A stunning Barnum & Bailey circus wagon that toured America as part of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ topped an auction of historic Americana at Heritage this week.
The carved wooden wagon had once taken pride of place in circus parades across the U.S, and sold for a record price of $250,000.
“This was simply the biggest, grandest, and most famous of all circus wagons," said Tom Slater, Director of Americana Auctions at Heritage, "and it is only fitting that its selling price far eclipsed what any other circus wagon has ever fetched at auction."
Built in 1903, the Two Hemispheres wagon measured 28 ft long, weighed 13,000 pounds, and required a team of up to 40 horses to pull it along.
It was lavishly decorated with relief carving from the workshop of Samuel Robb, best known as one of the premier makers of 19th century cigar store Indians. It was originally commissioned by Barnum & Bailey to celebrate its return to the U.S following a grand world tour, and features seals on each side representing the different countries the circus has performed in.
According to Heritage, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of the "Two Hemispheres" as an icon of American popular culture.
“Twenty-first century Americans, virtually inundated with an endless variety of events, activities, and entertainment may find it hard to envision a world in which the arrival of the circus in town was something anticipated for months and, when the magical day came, the focal point of the entire community.
“The arrival of the circus was always heralded by a grand parade through town, featuring everything from acrobats to elephants, but always the colorful large wagon which carried a brass band. The bandwagon provided the music for the event, and was in a very real sense, the heart and soul of the circus parade.”
Having been used until the 1930s, the wagon had then spent a decade in disrepair before being rescued and restored by Colonel B. J. Palmer. It had later been pulled by a tank as part of the Heroes’ Day Parade and 7th War Bond Rally at Davenport in June 1945, and then spent years on display at the the Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota, Florida.
It is now hoped the historic wagon will once again be exhibited to the public, as a grand, gilded relic from a golden age in U.S history.
"The buyer prefers to remain anonymous until he formally announces his plans for the "Two Hemispheres", said Slater, "but we can disclose that he flew to Dallas from his home in Canada just to bid on the bandwagon, and went home a very happy collector."