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Posts Tagged ‘banner painter’

Bobby Wicks  Roller Skating Monkey Banner

Vintage Roller Skating Monkey Sideshow Banner by Bobby Wicks. Morphy Auctions

Brooklyn-born Bobby Wicks (1902-1990) was a banner and show painter and tattooist greatly admired by his fellow artists. Wicks once told a reporter that he got his start as a boy painting signs that said “Frankfurters 5¢” for Coney Island hot dog stands. Though both his paintings and tattoo flash are hard to come by, a delightful roller skating monkey banner that he did for a carnival’s monkey speedway will be on the block at Morphy Auctions on Sunday.

The 9-1/2 foot tall by 7-1/2 foot wide advertisement was part of a banner line designed to draw people over to a midway attraction that remained popular through the 1950s and ’60s. Trained monkeys in little metal cars raced around a track while customers placed bets on the laydown of numbers. The banner painters often took liberties and portrayed the monkeys in a variety of eye-catching scenarios, from walking a tightrope to dining in a fine restaurant, that were not part of the show.

According to Wicks’ page on the Tattoo Archive, in his early years in Coney he painted shooting galleries for the McCulloughs, worked with several banner painters, and had learned tattooing by age 14 or 15. After making and losing a fortune as a tattooist in the 1920s, he joined Royal American Shows, “The World’s Largest Midway,” and became their chief scenic artist and show painter.

The auction is online and one can bid now or in real time during Morphy’s January 31st sale in Las Vegas.

Update: The banner sold for $1,500 plus a 22% buyer’s premium.

Related posts on ATZ…

March 19, 2014: Memoirs of a Carny Kid: Monkeys on the Midway

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

February 4, 2013: Rare & Vintage: Girl to Gorilla Sideshow Banner

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Harold J Potter Magic Circus

Harold J Potter Comedy Magic Circus Banner by Fred Johnson. Mosby & Co Auction. November 10, 2012

Decades before JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books and the fictional Ministry of Magic, the original Harry Potter– a Michigan minister named Harold J Potter– performed magic for his congregation and with a sideshow. His repertoire included hypnotism, the bladebox and a premature burial illusion inspired by the tale by Edgar Allan Poe. These six banners painted for “Harold J Potter’s Comedy Magic Circus” in the late 1960s by master banner painter Fred Johnson will be up for bid in Mosby & Company’s November 10th Americana auction at their gallery in Frederick, Maryland. Bidding will also be available online beginning in late October.

Monster Museum by Fred Johnson

Monster Museum Banner by Fred Johnson. Mosby & Co Auction. November 10, 2012

Harold J Potter’s son says that his father was fascinated by Harry Houdini and Harry Blackstone as a boy and took up magic at an early age. The family consigned the Johnson banners, which are fresh to the market. In the banner shown below, a contortionist act is billed as Plasteena. The Bladebox is cleverly called “Six Section Sal” and there’s also a “Guillotine Gal.”

Fred Johnson sideshow banner

Plasteena Sideshow Banner by Fred Johnson. Mosby & Co Auction. November 10, 2012

After getting out of the Army in World War II, Potter started practicing magic again on the side in Detroit, according to his son. A minister by profession, he would perform some magic tricks during services. We’re hoping that some of his sermons will turn up! On weekends, Potter did the sideshow performances for which he commissioned the banners. In the summertime, he and his family toured Michigan doing tent shows.

Sideshow banner by Fred Johnson

Monster Sideshow Banner by Fred Johnson. Mosby & Co Auction. November 10, 2012

Banner artist Fred Johnson (1892-1990) was only 17 when he learned the secret of creating an eye-catching banner: color, not exaggeration. “We call it ‘flash.'” Johnson once said. During an illustrious 65-year career, the Chicagoan painted banners for all the big circuses, carnivals, and amusement parks, including the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Magic Banner by Fred Johnson

Master Magician Banner by Fred Johnson. Mosby & Co Auction. November 10, 2012

Fred Johnson worked for Driver Bros Tent Co. from 1921 until 1930, and in 1934 he came to the O. Henry Tent & Awning Co, where he remained for 40 years. He imbued his Houdini-esque escape artists, Amazon snake charmers and master magicians with a quirky and mysterious quality that drew customers into the sideshows and continues to make his work prized by collectors.

Hypnotist Banner by Fred Johnson

Hypnotist Banner by Fred Johnson. Mosby & Co Auction. November 10, 2012

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Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, April 21, 2012

A rare and unusual “Champion Sword Swallower” banner attributed to Nieman Eisman, a master of the Chicago style of banner painting from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, is up for auction this weekend at Slotin Folk Art. The circa 1930s-1940s banner conveys the danger of this sideshow act by depicting the performer downing multiple swords from his arsenal as well as a glowing neon tube. While sword swallowing is an ancient art, electricity is a potent symbol of the modern age. As soon as the neon tube was invented in 1936, neon-tube swallowing became a sideshow craze. When the stage is darkened, the eerie glow of the neon illuminates the performer’s neck and chest, making it convincingly clear that the sword swallower is not up to any tricks.

When ATZ saw Johnny Meah perform this dramatic feat at the Barnum Museum a dozen years ago we were stunned. Fifteen years earlier in a carnival sideshow, a neon tube exploded inside him. When someone tried to wrench it out of his throat, shards of glass cut his windpipe. Blood gushed from his mouth onto the stage. Despite the physical hazards of the profession and the potentially fatal effects of neon, the art of sword swallowing is “not totally physical. In fact, very little of it is physical,” Meah told ATZ. Among the Kings and Queens of Swords whose bravura performances with neon we’re fortunate to have seen are Natasha Veruschka (“The World’s Only Sword Swallowing Belly Dancer”), Johnny Fox, Keith Nelson of the Bindlestiff Family Circus and The Great Fredini of Coney Island USA.

Neon sword

Swallowing a Neon Sword, Detail of Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, April 21, 2012

Although this banner was not painted for a specific performer, it reminds us of the story of Prince Neon– William Knoll — who claimed to be the world’s first neon-tube swallower. He was also presumably among the first to be injured when, in July of 1936, a two-foot-long neon tube broke inside him just before the electricity was turned on. SWORD SWALLOWER DOES IT TOO WELL, SURGEONS TAKE FOOT OF GLASS TUBING FROM STOMACH was the headline of an item that flashed across the wire. Later on, Knoll “put himself out of business” with neon as we say on the midway. “A Daring Exhibition” indeed.

vintage sideshow banner

Detail of Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, Aptil 21, 2012

According to the auction catalog, the banner was rescued from oblivion by the consignor in the 1970s and later attributed to Nieman Eisman by sword swallower and banner painter Johnny Meah and banner dealer Teddy Varndell:

In late 2003, the consignor contacted banner artist, as well as technical adviser on the HBO series “Carnivale,” Johnny Meah by email, and it was his opinion that Nieman Eisman was the artist of my banner. He later forwarded the materials to Edward “Teddy” Varndell, banner dealer and co-author of Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway. Mr. Varndell also believed my banner to be by Eisman.

In the early 1970’s the consignor worked at a TV station in production. In the prop room behind the studio, he found this “carny” banner, back-side up, covering a pile of stacked lumber. With the station manager’s OK, he replaced it with another tarp and he has had the banner since then. During early days at the TV station, traveling carnivals or circuses would bring performers, props and animals to the TV studio for promotions (back when productions were “live”). This banner was apparently left behind during one of these shows. Johnny Meah said circus banners in the ’50s and ’60s were considered so disposable they were often used under circus trucks to sop up oil leaks.

The pre-sale estimate is $3,000 – $4,000. This weekend’s folk art auction consists of 1,500 lots, with the sideshow banner set to be auctioned on Saturday. Slotin Folk Art’s live auction will be held at Historic Buford Hall in Buford, Georgia on April 21 and 22. Absentee, phone and online bidding are also available on auction days.

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April 10, 2012: Up for Auction: Collection of Carnival Knockdown Dolls

February 25, 2012: Video: Happy International Sword Swallowers Day!

May 8, 2011: Up for Auction: Sideshow Banners by Johnny Meah

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

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