Vintage monkey speedway banners by Sigler Studios, sideshow banners by Fred Johnson, and shrunken head and mummy gaffs by Homer Tate are among the midway artifacts up for auction at Mosby & Co. Auctions’ November 29th live and online sale. A selection of carnival games that have disappeared from the midway will also be in the sale. The catalogue is online and one can bid now or in real time during the auction.
“The Monkey Speedway ‘The Start’ and ‘The Race’ are the two best Sigler banners we have ever handled,” said Mosby’s owner Keith Spurgeon, who noted that it was probably painted by Jack Sigler Sr. The banners drew people over to a midway attraction that was popular on carnivals through the 1950s and 60s. Trained monkeys in little metal cars raced around a wooden track while customers placed bets on the laydown of numbers. The prizes were usually boxes of candy.
Last year, ATZ wrote about monkey speedways in “Memoirs of a Carny Kid: Monkeys on the Midway.” Carnival supply house H.C. Evans called its Monkey Speedway “The unbeatable carnival attraction! Equal to a free act!” “The Winner” banner from the Sigler bannerline is pictured in the seminal 1995 book Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway .
Among the dozen banners for sale are Fred Johnson’s advertisements for a torture show, snake handler, half boy, ape man, and Harold Smith, who played the water harp in sideshows from the 1940s though the 1960s. A rare Victorian glass harp similar to the one Smith used to play is also for sale.
Gaff art creations by Homer Tate, including Shrunken Heads, a Feejee Mermaid, a Wolf Boy, and a hand bitten by a rattlesnake are also among the carnival curiosities in Saturday’s sale. Atlanta showman Dan Dorsey purchased the pieces from Tate in the late 1950s and exhibited them in his sideshow museum. Included in the lots are home-built display cases lined with satin and posters for “Dorsey’s Strange Exhibition: The Most Weird Collection of Shrunken Heads and Bodies You Ever Saw.”
Homer Tate’s original museum of the weird in Apache Junction, Arizona, is said to be the home of the legendary roadside attraction “The Thing.” Interviewed by The Arizona Republic last year, his 67-year-old grand-daughter Vada Tate recalled childhood memories of the yellow signs along the highway that said “Mystery of the Desert” and “What is it?” When she asked her father to stop and if he’d ever seen “The Thing,” he replied “Seen it? I was there when your grandfather made it.”
“Though not always as appreciative of her grandfather’s works then as she is now,” says the story, “Vada Tate always looked forward to shrunken heads at Christmas. She enjoyed his Feegee Mermaids, as well as his spelling of the human-fish hybrids (they typically were doll bodies fused on fish tails). She delighted in his human-bat crossbreeds and all manner of shrunken male and female bodies, each equipped with strategically placed swatches for modesty.”
We’re long accustomed to seeing antique carnival wheels, ball-toss figures and shooting gallery targets on the auction block. This sale also includes ball toss games, a penny pitch and game boards for a Poker Pitch.
Some of the games were consigned by Bruce Walsted, an investigator who has made a career lecturing on rigged carnival games. The games were given to him by law enforcement authorities who had confiscated them from carnival operators.
The Frederick, Maryland auction house has featured carnival artifacts in its vintage toy and pop culture memorabilia auctions since selling the late Bob McCord’s collection of over 60 sideshow banners in 2009.
Related posts on ATZ…
November 23, 2013: More Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner
November 7, 2013: Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner
May 31, 2012: Up for Auction: “Fool the Mad Genius” Carnival Scale
September 28, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Auction of French Fairground Art