CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions will hold a sale of more than 500 lots featuring the circus archives of John and Jan Zweifel as well as the Museum of Science and Industry’s entire circus exhibit, many elements of which have been on display at the beloved Chicago institution for decades. The auction will take place on Saturday, September 24 starting at 10 am Central time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Once in a lifetime materials from circuses, carousels and amusement parks should claim many of the top lot slots, such as a carousel horse by the G.A. Dentzel Company of Philadelphia, estimated at $25,000-$35,000. This example from circa 1885 is in the form of a carved wooden outside row neighing stallion. It has a flowing mane and a carved saddle and bridle and measures 56 by 13 by 61in. The carousel horse was restored in 1987 by conservationist Rosa Patton.
A 19th-century wooden cage wagon side attributed to the Sells Brothers Circus and estimated at $15,000-$25,000 was made by the noted carver Samuel A. Robb (1851-1928). The panel is red and decorated with gilded relief carvings, including a jester, eagle, seraph and a winged creature. Robb was renowned for his tobacco trade figures and circus art. This piece has been displayed at numerous high-profile venues, including the Ringling Art Museum and the Smithsonian. It was previously auctioned at Guernsey’s as part of their Circus World Collection of Important Circus Artifacts and Carousel Carvings Encompassing the Collections of Charles Philip Fox, Robert Clarke, & William Donahue sale in February 1985.
Rounding out this section of the sale is a circa-1940 circus drum major or ringmaster statue, estimated at $1,000-$2,000. This papier-mache figure is said to be from the Danbury Fair and was a familiar part of the Museum of Science and Industry’s legendary circus exhibit. The figure wears a red costume, black boots, and a red and gilt hat and carries a marching baton in one hand.
Circus-themed scale models and dioramas are also well represented in this sale. A likely favorite is a circa-1940 model circus parade bell wagon loosely modeled on the bell wagon from the Ringling Bros. shows. It has an estimate of $6,000-$12,000 and is painted red and gilt gold, with blue accents on the wheels.
Equally alluring is a Ringling Brothers Circus street parade motorized diorama, estimated at $5,000-$10,000. This remarkably detailed work of art features 26 carved models of circus wagons, performers and animals recreated in miniature, all moving on a long snake-like winding track. This 33-foot-long model was a featured exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry for nearly 50 years.
Eye-catching circus-related signage and banners are also key categories in the September 24 auction, led by a Museum of Science and Industry sign used at its circus exhibit since 1973. Estimated at $1,000-$2,000, this entrance sign features brightly painted wooden letters crafted as circus themes that include a wagon wheel, standing clown, elephant, snake charmer, contortionist and a tiger.
The sale lineup is rounded out by antiques, posters and artwork. Of particular note is a color lithograph poster emblazoned with the legend “Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth / Three Stupendously Magnificent Melodious Parade Features Included in the Many Different Kinds of Music.” Estimated at $1,400-$2,400 and printed circa 1890, it advertises the circus’ horse-drawn calliopes and musical wagons.
The final highlight is Glen Tracy’s (American, 1883-1956) oil on canvas Clown Handing Corky Cristiani a Rose, estimated at $800-$1,200. Tracy is best known for the circus paintings he produced during winter break periods from the various circuses. This example is signed and dated on its lower left.
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