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Posts Tagged ‘sideshow’

Spinning Glass

Spinning Glass. Sideshow Banner, circa 1915-1920. O’Henry Tent and Awning Co., Chicago. Morphy Auctions

It seems quaint today, but glass blowers used to be one of the working acts in carnival sideshows. “Have you ever seen glass finer than the hair of your head? This is made on a spinning wheel which revolves at the rate of 1000 revolutions per minute,” according to a century-old ad for a glass blower at a fair. “Every lady patron to the show will receive a pretty Souvenir FREE OF CHARGE of Spun Glass, which can be used as a book mark.”

This circa 1915-1920 sideshow banner from the studio of Chicago’s O’Henry Tent & Awning Co. is on the auction block today at Morphy Auctions along with another advertising Ho-Jo The Ostrich Man. The pre-sale estimate for the two banners is $600-$1,200 and bidding is available online.

sideshow banner

Sideshow Banner, circa 1915-1920. O’Henry Tent and Awning Co., Chicago. Morphy Auctions

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Rutland Fair Sideshow

Rutland, Vermont Fair Sideshow, 1941. Photo by Jack Delano for the U.S. Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress

Among the more than 200,000 images of rural life by photographers working for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration during the New Deal are hundreds of images of the American sideshow. Taken by Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, and Russell Lee at state and county fairs in Vermont, Ohio, Louisiana and Texas, the photos document the midway shows of the late 1930s and early ’40s and their glorious banners.

Millard and Bulsterbaum banner

Sideshow attraction, county fair in central Ohio, 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

The two banners seen above–Human Freaks and Personality Fat Girl are the work of the Coney Island studio of Millard & Bulsterbaum. The firm’s name and address — 2894 W 8th Street — can be seen in the lower right corner of the banners. “Just one more bolt of cloth will make it,” says a tailor depicted fitting the glamorous fat girl with a new costume. Algernon Millard and John Bulsterbaum, who were in business from 1915 though the Depression, were considered the best in the business.

cat with 6 paws

Rutland, Vermont Fair Sideshow, 1941. Photo by Jack Delano for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

This banner for a 28-toed cat and a cat with six paws was part of a banner line also featuring sea gull ducks, midget mules, a pop-eyed cow, and a “Charlie Chaplin chicken.”

Ohio Fair Sideshow Attraction

Sideshow attraction, county fair in central Ohio, 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

In this nicely framed shot by Ben Shahn of a homemade front for the single-o “Ramo- 4 horns, 3 tails,” a weird, alligator-like creature appears on the bally stage.

Nudist Colony Banner

Sideshow attraction, county fair in central Ohio, 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

After a sideshow promoter made Zorine, Queen of the Nudists and the Zoro Garden Nudist Colony the sensation of San Diego’s 1935-1936 California Pacific International Exposition, imitators sprang up on carnival and fair midways. This banner for the “Nudist Colony” at a county fair in Ohio asks “Are they ever ashamed?” Shows featuring talkers and inside lecturers dressed as nurses and doctors helped explain the wonders and mysteries of medical science in the days before television and the Internet. Step right up to the College of Hygiene Science!

sideshow banner 1939

Sign at sideshow at Gonzales, Texas county fair, 1939. Photo by Russell Lee for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

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November 7, 2013: Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner June 27, 2013: Photo Album: The Front of the Show at Meadowlands Fair November 4, 2012: Up for Auction: Ringling Bros Circus Side Show Poster May 4, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Major Debert the Tiniest Man’s Sideshow Banner

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Crowd In Front of Freak Show Banners

Anonymous Photography. Crowd In Front of Freak Show Banners. Slotin Folk Art Auction, November 10, 2013

This weekend, a selection of vintage photos of carnival and circus sideshow fronts is up for bid at Slotin Folk Art’s fall auction. Though the photographs are black-and-white or sepia-toned, they convey how the flashy, spirited canvas banners entranced the eye and reverberated in the imagination.

Snake Dancing Woman

Anonymous Photography. Juanita Snake Dancing Woman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, November 10, 2013

When P.T. Barnum first brought itinerant entertainers together under one roof in his dime museum (which actually cost 25 cents), he had the building’s facade emblazoned with oval paintings and oversized banners. It boosted his ticket sales by $100 a day, or so he claimed. After the turn of the century, hundreds of circus and carnival sideshows toured the country, and long, glorious banner lines advertising a variety of popular entertainments competed with each other to attract customers.

Wonderland

Simmer Studio Wenatchee. Mason’s Wonderland A Circus In Itself. Black and white photography. Slotin Folk Art Auction, November 10, 2013

The above photo shows half of the banner line from a 17-inch wide photo for “Mason’s Wonderland – A Circus In Itself – Living Wonder of Air, Land and Sea.” A Giant Devilfish, Baboon Dog, Kangaroo Goat, and Mouse Circus were among the attractions in this sideshow, which toured the West Coast in the 1920s when carnival midways consisted of a dozen different sideshows and just a few rides.

Kay Bros Menaerie

Kay Bros. Sideshow & Menagerie. Black and white photo. Slotin Folk Art Auction, November 10, 2013

Professional banner painters working for canvas companies and private studios in New York, Chicago and other cities vied for commissions. “It’s the FRONT! of the show that gets the dough” was the catchy slogan that Caldwell’s Banner Studio in Los Angeles stencilled on the back of their canvases and trumpeted in trade magazines.

Bandit King Banner

Anonymous Photography. The Bandit King. Black and white freak show banner postcard. Slotin Folk Art Auction, November 10, 2013

By the 1950s, Billboard reporter Tom Parkinson was not exaggerating when he wrote that sideshow banner lines had “stopped more people than all the art museums in the nation and set more jaws ajar than surrealistic art.”

Slotin Folk Art’s live auction will be held at Historic Buford Hall in Buford, Georgia on November 9 and 10. Absentee, phone and online bidding are also available on auction days.

Tintype Bull Banner

Anonymous Tin Type Photograph. Group In Front of Bull Banner. Slotin Folk Art Auction, November 10, 2013

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