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Gregory C. Wilson collection of postcards and trade cards depicting stereotypes of African Americans

Identifier: GRA 0148

Scope and Contents

The Gregory C. Wilson collection of postcards and trade cards depicting stereotypes of African Americans contains over 450 items. The majority of the trade cards are from the latter half of the nineteenth century, while the majority of the postcards are from the first half of the twentieth century. Some of the postcard and trade card printers whose work is represented in this collection include Curt Teich & Company, Currier & Ives, Dr. J.C. Ayer & Co., and A. Hoen & Co.

These items were collected over time by Gregory Wilson, who had an interest in the evolution of depictions of African Americans in trade cards and postcards. The vast majority of the items in the collection show negative stereotypes and racist portrayals of Black people in general and African Americans specifically. These images include, but are not limited to, portrayals of African Americans as unintelligent and uneducated, instances of violence or pain experienced by African Americans, and idealized or comic portrayals of African Americans in poverty. Other overarching themes in the cards are a focus on Black people performing labor, often in a domestic or agricultural capacity, and a nostalgic view of the era of enslavement before the Civil War. Drawings of Black people often enlarge certain parts of their bodies, such as their lips and mouths, or display significant nudity.

The materials in this collection are arranged according to the theme or subject matter of the image displayed on each card. The thematic categories listed in this finding aid were constructed by the processors after general research into the history of stereotypes of African Americans and an analysis of the types of imagery present in the collection. Due to recurring elements in derogatory depictions of African Americans, items that have been placed in separate thematic categories may still share common visual aspects, such as ill-fitting clothing or rural environments. Additionally, although many items have visual elements that correspond to more than one established category, each card was placed according to what was considered to be the primary theme or subject matter at the time of arrangement.


  • Creation: 1870s-2000s


Language of Materials

Materials predominantly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Anti-Black stereotypes in the United States

Stereotypes of Black people in the United States have been used for centuries to reinforce racist ideas that Black people are inferior to white people, to paint American slavery in a flattering light, and to justify discrimination and violence against African Americans. These stereotypes and their negative impact have been perpetuated in popular culture through their circulation on all kinds of cultural objects, from food packaging to yard decorations to toys, as well as their prevalence in media, such as stage plays, films, and literature. During the heyday of postcards and trade cards, these stereotypes both reflected and contributed to sentiments of racial superiority on the part of white consumers in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Anti-Black stereotypes and caricatures often follow certain conventions, such as exaggerated physical features designed to make Black people appear less human, individuals using irregular grammar and pronunciation in keeping with assumptions of Black ignorance, and instances of pain or violence inflicted on Black people depicted in a humorous light. In the nineteenth century, minstrel shows were highly influential in popularizing specific characters, such as “Mammy” and “Jim Crow,” which bolstered antebellum nostalgia and assumptions of inherent laziness or foolishness on the part of Black people. These characters and the more general elements of anti-Black stereotypes have persisted through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.


Mellinger, Wayne Martin. “Postcards from the Edge of the Color Line: Images of African Americans in Popular Culture, 1893–1917.” Symbolic Interaction 15, no. 4 (1992): 413–433. JSTOR.

National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Popular and Pervasive Stereotypes of African Americans.” Last accessed June 9, 2023.

Pilgrim, David. “The Mammy Caricature.” Jim Crow Museum. Ferris State University. Last updated 2023.

Pilgrim, David. Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice. Oakland, California: PM Press, 2015.

Trade cards and postcards

Trade cards were highly popular forms of advertising in the United States during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. These small cards generally consisted of an image that would draw consumers’ attention along with information about the business and the goods or services being offered. Several trade cards were produced with stock images and blank spaces where any business could add relevant text. Due to their visual appeal, many Americans collected trade cards and saved them in scrapbooks. Trade cards declined in popularity as the nineteenth century came to a close.

The collecting of picture postcards became a common pastime in the United States at the dawn of the twentieth century and retained this status until the onset of World War I. Although postcards were a popular form of communication at the time, many consumers would buy postcards to keep for themselves rather than to send. Images found on postcards often featured specific locations, such as monuments, cities, or landscapes, but could also consist of product advertisements or comic panels. After World War I, postcards continued to serve as souvenirs and to circulate through the mail, but they never regained their previous levels of popularity.


Black, Jennifer M. “Corporate Calling Cards: Advertising Trade Cards and Logos in the United States, 1876–1890.” The Journal of American Culture 32, no. 4 (December 2009): 291-306.

New York State Library. “Wish You Were Here!: The Story of the Golden Age of Picture Postcards in the United States.” Last updated December 23, 2021.

Smithsonian Institution Archives. “Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard History.” Last accessed January 26, 2023.

Gregory C. Wilson

Gregory C. Wilson is a white collector and dealer of antiquarian items, including trade cards and postcards. He is an alumnus of the University of Delaware (Class of 1960-1961) with a bachelor’s degree in history, as well as the University of Pittsburgh (Class of 1963) with a Master of Library Science degree.


Information provided by donor.


1 linear foot (5 boxes)

Metadata Rights Declarations


Gregory C. Wilson is a white collector and dealer of antiquarian material. The Gregory C. Wilson collection of postcards and trade cards depicting stereotypes of African Americans contains over 450 items, the majority of which are examples of negative stereotypes and racist portrayals of Black people in general and African Americans specifically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Gregory C. Wilson, 2013-2018.

Materials Available in Alternative Format

Digitized versions of the materials in this collection are available in the University of Delaware Digital Collections.

Related Materials in This Repository

GRA 0124, Gordon A. Pfeiffer nineteenth-century Delaware trade card collection

GRA 0138, Delaware postcard collection

GRA 0146, Gordon A. Pfeiffer Delaware postcard and ephemera card collection

Materials Cataloged Separately

Additional printed material and publications removed for cataloging with imprints in Special Collections.

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-5: Shelved in SPEC MSS binder boxes

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed and cataloged with the call number PPI 0107.

Reprocessed by Shelby Daniels-Young and Thomas Pulhamus, 2023. Encoded by Shelby Daniels-Young, 2023.

This collection underwent extensive reprocessing under the guidance of a working group consisting of library staff and two faculty members. The working group was co-chaired by Shelby Daniels-Young and Thomas Pulhamus. The reprocessing involved rearrangement of the materials, implementation of thematic categories, updated access terms, and a rewritten finding aid. The reprocessing was intended to increase accuracy of description through acknowledgement of the high concentration of racist material in this collection.

For more information on the working group project or to see the 2014 version of this finding aid, please contact Special Collections staff.


Finding aid for Gregory C. Wilson collection of postcards and trade cards depicting stereotypes of African Americans
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2023 September 1
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 March 11: The original collection number (PPI 0107) was changed to GRA 0148.
  • 2023 September 1: This finding aid was updated following an extensive reprocessing of the collection. Changes include revised access terms, a new arrangement, and a new title (original title: “Gregory C. Wilson collection of African-American postcards and trade cards").

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA