Potter & Potter Auctions’ Can’t-Miss Late Fall Sales Event To Present
The Full Contents of Johnny Fox’s Freakatorium.
Fox’s Barnumesque museum featured natural and unnatural oddities, many related to circus sideshow performers and attractions, as well as historical objets d’art, stage illusions, photographs, and tabloid style ephemera.
Chicago, Il, – Potter & Potter Auctions is pleased to announce their almost 700 lot Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox Auction to be held on Saturday, November 10, 2018 starting at 10am at the company’s gallery, located at 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60613. Renowned sword swallower, magician, and performer John Robert Fox (1953-2017) amassed a huge spectrum of grotesque, bizarro, and surreal curiosities which he displayed at his Freakatorium, “El Museo Loco,” in New York City from 1999-2005. All of these wonders will be on display and available for preview on Thursday, November 8th and Friday, November 9th from 10:00am to 5:00pm in the Potter & Potter facility.
Many of the sale’s top lots are associated with the big top and other traveling entertainment venues of the 19th and 20th century. Lot #1, a brightly painted sideshow banner by the “Picasso” of circus art Fred Johnson (1892-1990) is estimated at $4,000-6,000. Titled Freaks Past and Present, this c. 1950 piece from the O’Henry Tent & Awning Company of Chicago measures 115” x 316” and depicts an array of famous sideshow acts, including a three-legged man, a two-headed man, a frog boy, and others. The images are flanked by bright panels of text. Lot #15, a Snap Wyatt Studios c. 1945 Freaks. Alive entrance-type canvas sideshow banner is estimated at $3,000-5,000. This 100-½” x 342” masterpiece features sideshow attractions such as the alligator skin lady, a conehead, a sword swallower, and more. It is branded with two stenciled Snap Wyatt logos. Lot #338, a color lithograph depicting Jumbo the elephant giving kids rides on his back is estimated at $3,000-5,000. This c. 1882 linen backed poster measures 37” x 31” and was produced by Strobridge of Cincinnati. Lot #334, a linen backed color lithograph entitled P.T. Barnum’s and Great London Combined. Santa Claus in His Royal Chariot of State is estimated at $1,200-1,500. This c. 1880s example, also by Strobridge, shows Father Christmas distributing toys to a crowd of children, along with two reindeer and a driver. It measures 35-¼” x 29-¼”. And lot #56, thirteen signs for the Freakatorium – based on legacy circus and sideshow themes – are estimated at $400-600. These sheet metal signs were painted by Adrian Clara and include a 39” x 53” “Cabinet of Curiosities” sign and a dozen smaller exhibition placards.
Fox’s New York City Freakatorium museum remarkably showcased over 1,000 oddities within a 500 square foot venue. These objects ranged from antique to modern, organic to configured, and functional to made purely for shock value.
Items featuring human or animal body parts have a leg up in this collection. Lot #559, a c. 16th century pre-Columbian human skull from Oaxaca, Mexico is estimated at $1,000-1,500. Its eyes are covered in seashell discs. The skull is believed to be of the Zapotec culture, an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca in Mesoamerica over 2,500 years ago. Lot #293, a collection of seven life sized wax arms and hands from various museum wax figures is estimated at $80-125. These were likely made by Gems of London in Great Britain in the 1960s. Lot #645, a human head on a sword sideshow illusion, is estimated at $500-1,000. This curiosity features a disembodied human head – alive, talking, and moving – sitting on the blade of a sword resting across the arms of a large wooden chair. And lot #281, a 12” long “Fiji Mermaid” made by Mark Frierson of Tampa in c. 1999 is estimated at $300-400. This desiccated, mythical creature – first introduced to the world in 1842 by P.T. Barnum at his Barnum’s American Museum – is assembled from a hairy man’s head, human arms, lizard like claws, a torso with exterior ribbing, and a fish tail.
Can’t-look-away antiquities, props, and artifacts from the Freakatorium are certain to also capture worldwide attention through this sale. Lot #282, a collection of various wooden items carved by Charles Tripp (1855-1930) using his feet is estimated at $1,000-1,500. Tripp was born without arms, but nevertheless managed to become a skilled carpenter and calligrapher. The lot includes two pairs of wooden scissors, a wooden chain with twenty-six links and a three-piece clasp, two carpenter’s dividers, a monogram for James H. Boyer – the person for whom the items were carved – as well as two postcards and a cabinet photo. Lot #533, a 1763 coffin-shaped wood container for holy relics, is estimated at $800-1,200. This reliquary is decorated with a glass front bounded by gilt roping and oval compartments and includes ex-ossibus relics of eight saints. Its back features an attestation from the Abbott of St. Matthias’ Church Parish in Genoa, Italy, dated August 14, 1763, indicating that the relics were authenticated on April 11, 1619 by Abbott D. Fabiano Richerio. Lot #247, a finely made miniature boot reportedly owned by Charles S. Stratton, better known as Tom Thumb (1838-1883) is estimated at $500-750. The footwear is detailed with rose-colored leather lining and a floral pattern stamped in the sole. It measures about 6-¾” high and 4-¾” long and is accompanied by a typed exhibit card bearing a brief bio of Tom Thumb, and stating, “This boot was worn by him.” And lot #650, Fox’s “Cracker Shooting” helmet prop, is estimated at $400-600. This repurposed WWI helmet was used by Fox for his version of the stunt made famous by Vaudeville showman Kar-Mi (Joseph Hallworth, 1872-1956), in which the performer swallows a loaded gun barrel, then shoots a cracker off of the head of an audience volunteer with the bullet.
This Freakatorium auction, like many of Potter & Potter’s world-class events, includes a number of important archives. These collections of primary source materials are ideal for academic institutions, historical societies, specialty museums, or independent researchers. Lot #261, an archive of materials from Robert Marshall, better known as Marshall the Mystic (1876-1943) is estimated at $2,000-3,000. Marshall performed variously as a hat juggler, magician, pantomimist, and medical lecturer. This collection includes approximately 100 photographs, as well as snapshots, postcards, glass negatives, drawings, and about 100 additional pieces of performance ephemera. Lot #39, an archive of Johnny Eck “Half Boy” materials from the 1920s -60s is estimated at $800-1,200. John Eckhardt (1911-1991) was born without the lower half of his torso yet managed to overcome this enormous disability to become a world-famous sideshow performer, as well as a movie actor, artist, musician, photographer, illusionist, penny arcade owner, Punch and Judy operator, and expert model maker. Eck’s archive includes thirteen original photographs, two original typed signed letters, and additional photocopied letters. And lot #264, an archive of research on human oddities collected by William Woodworth of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is estimated at $800-1,200. This cache, collected over the 1880s-1920s timeframe, includes manuscripts, clippings, photographs, cabinet cards, and letters detailing Woodworth’s study of human oddities, including Siamese twin and humans with missing legs and other mutations.
Books, photographs, drawings, and other ephemeral items helped the Freakatorium tell its stories through these time-capsule materials. Lot #241, a book entitled Greatest Wonder On Earth. Jo! Jo! The Dog Faced Man. published in c. 1882 by Popular Publishing of New York is estimated at $250-350. This rare, eight page book features hand-colored pictorial wrappers and was most likely sold after Jo Jo’s (Fedor Adrianovich Jeftichew, 1868-1904) performances on the Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson circus sideshow. Lot #94, two silver prints of albino sword swallower Lady Sandra Reed from c. 1970, are estimated at $1,000-1,500. They are attributed to photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) and include one shot of the performer kneeling and the second with a sword raised in preparation for the attempt. The prints are believed to be unique, and are accompanied by a note of provenance by Reed. Reed held the world’s record for the number of swords swallowed by a woman. And lot #390, a whiteprint plan for Coney Island’s famous “The Whip” carnival ride, is estimated at $600-800. Originally patented and manufactured in 1915, this plan details the 1918 iteration of W.F. Mangels’ most famous ride invention. This sale includes about ten early 20th century ride plans created by Mangels for Coney Island’s emerging entertainment business.
This grand event rounds out with robust offerings of taxidermy, antiques, artwork, and selections that simply defy conventional categories. Lot #245, a brass “Champion Strong Woman of the World “ trophy belt presented to Minerva (Josephine Blatt., c. 1869-1923) by Richard K. Fox of The Police Gazette in 1893 New York is estimated at $3,000-5,000. Lot #43, a detailed illustration of a barber and wig shop, executed entirely in human hair, is estimated at $600-900. This French work, dating from the 19th century, measures 26” x 22-½” and features a distracted barber with straight razor in hand, a wary customer, a wig restorer at work, and other characters. And bidders are certain to lock horns over lot #287, a “unicorn skull” made by artist Mark Frierson in 1999. It was the displayed at the Freakatorium under a banner reading “skulls are extremely rare and this particular specimen is only one of a handful known to exist in the world today. It was uncovered from beneath the ruins of an ancient medieval castle in Europe.” The unicorn skull is estimated at $500-700 and includes its original Freakatorium signage.
According to Gabe Fajuri, President at Potter & Potter Auctions, “Johnny Fox was a true lover of the sideshow, circus, and traveling showbiz life he lived, paying homage to and studying the stories of his predecessors at his museum and through his collection. That shows through on every page of the auction catalog, which is as much a tribute to Johnny himself as it is a sale of unusual artifacts. Johnny’s collection was truly unusual and defies categorization, which means there is something for every lover of the unusual in this sale, from banners and broadsides, to chupacabra dioramas, tattooed man photos, sideshow banners, and relics from the best of Barnum’s circus sideshows. This is one sale without comparison – and that’s no ballyhoo.”
Potter & Potter, founded in 2007, is a Chicago area auction house specializing in paper Americana, vintage advertising, rare books, playing cards, gambling memorabilia, posters, fine prints, vintage toys, and magicana – antiques and collectibles related to magic and magicians. The company’s next sale, featuring hundreds of important vintage travel posters, will be held on December 1, 2018. For more information, please see www.potterauctions.com. Follow us on Facebook (potterandpotterauctions), Twitter (PnPAuctions), and Instagram (potterauctions).
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Freaks Past and Present
Johnny Eck “Half Boy” Archive
The Barbershop Lesson, French Hair Art
Hand-Painted Signs for Johnny Fox’s Freakatorium
Albino Sword Swallower
Greatest Wonder On Earth. Jo! Jo! The Dog Faced Man
Minerva Champion Strong Woman Trophy Belt
Tom Thumb’s Leather Boot
Marshall the Mystic Archive
Archive of Research on Human Oddities
Charles Tripp “Armless Wonder” Carvings and Correspondence
Arms and Hands for Wax Museum Figures
P.T. Barnum’s and Great London Combined
Jumbo the Pride of the British Heart
Plan Number 2 “The Whip” Whiteprint
A 1763 Coffin-Shaped Reliquary
Pre-Columbian Human Skull
Head on Sword Sideshow Illusion
Johnny Fox’s “Cracker Shooting” Helmet