doesn't look like a woman at all - more like Uncle Remus in drag.

  3. You can still use her for a Halloween photo-shop contest, when All Hallows Eve is upon us, and award a free book to the sick mind who can morph that face into something even scarier – like the Heath Ledgers Joker or The Candyman in drag. ;D

  4. I'm no believer in history revisionism and the PC adamantists can go stick their heads in an empty tuna can, so I have no problem with this, except, as Carol notes, it's kind of a creepy version of the ol' Auntie.

    I used to have several paper place mats from a restaurant chain of my childhood on the west coast (maybe it was national, I don't know); Sambo's. The name, of course, came from the story of Little Black Sambo, who loved pancakes. He gave away all his clothes to hungry tigers, but got them back when the tigers chased each other round and round the tree Sambo had climbed, turning themselves to butter, which he enjoyed on a huge stack of pancakes. I had the picture book of it when I was a kid, too. Those place mats were lost when the box they were in got wet.

    I didn't see a place to send for the solution to the puzzle, or was there really one?

  5. Richard -

    I'm with you on the history revisionists. Thankfully, though, Quaker Oats made Aunt Jemima more human and less minstrel show scary.

    I remember Sambo's! On the East Coast those restaurants were only in the South. No one would tolerate that in New England. Did the company change its name? Did it become Shoney's, maybe? There aren't that many of even those around anymore. Another Google research project in them making.

    I also had a picture book as a kid about Little Black Sambo but even for one done in the 60s it had been altered slightly. He was a boy in India (make sense with the tigers, no?) and the tigers themselves turned into batter. When his mother (dressed in a a sari) made the pancakes for Sambo they were striped.

    As for the solution - I have no idea how to do it, but it looks similar to those metal chain and ring puzzles that were popular in pubs. Don't know if a solution was offered in the paper doll book. Pickaninny! There's an awful word you don't hear anymore.