Published: February 14, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Freedom Auction Company
SARASOTA, FLA. – Adam Forepaugh’s Great Show Poster, an 1883 one sheet by Strobridge Litho Co, turned in a solid performance at Freedom Auction Company’s online auction of circus posters on February 5. Boasting a show that was “largest in the world,” with museum, menagerie, triple circus and Roman hippodrome, the scarce poster featured the agents in Africa and the transport and feeding of animals sold for $6,562 to an international private collector. Professionally conserved on linen, the poster measured 29½ by 38 inches.
Philadelphian Adam John Forepaugh (1831-1890) was an American horse trader and circus owner. From 1865 through 1890 his circus operated under various names, including Forepaugh’s Circus, Forepaugh’s Gigantic Circus and Menagerie, The Forepaugh Show, 4-PAW Show, The Adam Forepaugh Circus and Forepaugh & The Wild West.
The Great Show poster was one of more than 850 posters presented in the firm’s winter 2023 installment of circus memorabilia auction, which offered a diverse collection of fresh-to-market material that came from abandoned storage lockers, forgotten closets and cross-country journeys. The sale totaled $292,500 with a 98 percent sell-through rate.
A charming image of equestrienne performance was the subject of a 1925 one sheet by Old Erie Litho advertising Sparks Circus, which began in the 1890s as the John H. Sparks Old Virginia Shows. It was a wagon show that toured the southern United States, and it grew in size until by 1916 it was a 15-car railroad show. At 26 by 40 inches, this poster was bid to $6,250.
From 1896 through 1911, the Adam Forepaugh and Sells Brothers Circus was a major American circus, according to the online source www.circusesandsideshows.com. Its name was taken in part from Adam Forepaugh, who was a major competitor of P.T. Barnum and Ringling Brothers. After his death Forepaugh’s circus was purchased by James A. Bailey, and was operated as an independent show for three years. In 1894 Bailey leased the Forepaugh name to two circus proprietors, Joseph T. MacCaddon and James P. Anderson who used the name as the title of a one-ring circus but with limited success. The title was temporarily retired in 1895 but in 1896 Bailey entered into partnership with the Sells brothers, (Ephraim, Lewis and Peter Sells) and formed the Adam Forepaugh and Sells Bros Circus. A one-sheet Forepaugh & Sells Circus poster by Strobridge Litho, 1902, with the image of a tiger overlooking an equestrienne rider went out at $4,375. With brilliant colors, it was professionally conserved on linen, measuring 29 by 38¾ inches.
Early Twentieth Century American fascination with Orientalism was evoked by a one sheet Barnum & Bailey Circus poster featuring “The Supreme Pageant Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp.” The 1917 poster by Strobridge Litho was unrestored but retained brilliant colors. Mounted on linen, 20 by 40 inches, it outperformed its $800-$1,200 estimate to bring $3,438.
Not colorful but eminently compelling was a loose-leaf facsimile of the last will and testament of John Ringling (1866-1936), the American entrepreneur who is the best known of the seven Ringling brothers, five of whom merged the Barnum & Bailey Circus with their own Ringling Bros World’s Greatest Shows to create traveling circuses. Ringling’s entrepreneurial skills helped to make him, in the Roaring Twenties, one of the richest men in America, with an estimated worth of nearly $200 million. Containing approximately 100 pages, the document surpassed its $200/400 and rose to $3,125.
Fetching the same amount was a Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey Circus poster featuring “Berta Beeson, The Mad-Cap Whirlwind Of The Mid-Air” madly pirouetting against an intense blue background. Cataloged as “a real beauty,” the 1923 one sheet by Strobridge Litho was professionally conserved on linen and measured 28¼ by 42 inches.
A high wire circus act known as the spiral ball walk was a dangerous and physically demanding presentation that was brought to new heights in the 1880s and 1890s. When the Ringling Brothers played Chicago for the first time in 1895, an aerialist by the name of Achille Philion was hired as an additional attraction to generate publicity and draw spectators. The globe-walker moved up a 50-foot spiral, then out onto a long cable roadway and finally descended amid an elaborate shower of fireworks. The daredevil performer is depicted in a lithograph, “Achille Philion/An Attraction Without a Parallel,” 1899. Printed by The Courier Co, Buffalo, N.Y., and professionally conserved on linen, the 28½-by-42-inch one sheet ascended to $2,500.
The main attraction in this sale, of course, are the colorful and graphically strong posters, but bidders for serious collections were equally eager to avail themselves of circus-related archives on offer and there were several among the top performing lots.
From the estate of Gracie Hanneford, a historical lot comprising material belonging to her mother, Grace (“Poodles”) Hanneford, included photographs, a 1916 day book diary, an autograph book with signatures from 1920 N.Y. Hippodrome, a Rudy Rudynoff autograph from 1933, a personal photo scrapbook, a souvenir scrapbook, loose scrapbook pages and more sold for $2,987.
A run of 14 Bradbury annotated circus photo books made a total of $4,662. The scrapbooks carried annotations from the Joseph Bradbury (American, 1921-2002) collection. Bradbury was a leading circus historian whose circus photograph archive was used in his research and writings.
The winning bidder of one archive lot would have to dust off their VHS video player. A vast circus video archive was described as “almost overwhelming,” an accumulation of approximately 200 original VHS videotapes, containing somewhere between 400 and 500 collective hours; possibly more, of rare, unusual, unseen and archival footage, gathered from all over the world. Included were theatrical agency promotional videos of acts seeking employment, privately shot documentations of countless circuses, large and small, sideshow features, animal acts, some carnival and burlesque shows, etc. In the lot, which achieved an above-estimate $2,500, there were vintage 8mm and 16mm film transfers, television news clips, broadcast specials and documentaries, plus a lot more. Cataloging described the archive as a gathering of four different sources, from well-known theatrical agents to notable circus historians and collectors. The age span of footage contained was eight decades or so dating back to as far as the early 1920s.
Another archive of clippings, photographs and promotional material related to The Three Famous Russells of Ohio. They were a trio – Osa and Babe Vonderhide and Ruben Rothgery – plying the circus route in the 1915-1930s. The act focused on knife throwing, juggling, comedy routines and trained dog acts. Estimated $600/900, the archive left the gallery at $3,125.
If circus props could talk, an antique wooden ventriloquist’s head would have plenty to say. Carved and painted, with articulating jaw and eyes, the head was 9 inches high and doubled its high estimate at $2,125.
Additional poster highlights included a Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey one sheet with an image of a trainer in an iron cage among wild animals, a 100-year-old poster from July 4, 1923, $2,000; a Christy Bros “Big Five Ring Wild Animal Circus” six sheet that went out at $2,375; a wonderfully graphic 1925 poster for John Robinson’s Circus, featuring four funsters pointing up at the title, realizing $2,000; and a G.F. Bailey & Co Circus & Menagerie poster depicting a herd of hippos along a riverbank, taking $1,875.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. Freedom’s next auction on March 11 will have a nautical flavor. For information, 941-725-2166 or www.freedomauctions.com.
September 26, 2023
September 26, 2023
September 26, 2023
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