Bidding Past Midnight at Freedom Auction Co. Circus

Bidding Past Midnight at Freedom Auction Co. Circus

Pre auction photo
Showrooms filled with Circus Memorabilia, waiting for the auction to begin.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Circus historians, collectors, and enthusiasts turned into passionate bidders at the recent Winter Auction of Circus Collectibles on February 12, 2022, in Sarasota, Florida. Freedom Auction Company’s annual circus auction realized more than $400,000, a record according to Freedom Auction’s owner Brian Hollifield.

“The auction marathon went on for nearly 14 hours,” Hollifield said. “It wasn’t so much the volume of items, but rather the frenzied bidding activity that kept us all on the edges of our seats.” The auction was online and live at the auction house. The most enthusiastic bidders stayed past midnight and into early Sunday morning.

Last year, I reported on the 2021 annual circus auction with a Worthpoint article, “Freedom Auction Company Circus Auction Brings Big Bucks.” This year’s auction doubled the bidding from last year. All prices listed in this article include the 25% buyer’s premium.

Besides the items that come in from around the country, this year’s auction featured the collections of the Woodcock and Ballantine families.

William “Buckles” Woodcock is a legendary elephant trainer and circus performer. Together with his wife Barbara Woodcock, they performed with many circuses, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

For more than a decade, circus fans have looked forward to reading Buckle’s Blog, “a discussion of Circus History all over the world.” Unfortunately, the blog is no longer active, but 15 years of posts are still on the internet.

This year’s circus auction included countless items from the Woodcock Family Collection—books, programs, couriers, photos, ephemera of all types, equipment, wardrobe, and the oversized “wardrobe” worn by their famous performing elephant Anna May.

Buckles woodcock wardrobe
The 108th Edition of Ringling Bros. Greatest Show on Earth featured wardrobe designed by Don Foote and executed by Brooks Van Horn Costumes in New York. Buckles’ outfit sold for $7,500.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Buckles wardrobe rbbb spec
A scene from the Ringling-Barnum 108th Edition spec. Buckles is in costume in the upper right.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Barbara woodcock wardrobe
Barbara Woodcock’s 108th Edition wardrobe was also designed by Don Foote and created by Brooks Van Horn. This outfit sold for $4,375.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Barbara backyard
Barbara Woodcock in the backyard of Ringling-Barnum Circus between shows.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Anna may headpiece
Yes, you could say that a headpiece is part of an elephant’s “wardrobe.” This one worn by the Woodcock elephant, Anna May, sold for $5,937.50.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Anna may performing
Anna May performing with her elephant friends in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She is famous for her many appearances on TV and in the motion picture The Big Circus with Victor Mature.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Circus photos are highly collectible, especially those from Edward J. Kelty. The Woodcock collection included 18 Kelty photos bringing in nearly $12,000.

Kelty side show photo
The Edward Kelty photo of the 1934 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Side Show realized $3,437.50.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Besides the Kelty photos, the Woodcock collection had approximately 20 lots of miscellaneous photographs—hundreds in all. Those lots brought nearly $7,000. In addition, there was a collection of Wild West photos with a winning bid of $2,375.

Wild west photos
The Wild West photo lot from the Woodcock collection included images of Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill, 101 Ranch, and more.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Among the Woodcock programs were three Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Programs—always very desirable. One was a 1909 program for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West combined with Pawnee Bill’s Far East.

Buffalo bill pawnee bill program
The combined Bill’s Program brought $1,125.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Bill Ballantine was a writer, artist, and professional clown, having run away to join Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in the 1940s. His articles about the circus appeared in magazines of the day such as Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Colliers, Holiday, and True—more than 400 articles in all.

Later he became a publicist for Ringling and, in the 1950s, redesigned Ringling’s midway. His many books include Wild Tigers and Tame Fleas, Horses and Their Bosses, and Clown Alley. Clown Alley is the story of his eight years (1969-1977) as dean of Ringling’s Clown College.

Bill was a good friend. Several years ago, I did a humorous Worthpoint story, P.T. Barnum: An Accidental Collectible, about Bill painting his clown face on a bust of P.T. Barnum.

The Freedom Auction from the Ballantine collection included some of Bill’s original artwork, clown shoes, and some photos. Still, the most important was a collection of 1,000 photo slides of clown college clowns, performers, circuses. Many images show activity behind the scenes.

Ballantine photo slides 1
Bill Ballantine’s collection of 1,000 slides includes many taken when he was Dean of the Ringling-Barnum Clown College. The collection sold for $6,562.50.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Circus superstars have been few and far between. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Lillian Leitzel was one of those celebrities. She was a center-ring star with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. During the off-season, in February 1931, she was performing in Europe when she fell from her aerial rigging and died two days later.

Leitzel photo
Lillian Leitzel poses for a photo outside her private dressing tent in the backyard of the circus. This 8 x 10 original photo sold for $1,125.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Leitzel shoe
Petit Lillian Leitzel wore a size 4 shoe. This single shoe was auctioned for $875.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

The highlight of every circus auction is the bidding for the colorful lithographs printed and posted to advertise the coming show. This year’s auction featured 300 posters, with 45 selling for $1,000 or more. Below are a few of the top sellers.

H w statues lot 511
This 1934 Hagenbeck-Wallace litho brought the highest auction price—$12,500. The one-sheet poster promoted the living statues, a popular act of the 1920s-30s.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
H w 3 sheet lot 102
The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus poster shown here is a three-sheet promoting the waltzing horses of Rudy Rudynoff, “Tiny Mite,” the world’s smallest hippo, and a riding act. It sold for $7,812.50.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Rbbb lot 198
Three rings filled with performing elephants, clowns, dancing girls, and a parade of other performers. This one-sheet Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus poster from 1932 sold for $5,000.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
Rbbb elephants lot 1
Elephants have always been favorites of circus audiences. In this poster, I count 40 ponderous pachyderms. The poster says there are five herds. The Ringling poster sold for $4,062.50.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.
H w hannefords lot 510
The Hannefords featuring “Poodles” Hanneford are featured on this 1931 Hagenbeck-Wallace litho. The selling price was $4,062.50.
Photo Freedom Auction Company.

Freedom Auction Company has two circus auctions each year. You can see a complete recap of this auction by clicking the link: 2/12/2022 Circus Memorabilia Auction. The next auction will be in the summer at a time to be announced and will feature The Gordon Turner Collection.

For more than 50 years, Larry Kellogg has done research projects and consulting work with the Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, part of the state-owned John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. For over 35 years, he worked with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, much of that time as a regional publicist for the show. One year of that time he was Communications Manager for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World Theme Park in Central Florida. Larry has been interested in and has collected circus memorabilia since he was a young boy.

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