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Archive for the ‘circus’ Category

Tin Toy

La Boule Mysterieuse Tin Toy, 1906. Potter and Potter Auctions

Legend has it that circus contortionist Leon LeRoche took his inspiration for “La Boule Mysterieuse” from a popular gambling game that set up outside the show’s tent in Romania. After gamblers placed bets on one of several numbers, the showman let a ball roll from the top of a foot-high spiral, shouting as the ball made its way to the winning number. LaRoche’s legendary act, which was celebrated by this 1906 tin litho toy, had him scaling a 12-foot high spiral while inside a metal ball that rolled slowly and mysteriously upwards.

Boule Mysterieuse

La Boule Mysterieuse Tin Toy, 1906. Potter and Potter Auctions

“If it had not been evident that the idea of the trick had come to him from seeing the spiral of the Turkish showman, one would positively have believed the whole thing to be a miracle,” according to LaRoche’s story in the 1928 book Star Turns. The trick was regarded as “an unfathomable mystery, a sudden stroke of genius. Everywhere the agents arranged performances of the Man of Wonder with his troupe.” LaRoche doubled the height of the spiral to 24 feet and by the time he began touring with Barnum and Bailey in 1896, the track was 30 feet tall.

“Pull the string on the toy and it duplicates his feat,” says the catalogue description for the antique toy, which was made in Paris by Fernand Martin. On February 2nd “La Boule Mysterieuse” will be on the auction block at Potter & Potter in Chicago. The pre-sale estimate is $800-$1,000 and the online sale already has bids.

Serendipitously, Tin Mania in the U.K. also has one of these rarities for sale and made the delightful video below to publicize it. The price is 1,119 GBP (1,889 US Dollars)

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December 22, 2012: ATZ Review: Legendarium at The Big Apple Circus

February 22, 2012: Rare & Vintage: 1930s Tin Litho Bumper Car Wind-Up Toy

July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike

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Big Apple Circus Legendarium

Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Going to the Big Apple Circus in Lincoln Center has been a New York holiday tradition since the 1980s. We especially like to go on New Year’s Eve when the show ends with a champagne toast and dancing in the ring, but this year we caught the show early. At last Saturday’s performance of Legendarium, scenery in the style of an antique handbill set the mood for a journey back in time even before the show started: “Presenting the unprecedented attractions of THE FIRST BIG TOP and exhibiting celebrated American jesters and natural born fools The AcroBuffos…”

Jenny Vidbel and her Liberty Horses

Jenny Vidbel and her Liberty Horses. Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers, a contortionist, an equilibrist, Liberty horses and former shelter dogs are also on the bill. The jovial ringmaster John Kennedy Kane shares entertaining anecdotes about circus history relating to the Brooklyn Bridge and Broadway. We learn that the first-ever circus ring measured 42 feet in diameter, which is the size needed for a horse to reach a full gallop, and that is precisely the size of the Big Apple’s ring.

Jenny Vidbel's Ponies

Jenny Vidbel’s Ponies. Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Over the years, Katja Schumann’s Liberty horses and Barry Lubin aka Grandma the Clown have been among our favorite performers. Lubin retired after last year’s show and we miss him. The highlight of the show was Jenny Vidbel’s Liberty horse act featuring Arabian horses and ponies. When the ponies trotted out, the audience let out a collective gasp of delight. Other standout acts were slack wire maestro Zhang Fan, Daniel Cyr and his mesmerizing Cyr Wheel, the Dalian Bicycle Troupe, Desire of Flight aerialists Malvina and Valeriy, and Emily and Menno van Dyke, who passionately dance the tango at the same time that they juggle.

The Big Apple Circus, Lincoln Center, New York City, through January 13, 2013; Alpharetta, GA, February 1-18; Bridgewater, NJ, February 18-March 17; Boston, MA, March 26- May 12.

Zhang Fan and Jenny Vidbel

Zhang Fan and Jenny Vidbel. Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

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December 8, 2012: Sunday Matinee: Princess Rajah’s Chair Dance (1904)

March 7, 2012: ATZ Review: Love Never Dies in a Phantasmal Coney Island

July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

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In this newly released video of the Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders performing with Ringling’s Gold Unit last spring, the brothers Olissio, Gino and Ermes leap on and off the backs of cantering horses, turning somersaults and back flips with ease. Ringling skipped Coney Island in 2011, but we met Olissio Zoppe when he was here for a few days last July with Circus Vidbel.

At the Coney Island History Project, Olissio vaulted onto the Steeplechase horse’s back in a split second when asked to pose for the photo shown below. Circus people never cease to amaze. Olissio and his brothers have been acrobatic equestrians since boyhood and their skill goes back six generations to two illustrious Italian circus families. If the ceiling had been taller, we bet he would have done a somersault on the horse’s back and landed on his feet–even in flip flops!

Olissio Zoppe Rides the Steeplechase Horse. July 9, 2011. Photo © Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved

Are the Zamperla Zoppe troupe, who are distantly related to the Zamperla family of Luna Park, returning for an encore performance? Will there be a circus in Coney Island in 2012? It’s unlikely since the lot where Ringling’s Coney Island Boom-A-Ring and Illuscination played in 2009 and 2010 has become the temporary home of the Seaside Summer Concert Series. The City-owned lot where Circus Vidbel played is the site of the new Speed Zone amusement park set to open this season.

Thor Equities brought in Cole Brothers Circus in 2007 and Reithoffer Shows and other attractions in 2008, but that’s ancient history. Since Joe Sitt got his rezoning for 30-story hotels and retail, we haven’t noticed any press releases saying “Thor is fully committed to the amusement industry.” In 2012, there are still a few empty lots in Coney Island big enough for a big top, but they’re held by real estate speculators. The saying “May All of Your Days Be Circus Days!” is one we don’t expect to hear in Coney Island this season.

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Related posts on ATZ…

July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

June 21, 2011: Zamperla-Zoppe Riders Coming to Zamperla’s Coney Island

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

August 20, 2009: Q & A with Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus Star Justin Case

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