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