CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions is pleased to announce a 760-lot Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities for June 26 starting at 10 am Central time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Remarkable canvas sideshow banners take several of the top slots in this sale, among them a Hill Shafer Studios Rosshill Circus carnival banner from the 1940s, estimated at $6,000-$10,000. This well-executed banner depicts a female snake charmer on the left and a caricature of an Ubangi on the right, with a carnival master with outstretched arms in the middle. This example was painted for trade shows to advertise the talents of the artist, with much attention given to the fine details of each figure.
Equally intriguing is a monumental We Expose the Fakes banner, also produced by the O’Henry Tent & Awning Co., estimated at $4,000-$6,000. The banner depicts a full cast of sideshow performers, including a sword swallower, an alligator woman, a frog boy, a giraffe-neck woman, a rubber-necked man, a four-legged woman, a mermaid, and a half man.
Stage-used circus materials are also well represented in this sale. Leading the choices is a 1910 wild animal circus wagon carving, estimated at $6,000-$8,000. This gilt example depicts a bearded Eastern rider upon his leaping horse and is from the Al G. Barnes’ Wild Animal Circus Wagon from the circus’ railroad show.
Another circus-worn treasure on offer is a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth elephant headdress from the 1980s, estimated at $2,500-$3,500. The porcelain enamel sign is leather backed, includes its original leather studded harness straps, and is identified with the elephant’s name, “Minnie,” on verso. Minnie was born in India in 1955 and was exported to the USA in the late 1950s. She joined Ringling Brothers in 1987 and retired to a performing animals sanctuary in California in 2001.
The auction’s lineup of circus, carnival, and freakshow images includes a quarter-plate daguerreotype of a clown or other performer, estimated at $2,500-$3,500. This cased, 19th century image features a seated male subject, who is identified as David Phineas Royce on accompanying slip of paper. He wears striped tights, a theatrical shirt, a white cap, and sleeves.
Carrying strong appeal is a 19th century cabinet card portrait of Annie Oakley, estimated at $1,000-$2,000. This half-length bust portrait shows the sharpshooter wearing a blouse covered in medals and a broad-brimmed cowboy hat. It is inscribed, “To Miss Trilian McKenger / With best wishes from / A.O.” and appears to be signed by Oakley below the portrait.
The auction also boasts a healthy section of merchandise related to performer General Tom Thumb (whose actual name was Charles S. Stratton). Featured pieces include a quarter-plate daguerreotype of the performer, estimated at $15,000-$20,000. The late 1840s image shows Thumb standing on a table, one hand on his waist, the other grasping his lapel. He wears rings, a neckband, and chain. It is one of only a handful of daguerreotypes of Stratton ever seen at auction, and the first at auction to showcase Stratton as the solo subject since 2007. Daguerreotypes of Stratton are held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Harvard Theatre Collection; and the National Portrait Gallery. Just as delightful is a cased sixth plate circa-1863 ambrotype of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren’s wedding, estimated at $1,200-$1,800.
Of course, the sale roster will offer a strong group of oddities and can’t-look-away curiosities, such as a Homer Tate’s Devil’s Child sideshow exhibit, estimated at $1,500-$2,500. This 21-in tall mixed media creature has authentic animal hooves, claws, and fangs. It is the companion piece to lot #488, a sideshow banner featuring this sculpture. Tate’s creations were usually made with mud, paper, and bones, and then passed off as mummies, shrunken heads, and mermaids.
Worthy of attention is a collection of more than 200 Coney Island postcards, collectively estimated at $400-$600. They are all neatly displayed in sleeves and include a huge range of scenes and views, including Luna Park, Dreamland, Shooting the Chutes, the Japanese Cafe, ocean views, Surf Avenue, and Dragon’s Gorge.
Outstanding antiques, ephemera, and apparatus round out this comprehensive sale, chief among them Svenson’s Flea Circus, which dates to 2010 and is estimated at $1,500-$2,500. This beautifully handmade, manually operated illusion is in working order and is housed in a blue trunk. It includes a number of props that appear to be manipulated by a team of so-called “trained fleas”. Fleas appear to turn on and off lights, open the door to their flea hutch, walk a tightrope, dive off a diving board, and pull a chariot, among other stunts.
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