This circa 1920s banner from Coney Island is among more than a dozen sideshow banners offered in a Mosby & Co. online auction that begins on May 5th. We first set eyes on the mysterious “Major Debert Tiniest Man” in Freaks Geeks & Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway. The 1996 book catapulted this unusual genre of American art from fringe culture into the mainstream. “Major Debert” was one of the prized Millard & Bulsterbaum banners from Coney Island owned by Jim Secreto, whose collection we got to see “Alive and On the Inside” when we profiled him for Art & Antiques.
This extravagant advertisement for Major Debert is 12 feet tall by 7 feet wide, a size that readily lends itself to hilarious exaggerations of scale. The Tiniest Man does indeed look tiny beside the gigantic faces of the “normal sized” man and woman who are oohing and aahing over him. Algernon Millard and John Bulsterbaum established their Coney Island shop around 1915 at 2894 W 8th Street across the street from Luna Park. Their ads proclaimed “We Paint Banners That Get Top Money for Carnivals and Circus.” The studio was credited with introducing liberal use of orange paint and bold lines that made their banners visible from clear across the midway.
This is the third Mosby auction featuring sideshow banners from the collection of the late Bob McCord. Back in the 90s, Bob began buying or trying to buy every sideshow banner in sight. He got quite a few from Johnny Meah, whose banners are also featured in the current auction, as well as some vintage pieces from the Secreto collection. Last year we wrote about the sale of an orange-hued “Armless Wonder” banner by Dan Casola from the same Coney Island studio.
Mosby & Co Auctions, Auction # 3 Closing May 20th, 2010 at Midnight, Lot #438, Opening Bid $850
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