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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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Billy Lynch shows

Bill Lynch Shows Carnival Poster. Photo via Halls Auction Services

This vintage advertisement for Bill Lynch Greater Exposition Shows recalls the days when some big carnivals had bill posters lining fences and filling windows with circus-style paper ahead of the show’s arrival. The artist’s fantastic aerial view of the midway features a beautiful girl whirling on a chair-o-plane high above the other amusement rides. Measuring 25 inches high by 38.5 inches wide, the one-sheet was printed by Erie Litho & Printing Company in Pennsylvania. It’s up for sale on March 17 at Hall’s Auction Services in Calgary with online bidding available. The pre-sale estimate is $1,000-$1,500.

According to an article in the Billboard, Lynch was a Nova Scotian who bought his first amusement ride–a steam-powered merry-go-round that operated on his native McNab Island– in 1920. He was just 18 years old. By 1928, Lynch had his own traveling carnival playing still-dates with a merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, chair-o-plane, three shows and a string of concessions.

Bill Lynch’s big break came when he won the bid to bring his carnival to Nova Scotia’s Halifax Exhibition in 1929. The contract required seven rides and seven shows. Over the winter and spring, Lynch managed to double the size of his midway by borrowing or buying equipment and the show opened to great fanfare in Halifax. In 1935, it took 14 railroad cars to transport the carnival, which by then was also touring Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

The March 17th auction at Hall’s consists of items from the 40-year personal collection of “Canadian Picker” Scott Cozens. The auction will be filmed for a future broadcast of “Canadian Pickers” on the History Channel.

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