Circus, sideshow memorabilia capture bidders' imaginations

Potter & Potter Auctions' Nov. 12 circus and sideshow memorabilia auction resonated with bidders. The collection of 'Freakatorium' proprietor Johnny Fox fetched more than $500,000.
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All sales were made during Potter & Potter Auctions' Nov. 12 auction. The auction, aptly titled “Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox,” who was the proprietor of New York City’s
El Museo Loco, earned a total of $544,000.

Albino Lady Sword Swallower Photos, $28,800

Albino Lady Sword Swallower Photos, $28,800

Getting right to the point, lot #94, a collection of two circa 1970 silver prints of sword swallower Lady Sandra Reed was the top lot in the sale. Estimated at $1,000-$1,500, they realized $28,800. The photos are attributed to photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) and included one shot of the performer kneeling and the second with a sword raised in preparation for the attempt. The prints were believed to be unique, and were accompanied by a note of provenance by Reed. Research shows that this is a record price for the most expensive sideshow item sold at public auction. Other ephemera highlights from the sale included lot #198, an 1880s Wild West Beacon Park season program listing William Cody as Buffalo Bill and Dr. W.F. Carver as an evil spirit in a wild west show, and lot #428, an American Circus broadside from 1846 advertising various equine acts. Each was estimated at $200-300 and made $2,640 – almost 9 times their high estimate!

Freaks. Alive. Banner, $11,400

Freaks. Alive. Banner, $11,400

Sideshow banners a hit!

Big top and sideshow banners also headlined this auction both in size and sales. Lot #15, circa 1945 Freaks. Alive. canvas sideshow banner was estimated at $3,000-5,000 and realized $11,400. This enormous masterpiece featured sideshow attractions such as the alligator skin lady, a conehead, and a sword swallower.

Lot #12, a Magic. Alive. sideshow banner painted with a half-length portrait of a magician in white tie and tails producing cards, birds, and bats soared to $7,800. Both of these were painted by the Snap Wyatt studios in the 1940s. And lot #35, a c. 2000 Frierson Studios miniature sideshow banner featuring a two headed calf generated 30 bids and $2,125.

All images courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions, Chicago

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