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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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Nieman Eisman Banner

Monkey Scooter Banner by Nieman Eisman, Circa 1930s. Mosby & Co Auctions, May 16, 2015.

We’ve seen quite a few banners of carnival monkeys driving tiny race cars in Monkey Speedways, but never a monkey on a scooter. Considering the current popularity of scooters, this delightful banner could attract some competitive bidding when it goes on the auction block on Saturday.

The painting by Nieman Eisman, a master of the Chicago style of banner painting from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, is one of several carnival canvases in Mosby & Company’s Auction on May 17th. The pre-sale estimate of the giant-sized advertisement –it is approximately 6 feet tall by 9 feet wide–is $2,500 – $3,500. The catalogue is online and one can bid now or in real time during the auction.

Nieman Eisman Banner

Hollywood Movie Star Banner by Nieman Eisman, Circa 1930s. Mosby & Co Auctions, May 16, 2015.

A second Eisman banner titled Hollywood Movie Star shows two tuxedoed monkeys at a fancy restaurant. Banners by both Fred Johnson and Johnny Meah featuring Otis Jordan, “The Frog Boy,” who worked at Coney Island USA’s Sideshows by the Seashore in his later years, are also among the desirable banners in Saturday’s sale.

Related posts on ATZ…

November 24, 2014: Up for Auction: Vintage Sideshow Banners & Carnival Curiosities

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

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Midway at State Fair Meadowlands

Rides and Funhouse Showfront on the Midway at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The midway at New Jersey’s State Fair Meadowlands, which runs through July 7, is alive with eye-popping painted showfronts for funhouses, entrancing sideshow banners, and flashy signage hawking fair food. We’ve been going to the fair in East Rutherford since 1996, when Johnny Meah’s eighteen-foot-high, 104-foot-wide showfront for Hall & Christ’s Weirdest Women in the World first lured us there, on assignment from Raw Vision to write about the art of the sideshow banner. It’s the front of the show that gets the dough, and it’s the front of the show that continues to attract our interest.

Girl to Gorilla Show

Girl to Gorilla Show, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This year, the fair has a Girl to Gorilla show, which hasn’t been on the road since 1996, and four other sideshows owned and operated by Lindsey Constantine. She learned the business, including how to talk on the bally stage, from her dad Jack Constantine, who started Four C Productions in 1972 and is now semi-retired.

“Beauty or Beast? SEE the only LIVING woman with this Mysterious and Unknown Ability…Alive…The Ape Girl.” This awesome set of Girl to Gorilla banners was painted by the late Lew Stamm, whose showfronts are highly regarded in the business. He also did projects for amusement parks such as Gold Rush Junction, Silver Dollar City, Dollywood and Dixie Stampede. “They were done for my father in 1991. My dad traded his car for them,” said Lindsey.

Girl to Gorilla Show

Girl to Gorilla Show, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Across the midway is the World’s Smallest Woman, whose delightful advertisement has her sitting in a giant chair dwarfed by a “normal-sized” dog. The showfront trumpets her as being only 29 tiny inches small with hands 2 inches wide. This particular “World’s Smallest Woman” is named Gloria. For nearly 30 years, she has supported her family as one of Four C Production’s five “World’s Smallest Women” who travel the U.S. carnival and fair circuit.

World's Smallest Woman

World’s Smallest Woman, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Four C’s World’s Smallest Horse, Snake Illusion and Oddity Museum featuring such attractions as a Giant Nuclear Radiation Beetle and a Fiji Island Mermaid are also on the midway at the New Jersey fair.

World's Smallest Horse

World’s Smallest Horse, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The hot, humid weather is perfect for Drown the Clown, the great Joey Liberti, who has been working the dunk tank since he was a kid. The ballgame/show was a fixture at Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival until last year, when a group of swank boutiques and new residents of Mulberry Street in the neighborhood now called NoLita lobbied the community board to shorten the festival. Although they were unsuccessful, Drown the Clown was one of the casualties of the gentrifiers’ efforts to take the carnival out of the street fair and make it culturally and politically correct by their standards. Ironically, century-old photos of street fairs in New York City and elsewhere in the U.S. show an array of ball games, as well as sideshows and Ferris wheels.

Drown the Clown

Drown the Clown, State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

There used to be a dunk tank in Coney Island –no more! You have to go to Jersey to be properly entertained and insulted by the dunk tank king. As the sign on the stand says, “CLOWN JOKES MAY OFFEND SOME PEOPLE. IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR YOU SHOULD NOT STAY.”

Deep Fried Buckeyes

Deep Fried Buckeyes, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Deep-fried Buckeyes, in case you’re not familiar with fair food, are an irresistible confection made of peanut butter and chocolate. The masterful showfront for this food concession is ablaze with advertisements for deep-fried treats: Oreos, Snickers, S’Mores, Twinkies. There’s even a Deep-fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich and a Deep-fried Grilled Cheese. The most over-the-top food at the Meadowlands Fair is the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Burger, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner rolled into one, and is on the menu at Little Richard’s Cafe.

Doughnut Burger

Doughnut Burger. State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Our vote for the most unique showfronts at the Meadowlands Fair goes to the restrooms. When you gotta go, you have a choice of Royal Flush at the Buckingham Loo…

Restroom with Showfront

Restroom with Showfront at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Or Toon Town’s Tinkle Run. The clean and attractive portable restrooms are staffed by attendants.

State Fair Meadowlands runs from June 21 through July 7 and also features an array of rides and free shows including Circus Maximus, Rosaire’s Royal Racing Pigs, Fireworks, and the last Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Qualifier before the July 4th contest in Coney Island. We took NJ Transit from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction and then hopped on a free shuttle bus to the fair. Trip time: 25 minutes.

Restroom with Showfront

Restroom with Showfront at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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April 18, 2012: Rare & Vintage: A Neon Sword Swallower’s Sideshow Banner

November 4, 2011: Up for Auction: Ringling Bros Circus Side Show Poster

October 8, 2010: Traveler: Most Beautiful Video of the State Fair of Texas

May 4, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Major Debert the Tiniest Man’s Sideshow Banner

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Conklin Shows Banner by Fred Johnson

Canada’s Traditional Favorite Conklin Shows Banner by Fred Johnson. Photo via Treadway Gallery

We’ve come across vintage circus-style posters advertising carnivals but have rarely seen a painted banner except for the sideshow attractions. This one painted for “Canada’s Traditional Favorite Conklin Shows” circa 1950 by master banner painter Fred Johnson will be up for bid at a June 8th auction in Oak Park, Illinois held by Treadway Gallery. Bidding is also available online via live auctioneers.

The show’s founder J.W. “Patty” Conklin was born Joe Renker in Brooklyn and worked as a sideshow talker in Coney Island before arriving in Winnipeg in 1924. In the 1940s and ’50s, the Billboard frequently described him as “a Canadian midway biggie” and one of the keenest, most practical of midway operators.

In the era when the banner was painted, Conklin Shows played fairs and exhibitions in rural Quebec and Ontario before heading to Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition for Labor Day, according to a website on the carnival’s history. The show grew to become the largest touring carnival in North America, with a route that stretched from the South Florida Fair in West Palm all the way to the Calgary Stampede until it was swallowed up by midway consolidation in 2004. In the Northeast, Conklin played the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass., and the now defunct Westchester County Fair and Belmont Fair, where we visited in 2003 to write a story for Education Week about the show’s traveling classroom for carny kids.

Measuring 94 inches high by 117 inches wide, the Conklin banner is signed by Fred Johnson, who painted canvas advertisements for all the big circuses, carnivals, and amusement parks during an illustrious 65-year career. It has a pre-sale estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 3, 2013: Up for Auction: Bill Lynch Shows Vintage Carnival Poster

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

October 10, 2012: Up for Auction: Sideshow & Magic Banners by Fred Johnson

August 10, 2009: Westchester County Fair Mementos

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Giantess Banner Painted for John Strongs Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Giantess Banner Painted for John Strong's Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The $600,000 question is why did an allegedly savvy businessman like Thor CEO Joe Sitt let more than half a million in allegedly overdue rent go unpaid until just two weeks before the end of the season? ATZ bets there’s more to this story than we’ve read in the papers.

On Sunday night the word from the locked down Dreamland was John Strong had torn down and packed up his “Strangest Show on Earth” and would be leaving Coney Island on Monday Tuesday evening for a Tennessee fair. Though the sideshow operator failed to “Save Coney Island” as boasted, we’ll forgive him because the front of his Strange Girls show was gorgeous in a retro sort of way. The bannerline evoked an earlier Dreamland Circus Side Show’s circa 1926 banners by Coney Island’s Millard & Bulsterbaum. Strong’s banners were painted by Jorge Rivero and Coney Island’s Takeshi Yamada, who also operated a freak baby show featuring his fantastical creations.

Over the weekend Dreamland Park was abruptly locked down by Thor Equities because of a rent dispute with the park’s manager. At 2 a.m on Friday morning, guards from Epic Security stormed in, cut the locks on the gates and took control of the property. In the morning Thor’s pr guy Stefan Friedman notified the media: “Dreamland has been locked out because it has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months. We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent so it can quickly re-open the rides and allow Coney Islanders and visitors to continue enjoying what has been a spectacular summer so far.”

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strongs Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strong's Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Coney Island Rumor Mill offers the following scenario: Perhaps no one owes Thor $600,000. Perhaps it’s a ruse to enable Thor CEO Joe Sitt to get rid of his carnival tenants asap and deliver the property vacant to the City. If that story sounds crazy, it’s no crazier than the scenario offered by Thor’s spokesman. A deal to sell most of the land including the Dreamland site to the City was expected when the Coney rezoning passed in City Council at the end of the July. At the time the NY Times said that Sitt would keep only the property at Surf & Stillwell. This land was rezoned for a high rise hotel. But that news is already three weeks old and no announcements have been made yet. Mayor Mike is running for re-election and time is running out for him to be able to claim he “Saved Coney Island” and win our vote!

Is the Coney Island dream over for the amusement operators who came from Georgia, Florida and Texas to Thor Equities Dreamland Park? Over the weekend rumor had it the carnival equipment was being held hostage by Thor Equities, but we’ve also heard folks are free to leave. While John Strong was spreading the word about a “breakout attempt” with monster trucks crashing through the gate, Glen Geren and some of the other amusement operators said they’d be sticking around. They’d paid their rent to Dreamland’s manager and were waiting to see if the park would reopen after today’s scheduled court hearing.

UPDATE 8/25: No “official” word yet about what happened in court. I’m kind of surprised the NY Post didn’t cover it! The Coney Island Rumor Mill says the judge is expected to make a decision on Wednesday. But the folks inside Dreamland say that they were told the park will reopen. With all the twists and turns we’ve been through in Coney, I find it hard to believe anything until I see it with my own eyes.

John Strong already packed up and tore down his sideshows and is set to leave tonight for Tennessee. Anthony sent someone over yesterday to beg them to stop working and put the show back in the building, but John Strong had already made the decision to load up and go. If and when Dreamland reopens, it will be minus two sideshows.

UPDATE 8/28 When I talked with Geren yesterday he said they have one more shot with the NY Supreme court today. Everyone is waiting till then to start tearing down. But there was a lot of hoopla on Thursday because Thor’s people said to clear out by midnight tonight! What they meant was people who were not ride help. Whatever happens next, remember there’s a lot more to this story than what we’ll read in the papers in the coming days.

Yes, ATZ has photos of “Closed” signs hanging on Dreamland’s gate, but we’d rather end this post with a photo of our friend Takeshi Yamada whose studio is in Coney Island. And a very important reminder: While Thor Equities “Dreamland Park” is currently closed, Coney Island still has 43 rides including the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel open for business. There’s also the Ringling Bros. Boom A Ring Circus, Coney Island USA‘s Circus Sideshow and Burlesque, Dreamland Roller Rink, the Coney Island History Project and much more to enjoy.

Artist and Coney Island Resident Takeshi Yamada Created a Mermaid Baby and other Freak Babies for his Sideshow in Dreamland.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Artist and Coney Island Resident Takeshi Yamada Created a Mermaid Baby and other Freak Babies for his Sideshow in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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April 29, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!

April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

January 31, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Freak Museum to Lease Coney’s Oldest Building

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