Skip to content
Rare Tom Mix Circus poster. Mosby & Co. image

Mosby to auction sideshow banners, Coke antiques, pop relics, May 16

Rare Tom Mix Circus poster. Mosby & Co. image

FREDERICK, Md. – Buyers of rare, early circus sideshow banners had a field day when Mosby & Co., auctioned Part I of an advanced collection that was started in the late 1970s. Now it’s time for Part II to take its place in the spotlight, which it will do on May 16th, with Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers. The banner collection is a special highlight of the 300- to 400-lot sale and is the source for 11 of the 14 banners entered in the sale. Three additional sideshow banners were consigned by other private collectors.

The hot ticket within the banner offering is a 46-foot-long example that Mosby’s owner, Keith Spurgeon, says is the largest one Fred G. Johnson (American, 1892-1990) ever painted. “Fred Johnson was the Picasso of sideshow banner artists. His work was even shown at the World’s Fair of 1933. Today, his art is in high demand,” said Spurgeon. “The art on this particular banner is all clowns. It’s immense and would have covered the entire front of a circus tent. It’s a well-known, well-documented piece, probably from the 1960s, and has been in the same collection for many years,” Spurgeon said.

Another example of Johnson’s work is the circa-1960s sideshow banner ‘Premature Burial.’

Two very rare banners painted by Neiman Eisman (d. 1956), both exhibiting a monkey theme, came from a California collection. “Eisman is the man who got Fred Johnson started, and he worked alongside him as a blocker. Eisman had his own very distinctive style of painting and was known for his highly detailed backgrounds,” said Spurgeon. “We’re very fortunate to be able to offer these two banners, because Eisman’s work just never comes up for sale. Any knowledgeable collector would confirm that.”

From the same California collection comes a small grouping of circus posters covering a 50-year timespan from 1910 to about the 1960s. Among them is an extremely colorful and profusely illustrated poster for the Tom Mix Circus (see top of article), promoting a guaranteed live appearance by cowboy star Mix and his horse Tony, that Spurgeon says he has never seen before, either in person or in print.

The toy section of the sale includes a DC-area collection amassed by a TV production company executive. In addition to many television-themed vehicles – TV camera trucks, cars, jeeps, etc. – the collection features are a number of Coca-Cola-related toys. Additional tin toys to be auctioned include productions by Marx and many other desirable brands. All are in excellent condition.

Some 50-60 pieces of antique advertising were sourced “from a California estate collection built over 45 years that no one knows about,” Spurgeon said. “Everything is in outstanding condition.” Among the items in the collection are early country store items, straight razors and pristine porcelain signs, including one that advertises jewelry and watch repair; and a Van Durk travel agency sign that Spurgeon said he has ever seen before.

Other highlights (from various consignors) include a 1930s Coca-Cola neon clock and circa-1906 Coke tip tray (both pictured below), 1930s themed non-sports collector cards by Goudey and other gum companies; and a pair of circa-1900 matched brass beer taps, each 24 inches tall and designed to replicate swans’ necks.

Some rare and unusual historical aviation relics have been secured for the May 16 auction. An original, unused propeller for a World War I de Havilland DH5 fighter plane presumably never left the aircraft factory where it was made. Only 500 such planes were produced during the First World War, and none of them has survived, Spurgeon said. Also “impossible to find,” according to Spurgeon, is the pair of original wicker passenger seats from a circa-1925 Ford Tri-Motor airplane. “Things like these chairs are found only in museums. Collectors are very keen to find objects of this type, but they never show up at auction, so we might see some strong competition on auction day.”

A popular category in past Mosby sales has been tribal items from the South Pacific/Oceana and Africa. This time the ethnographic attractions come in the form of two Fijian war clubs, a very fine Hawaiian gourd calabash (bowl) and a few African pieces with provenance from the late Irwin Hersey, who was a knowledgeable and respected collector from the 1950s through 1990s.

Bidders should be prepared for many other surprises to surface, Spurgeon said. “Quite a few things haven’t been unpacked yet, including two boxes from a Texas collector who buys across the board but always goes for quality above everything else.”

Mosby & Co.’s Saturday May 16 auction will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, with Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers. For additional information on any item in the auction, call 240-629-8139 or email

View the fully illustrated catalog and register to bid absentee or live via the Internet as the sale is taking place by logging on to