Roll Up, Roll Up...
Come take a look at the objects that once thrilled holidaymakers in traditional seaside attractions, fairgrounds and the circus.
From hand-painted traditional signs to knock down heads, this article offers all the fun of the fair...and then some!
It’s certainly not hard to see the appeal of fairground antiques and here we show items either currently for sale, recently sold or, in some cases “not for sale” and never will be as they are treasured in their owner’s private collection. These are objects that either appeal to our fond childhood memories or fill us with a strange curiosity, either way they are of real historical and artistic interest.
With the advent of plastic and machine-printed signage, traditional sign-painting skills are rapidly dis- appearing. The techniques and styles of these pieces are no longer being passed down the generations and consequently are under threat of being lost forever. And while the artistic skills vary from the quaintly amateur to high quality craftsmanship, just a single accent piece can add a charming dimension to any design scheme. Showmen would regularly modernise their rides and stalls by over-painting with new colours and imagery, reflecting ever-changing tastes and trends in popular culture, so early pieces that bear the patina of decades of travelling are of course particularly prized.
If you’re thinking about buying into this look, about half the things that come up for sale nowadays are from collectors, and about half from “sources”. The network of contacts among showmen and ex-showmen across the country has been built up over years, and most of the treasure stays amongst them! Be warned: a fairground collection can quickly outgrow the available space...
We asked a handful of dealers who collect such items, and know more about the subject than most, what is it that attracts them to these fairground curiosities?