ARTS & CULTURE

Rare Photos Of What The Circus Looked Like Nearly A Century Ago

02/06/2015 08:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2015

The circus has always been a space rife with visual splendor. Long before a certain FX anthology series brought "freak shows" into the pop culture conversation, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey made clowns and acrobats essential elements of entertainment when they merged in 1919. In fact, together, they amounted to "The Greatest Show on Earth."

clowns

Sale 2374 Lot 33: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) "Congress of Clowns." Panoramic silver print, 11 1/8x19 5/8inches (28.3x49.9 cm.), with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and with 2 duplicate examples of his Century Circus Photographer hand stamp on verso. 1935. Estimate $3,000 - 4,500. From the Collection of Alan Siegel. This print has been exhibited at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. One Man's Eye: Photographs from the Alan Siegel Collection, p. 40.

From bearded ladies to sword swallowers to contortionists, circus performers presented feats of strength and oddity rarely seen elsewhere. This month, a series of vintage circus photographs by Edward Kelty are hitting the auction block, offering panoramic group portraits of clowns and gilded acrobatic formations to collectors in New York City. The monochromatic images, part of the collection of Alan Siegel, range from $2,000 to $25,000. They were originally snapped in the 1920s and '30s. One particularly unique photograph reveals an X-ray of Ajax, a sword swallower, swallowing a sword.

Take a look at the photos below. Head over to Swann Auction Galleries' website for more information on the sale, set to take place on February 19.

  • Sale 2374 Lot 30: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) "Celebrating 'Ringling Golden Jubilee' Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show." Panoramic silver print, 11 1/8x19 1/2 inches (28.3x49.5 cm.), with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and with 2 duplicate examples of his Century Flashlight Photographers hand stamp on verso. 1933. Estimate $4,000 - 6,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 31: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) "Marcellus Golden Models." Silver print, 11 1/4x8 7/8 inches (28.6x22.5 cm.), with Kelty's credit and title in the negative, and with 2 duplicate examples of his Century Circus Photographer hand stamp on verso. 1933. Estimate $2,000 - 3,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 34: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower. Silver print, 18x11 inches (45.7x27.9 cm.), with a New York X-ray lab credit in the negative, and with 2 duplicate examples of his Century Flashlight Photographers hand stamp on verso. 1928. Estimate $2,000 - 3,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 38: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 8 stunning panoramic photographs of the circus, with the Hanneford Family, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Executive Staff, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus workers, George Denman and his Staff, Tommy Atkins and his Riding Maids, James Whalen and his Big Top Department, the Congress of the World's Rough Riders, and a copy of a montage of the Sells-Floto Circus staff. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), most with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and each with 2 duplicate examples of one of his hand stamps on verso; 2 with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1929-35. Estimate $12,000 - 18,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel. One Man's Eye: Photographs from the Alan Siegel Collection, pp. 166-67.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 32: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) "Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey (Combined) Circus" (clowns behind Madison Square Garden). Cyanotype, 7 3/8x9 1/4 inches (23.8x23.5 cm); with International Center of Photography and Bonni Benrubi labels on frame verso. Circa 1925. Estimate $4,000 - 6,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 37: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 7 stellar panoramic photographs, comprising the U.S.W.P.A. Federal Theatre Circus Unit, a Ringling Golden Jubilee group portrait, a Hagenbeck-Wallace group shot, a group of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey clowns, Bostock's Wild Animal Circus, Tim McCoy's Congress of Rough Riders, and world-renowned acrobats. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), each with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and each with 2 duplicate examples of his hand stamp on verso; 2 with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1932-36. Estimate $15,000 - 25,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 35: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 3 panoramic photographs of ladies of the circus, with Mary Ellen Ketrow-Star of Kay Bros. Circus, Queens of the Air; and Col. W.T. Johnson's World Champion Cowgirls. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), each with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and 2 with 2 duplicate examples of his Century Circus Photographer hand stamp on verso; one with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1935-36. Estimate $4,000 - 6,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel. The photograph of Col. W.T. Johnson's World Champion Cowgirls was exhibited at the International Center for Photography.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 36: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 4 animal-centric circus panoramas, with elephants out front of the Cole Brothers-Clyde Beatty Circus, an exterior shot of Sam B. Dill's Circus with horses in the background, an interior look at the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus with elephants lying down and a full audience in attendance, and an interior view of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Menagerie with elephants, zebras, camels, and giraffes. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), each with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and each with 2 of his hand stamps on verso; 2 with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1933-35. Estimate $5,000 - 7,500. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 38: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 8 stunning panoramic photographs of the circus, with the Hanneford Family, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Executive Staff, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus workers, George Denman and his Staff, Tommy Atkins and his Riding Maids, James Whalen and his Big Top Department, the Congress of the World's Rough Riders, and a copy of a montage of the Sells-Floto Circus staff. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), most with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and each with 2 duplicate examples of one of his hand stamps on verso; 2 with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1929-35. Estimate $12,000 - 18,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel. One Man's Eye: Photographs from the Alan Siegel Collection, pp. 166-67.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 35: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 3 panoramic photographs of ladies of the circus, with Mary Ellen Ketrow-Star of Kay Bros. Circus, Queens of the Air; and Col. W.T. Johnson's World Champion Cowgirls. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), each with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and 2 with 2 duplicate examples of his Century Circus Photographer hand stamp on verso; one with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1935-36. Estimate $4,000 - 6,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel. The photograph of Col. W.T. Johnson's World Champion Cowgirls was exhibited at the International Center for Photography.
  • Sale 2374 Lot 37: KELTY, EDWARD J. (1888-1967) Group of 7 stellar panoramic photographs, comprising the U.S.W.P.A. Federal Theatre Circus Unit, a Ringling Golden Jubilee group portrait, a Hagenbeck-Wallace group shot, a group of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey clowns, Bostock's Wild Animal Circus, Tim McCoy's Congress of Rough Riders, and world-renowned acrobats. Silver prints, each approximately 11 1/4x19 5/8 inches (28.6x49.9 cm.), each with Kelty's credit, title, and date in the negative, and each with 2 duplicate examples of his hand stamp on verso; 2 with an International Center for Photography label on frame verso. 1932-36. Estimate $15,000 - 25,000. From the Collection of Alan Siegel.


All images are courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

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