Older Circus Photos Bring Higher Prices
Miss Uno was a snake charmer with Adam Forepaugh Shows. Even though she doesn’t have her snake in this cabinet card photo, the image sold for $33 in 2008.
In a previous article Circus Photos I wrote about circus photographs and their values. Another article on Side Show collectibles highlighted pitch cards and photos of human oddities. So now, let’s talk about another group of much older photos, including ambrotypes, tintypes, cabinet card photos, carte de visite portraits (CDVs) and stereo photos.
The difference between CDVs and cabinet cards is sometimes confusing. Both are albumen photographs applied to cards. The carte de visite always measure approximately 2 ½ by 4 inches. It was literally a visiting card. Special albums were made to hold these cards and were displayed in most Victorian parlors. Many freaks of nature were the subject of CDVs, particularly those exhibited in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. The CDV was most popular in America during the 1860s and early 1870s. By the early 1870s, the cabinet card began to replace the CDV. Cabinet cards typically measure 4 ½ by 6 ½ inches. They were most popular from 1870 through 1895, but were produced through the early 1920s. Cabinet cards featured human oddities as well as circus performers.
The value of CDVs and cabinet card photos are based on the subject matter and the photographer. The well-known Civil War photographer Matthew Brady often photographed performers and oddities exhibited by P.T. Barnum. And why not? Brady’s photo studio was across the street from Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. Brady’s CDV images of Barnum’s curiosities, and even a portrait of Barnum himself, sell for around $100. However, one of Barnum’s most famous attractions, General Tom Thumb, was photographed so frequently that some of his CDVs can be purchased for as little as $10 to $25. CDVs of Tom Thumb and his wedding pose with Lavinia Warren often have signatures of the pair on the reverse side, but the signatures are printed.
This unidentified wirewalker is seen walking across Niagara Falls. The card sold for only $20 in 2006.
A stereo card image of a circus parade in Chicago in 1892 sold for $30 in 2006.
These two images of the Cooper, Bailey & Co.’s Great International Ten Allied Shows In One are extremely rare.
Both show the interior of the menagerie tent in 1876-77. Each of these stereo cards is valued at $400-$500. The one with the giraffe is most valuable.
Millie & Christine McKoy were Siamese Twins billed as the Two-Headed Nightingale. This cabinet card photo sold last year (2008) for $141.
Popular cabinet card photos were created by Charles Eisenmann and later, by Frank Wendt, who took over the Eisenmann New York studio in 1893. Wendt’s photos were sometimes used by performers as trade cards or souvenirs that were sold to the general public. Some Wendt cabinet cards are actually earlier Eisenmann images, reprinted with the Wendt studio identification.
Circus-related ambrotypes and tintypes are difficult to find and seldom sell for less than $100. A tintype of an unnamed side show snake charmer sold for $503 in 2008. An ambrotype image of the Siamese Twins Chang & Eng sold for $1,426 this year (2009). Stereo photos can range from $20 to hundreds of dollars. It just depends on the image.
Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.
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