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Antique lawn jockeys are lawn jockeys that were produced before the early half of the twentieth century.
Brief history and description
A lawn jockey is a lawn ornament that was popular in the United States. These small statues, usually about half-scale, depicted a man in jockey clothes and were typically cast out of iron and painted over. Traditionally, they took the semblance of a black man and are now widely considered as racially offensive. As a result, most antique lawn jockeys have had their features painted pink.
A lawn jockey usually takes the posture of a man holding up one hand as though holding a lantern or taking the reins of a horse. This is based upon a tale of an African-American stable boy called Jocko Graves who had served with General George Washington during the crossing of the Delaware on December 25th 1776. Requested to stay behind and tend to the horses, the boy froze to death on the river bank whilst still holding a lantern in his hand. Another, more sinister, account of the lawn jockeys' origins is that they were used to guide African-American slaves escape to freedom in the days of the Underground Railroad in the 1850s and 1860s.
Guide to collectors of Antique Lawn Jockeys
Predominantly a United States market, there is a small though competitive community of collectors for antique lawn jockeys. They have become highly sought after by collectors as either an icon of an atavistic social and cultural period in America’s history, or for those interested in the role that they played during the Underground Railroad.
Despite being controversial, lawn jockeys that have retained their black features typically realise the higher prices than “white” lawn jockeys at auctioneers and tend to sell from $200 to $500. These “black” pieces were usually painted in garish colours for their uniforms and had racially exaggerated facial characteristics, such as large red lips, curly hair and big white eyes. Lawn jockeys produced in the late nineteenth century are extremely rare and were usually cast out of better quality metals. Examples of these have been known to sell for over $1,000.
There are a number of dealers and antique shops in the United States that sell antique lawn jockeys, most notably Lawnjock.com and Antiquedealers.com. Antique lawn jockeys also frequently appear at online bidding sites, such as eBay, and depending on their condition and size, pieces range between $50 and $200. Respectable international auction houses, including Christie’s and Bonhams, occasionally catalogue antique lawn jockeys and their quality is consistently superior.
Notable Sales of Antique Lawn Jockeys
In September 2005 at the New York branch of Christie’s, a painted cast iron lawn jockey dating from the late-nineteenth century realised a price of $1,560.
A painted cast stone ‘cavalier spirit’ lawn jockey that still retained its original black features, was sold through Bonhams, San Francisco, for a realised price of $510.
In November 2009, a cast iron lawn jockey that had had its original features painted over fetched a price of $275 when it was sold through Bonhams, Los Angeles.
Main article: Antiques
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