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Posts Tagged ‘Millard & Bulsterbaum’

Rutland Fair Sideshow

Rutland, Vermont Fair Sideshow, 1941. Photo by Jack Delano for the U.S. Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress

Among the more than 200,000 images of rural life by photographers working for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration during the New Deal are hundreds of images of the American sideshow. Taken by Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, and Russell Lee at state and county fairs in Vermont, Ohio, Louisiana and Texas, the photos document the midway shows of the late 1930s and early ’40s and their glorious banners.

Millard and Bulsterbaum banner

Sideshow attraction, county fair in central Ohio, 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

The two banners seen above–Human Freaks and Personality Fat Girl are the work of the Coney Island studio of Millard & Bulsterbaum. The firm’s name and address — 2894 W 8th Street — can be seen in the lower right corner of the banners. “Just one more bolt of cloth will make it,” says a tailor depicted fitting the glamorous fat girl with a new costume. Algernon Millard and John Bulsterbaum, who were in business from 1915 though the Depression, were considered the best in the business.

cat with 6 paws

Rutland, Vermont Fair Sideshow, 1941. Photo by Jack Delano for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

This banner for a 28-toed cat and a cat with six paws was part of a banner line also featuring sea gull ducks, midget mules, a pop-eyed cow, and a “Charlie Chaplin chicken.”

Ohio Fair Sideshow Attraction

Sideshow attraction, county fair in central Ohio, 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

In this nicely framed shot by Ben Shahn of a homemade front for the single-o “Ramo- 4 horns, 3 tails,” a weird, alligator-like creature appears on the bally stage.

Nudist Colony Banner

Sideshow attraction, county fair in central Ohio, 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

After a sideshow promoter made Zorine, Queen of the Nudists and the Zoro Garden Nudist Colony the sensation of San Diego’s 1935-1936 California Pacific International Exposition, imitators sprang up on carnival and fair midways. This banner for the “Nudist Colony” at a county fair in Ohio asks “Are they ever ashamed?” Shows featuring talkers and inside lecturers dressed as nurses and doctors helped explain the wonders and mysteries of medical science in the days before television and the Internet. Step right up to the College of Hygiene Science!

sideshow banner 1939

Sign at sideshow at Gonzales, Texas county fair, 1939. Photo by Russell Lee for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress

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Voltess

Vintage Sideshow Banner: Voltess, The Girl Who Defies Electricity circa 1930. Millard & Bulsterbaum, 2894 W 8th St. Coney Island via Urban Country

This vintage Millard and Bulsterbaum banner for “Voltess, The Girl Who Defies Electricity” was painted for Sam Wagner’s World Circus Sideshow in Coney Island. Variously known as Electra, Electricia and Voltara, the act features a girl who is said to be able to withstand high voltage and shoot sparks from her fingertips due to having been struck by lightning. The banner, which measures approximately eight by five, is offered for sale by Urban Country.

Algernon Millard and John Bulsterbaum established their Coney Island shop around 1915 at 2894 W 8th Street and were in business through the Depression. Their ads proclaimed “We Paint Banners That Get Top Money for Carnivals and Circus.” The studio was credited with introducing liberal use of orange paint and bold lines that made their banners visible from clear across the midway.

Millard and Bulsterbaum

Millard and Bulsterbaum, 2894 W 8th Street, Coney Island

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Vintage Sideshow Art: Major Debert Tiniest Man by Millard & Bulsterbaum, 2894 W 8th St. Coney Island

Vintage Sideshow Art: Major Debert Tiniest Man by Millard & Bulsterbaum, 2894 W 8th St. Coney Island

This circa 1920s banner from Coney Island is among more than a dozen sideshow banners offered in a Mosby & Co. online auction that begins on May 5th. We first set eyes on the mysterious “Major Debert Tiniest Man” in Freaks Geeks & Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway. The 1996 book catapulted this unusual genre of American art from fringe culture into the mainstream. “Major Debert” was one of the prized Millard & Bulsterbaum banners from Coney Island owned by Jim Secreto, whose collection we got to see “Alive and On the Inside” when we profiled him for Art & Antiques.

This extravagant advertisement for Major Debert is 12 feet tall by 7 feet wide, a size that readily lends itself to hilarious exaggerations of scale. The Tiniest Man does indeed look tiny beside the gigantic faces of the “normal sized” man and woman who are oohing and aahing over him. Algernon Millard and John Bulsterbaum established their Coney Island shop around 1915 at 2894 W 8th Street across the street from Luna Park. Their ads proclaimed “We Paint Banners That Get Top Money for Carnivals and Circus.” The studio was credited with introducing liberal use of orange paint and bold lines that made their banners visible from clear across the midway.

This is the third Mosby auction featuring sideshow banners from the collection of the late Bob McCord. Back in the 90s, Bob began buying or trying to buy every sideshow banner in sight. He got quite a few from Johnny Meah, whose banners are also featured in the current auction, as well as some vintage pieces from the Secreto collection. Last year we wrote about the sale of an orange-hued “Armless Wonder” banner by Dan Casola from the same Coney Island studio.

Mosby & Co Auctions, Auction # 3 Closing May 20th, 2010 at Midnight, Lot #438, Opening Bid $850

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Vintage Sideshow Art: Armless Wonder by Dan Casola of 2525 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Vintage Sideshow Art: Armless Wonder by Dan Casola of 2525 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Vintage sideshow banners painted by Coney Island’s Dan Casola are hard to come by. In fact we’d never seen a Casola banner until we discovered The Armless Wonder–Lot #459 in the Mosby & Co. online auction of the late Bob McCord’s circus collection. We were wowed. In the late 90s, we had a cottage industry writing for Art & Antiques and other art magazines about collectors snapping up sideshow banners from the heyday of the midway. We learned that Coney Island’s Millard and Bulsterbaum, who had their banner painting shop at 2894 West 8th Street from 1915 until the end of the Depression, were considered the best in the biz. Their ads proclaimed “We Paint Banners That Get Top Money for Carnivals and Circus.” The banners that have survived are highly prized by collectors.

In a note on Mosby’s auction page, banner painter Johnny Meah says Casola was “a good artist, working mostly for the Millard & Bulsterbaum scenic art house in Brooklyn—–but largely unheard of.” He notes that the artist’s work was on view primarily in Coney Island and occasionally at fairs in nearby states where Dave Rosen, a Coney Island operator, fielded a sideshow. Rosen’s Wonderland Circus Sideshow was by the way in the building currently owned and occupied by Coney Island USA’s Sideshows by the Seashore. Casola was Meah’s favorite banner painter and he shares further reminscences in an essay “Cunning Crafters of Dreams.”

Now, thanks to Google Books, which has indexed selected issues of the Billboard, we’ve been able to find additional biographical info on Casola. In June 1942: “New on Surf Avenue is girl-underwater illusion, a 10-center operated by Dan Casola, designer and decorator. Dan is the one who designed the Atlantis Bar and Grille new last season on the Boardwalk.” The now-legendary Atlantis Nightclub was on the site currently occupied by Cha Cha’s and Nathan’s Boardwalk location at Stillwell Avenue.

In July 1942, in the Pittsburgh Gazette’s “Dimouts, Rationing Hit Coney Island Hard,” Casola is the talker for his illusion show and is said to have been in Coney Island for 25 years. “He says business is good at the illusion show he presents with ‘three nifty girls.’ ‘Ya only spend a dime folks and a ya get an eyeful, and ya got two eyes aintcha, so what are ya waiting for,’ he yells. That he said, gets em every time, dimout or no dimout.”

At the height of sideshow bannermania (1998), we actually did an unofficial “census” of banners in public and private collections. While Fred Johnson and Snap Wyatt were prolific artists and a body of their work has survived, other master banner painters have not been so lucky. We’d love to be able to close this post with a photo of another Casola banner. If anyone has more info about Dan Casola, please let us know. As for the marvelously gifted Armless Wonder, who painted pictures to sell to sideshow visitors, we’d like to identify him and see more of his paintings, too.

Mosby & Co Auctions, Fall Toy & Americana Sale, Lot 459, Circus Sideshow Banners, Armless Wonder, 92″ tall x 118″ wide, opening bid $750. Estimate: $1,500-$2,500. The sale end date is November 22, 2009 at midnight and on the 20th for liveauctioneers absentee bids.

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

December 2, 2009: Dec 12-13: Open Studio with Coney Island Artist & Banner Painter Marie Roberts

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October 4, 2009: The Wonder of Artist Philomena Marano’s Wonder Wheel

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