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Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde Crime Show Banner. Photo via RR Auction, Amherst, NH

Among the popular attractions on carnival and park midways in the 20th century were crime shows featuring life-size figures of 1930’s gangsters like Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. A vintage sideshow banner used to advertise one of these shows will be sold at RR Auction’s Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen Sale on September 30. The painted banner, which is said to date back to the early 1930s, is the work of a Kansas City painter named Gene and has a pre-sale estimate of $10,000 – 12,000. The banner’s lurid headlines enticed customers inside and at the same time instructed that crime does not pay: “Crime Wave… Boy & Girl Gangsters… See Inside… The Wages Of Crime Is Death.”

Why aren’t Bonnie and Clyde mentioned on the 12 by 9 foot banner? According to the auction catalogue:

It is believed that this banner being offered here is one of the first ever Bonnie and Clyde roadshow banners. Interestingly enough, Bonnie and Clyde were still alive when this banner was in use. This is why their names are not printed at all upon the poster as the roadshow profiteers were not stupid, because if their names were on it, that might have led to a visit from the gangsters, and the outcome of that visit could have been less than pleasant.

After Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed on May 23, 1934, their bullet-riddled death car–as well as some imitations– went on to become a lucrative sideshow attraction on carnival midways and at Coney Island Cincinnati. The car is currently on display at a Nevada casino. Crime may not pay but it sells tickets and artifacts associated with dead celebrity outlaws have become marquee investments.

Among the more than 100 items in the sale are Bonnie Parker’s Colt Detective Special .38 revolver, which was found taped to her thigh at the time of her death (Est. $150,000 – 200,000), and her cosmetic case (Est. $5,000 – 10,000). “In those days the items were allowed to be kept by the posse members as part of their service in tracking down these outlaws,” says auction house owner Bobby Livingston. Online bidding for the Gangsters Auction opens on September 24.

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