These cool pieces of circus history will be available to purchase at an estate sale in West Allis (part of Milwaukee), Wisconsin. Sale starts Monday, July 27, 2015. My parents, No Egrets Antiques & Estate Sales, are running this sale. More info and photos here and here. If you like circus memorabilia, don’t be a bozo and miss it!
Featured here are a poster from The Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, 1992; a photo signed by Bozo the clown (to “Joey”), and, the most unique, a check signed by the legendary Emmett Kelly.
Of all the TV shows about antiques and collectibles, we’re still huge fans of History’s show Pawn Stars. So we were thrilled to receive a casting call announcement from the show — and turn it into an exclusive interview with the show’s Casting Director, Martin Hardy!
How does the casting process work?
We are always looking for real sellers of unique, new items and encourage anyone who is interested in selling or pawning an item to contacts us through our casting email: email@example.com. We get hundreds of submissions daily from potential sellers who are looking to sell their items on the show. Our casting department works very hard identifying rare and unique items that we have not shot with before but that also tell an interesting historical story.
Once we receive a great item that we feel is right for the show, we generally notify the seller to grab some more key information about it. Then we present it to the guys at the Gold &Silver Pawn shop to see if it is something that they would be interested in purchasing. Once we get the go ahead from Gold and Silver, we tell the seller their item has been approved and we schedule a date for them to come in.
Is there any compensation for being on the show? Do you pay for transportation, lodging?
Because we use real sellers of real items, we don’t provide any compensation for being on the show. Each seller has the opportunity of making a deal and being compensated for the purchase of their item.
We know that not everyone on the show sells their item; but does a person have to at least be willing to sell? Or can they just want to show off their item, get an appraisal, find out more information, (just meet the Pawn Stars!) etc.
At this time we are only able to cast sellers who are serious about selling their item. Of course they need to be comfortable with terms of the deal they reach with the shop, but we always hope they make a sale. We do not offer any appraisals for anyone who does not appear on the show with that item.
Are there any categories that you are more interested in than others?
At the moment we are really interested in anything that is rare and unique (books, autographed originals, artwork, historical documents and coins etc.)
Should a person get on the show, how much of a time commitment does it require?
Depending on the item, the filming of scenes generally last anywhere from 3-4 hours.
If you have something you think is rather rare and special — or wonder if it is, why not contact Martin and casting team? They’ll tell you if it makes the Pawn Stars grade. And we’ll all learn a little something along the way. More information is in the casting flyer below (click to see a larger version). You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org (and you can mention Inherited Values sent ya!)
The front page of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette for Tuesday, August 3rd, 1920, brought a mysterious story:
Diamond Merchant’s Sudden Death Closes Pages In Famous ‘Ghost Book’
Chicago, Aug. 5 — The sudden death of Samuel T.A. Loftis, millionaire diamond dealer, after a night of wine and taxis, has closed the pages of a famous “Ghost Book,’ which Loftis has kept up for 14 years.
The book was found in the dead man’s apartment. It’s pages are of glazed paper, which, after being written on, were creased down the middle, causing the writing to blot in a freakish double smear.
Loftis, friends say, gave credence to the significance of “ghost signatures.”
This verse occupies the front page of the “Ghost Book”:
“Shadows form in our ghostly past; Ho! Ho! young man. Ho! Ho! From forgotten graves they will rise at last; It is so, young man, it is so. You may run, you may dodge, you may Twist, you may bend, The flying phantoms win in the end; Ho! Ho! old man, Ho! Ho!”
No further explanation of his death is given, not even why a photograph of his ex-wife was made part of the story.
The late Mr. Loftis held the distinction of inventing a new business model for diamond dealing: selling directly to the public on credit. Loftis Bros. and Company advertised in large metropolitan newspapers, offering low monthly payments for fine diamond jewelry. Owning diamonds was now within the reach of the burgeoning middle-class, but excessive debt was also one facet of the beginnings of the lending crisis that brought on the Great Depression. Loftis’ business was launched shortly after DeBeers began their campaign to push diamonds into the forefront; Loftis’ credit system helped make the diamond the de facto wedding ring stone for people of any income.
A “ghost signature” is produced just as described in the Loftis article. The process was much more effective in the days of fountain pens, with slow-drying India ink and a loose method of depositing the ink. The ‘glazed paper’ helped the process by preventing the ink from soaking in. The book was held sideways and the subject was encouraged to sign the book on half of a page, in their official hand and leaving as much ink as possible. The page was creased in the middle and the page folded back upon itself, creating a Rorschach-like inkblot, something for the mind to interpret in innumerable ways. Faces, bodies, animals, spirits, and monsters all appeared in the squished and smeared John Hancocks of the willing contributors to a Ghost Signature book.
As you might have guessed, the business model of preying on the turn-of-the-century middle-class with a promise of acquiring unaffordable luxury doesn’t spring from the minds of well-balanced, altruistic people. In June of 1907, Samuel Loftis suffered a gunshot wound and a split scalp…caused by his brother, Joseph Loftis — one of the “Loftis Bros.” on the masthead — during a business meeting. Samuel Loftis had read a motion to remove his brother as vice president due to unignorable indiscretions; the secretary of the company, Loftis’ wife, seconded the motion. One dissenting ‘nay’, from the soon-to-be-ousted vice-president, wasn’t enough to overturn the motion. Joseph Loftis was discharged from his position, and in return he emptied all six chambers of his revolver in Samuel Loftis’ direction and then leapt upon the wounded president with the intent of finishing the job by beating him with the butt of the revolver.
Samuel Loftis declined to press charges. Joseph was sent west and was the head of the Loftis Bros.’ Omaha office until Samuel’s death.
In 1910, Clifford Loftis, the other member of the “Bros.”, was arrested, but acquitted, in the murder of Joseph Lafferty in Bakersfield, California. Lafferty had stopped Clifford from beating a horse, which resulted in a fistfight. Clifford wasn’t satisfied with the result and brought a gun along to renew the discussion the next day. The New York Times reported that Clifford, a cowhand at the time, had been sent west and left out of the diamond business “to get him away from the temptations of city life.”
Mark Twain wrote that the “last fad is ‘ghost – autographs.’ You write your name down the crease, then fold & press the paper while the ink is still wet & will blot. It generally makes something resembling a skeleton.” He had made one of his own in 1905 and sent it off to his daughter, Clara. The “fad” enjoyed a brief popularity at a time when autograph books were becoming passe. From the mid 19th century until the early 20th it was a friendly gesture to exchange or collect signatures in a little autograph book as a memento of friendships and other events. The mid-19th century also brought the fun artwork of “klecksographie,” popularized by the poet and artist Justinus Kerner. The “ghost signature” overlap of inkblot art and autograph exchanges wasn’t a lasting fad, but it held enough attraction to spawn custom hardbound books designed specifically for making ghost signatures, like the one owned by Samuel Loftis. At the height of the fad, around 1909, ghost autographs were solicited from presidents, dukes and dutchesses, and other celebrities.
In 1909, Samuel Loftis and his wife, Harmon — the company secretary — dissolved their marriage in a fit of hostility. Harmon cited abuse and neglect, stemming from Samuel publicly striking Harmon in the face at at the South Shore Country Club ballroom. Samuel responded by charging his wife with drunkenness and infidelity. The divorce was granted in 1912, and Harmon moved to California with a $125,000 check in her pocketbook.
Samuel, free of the shackles of marriage, set himself on a path marked by wine, women, and song, and his multi-million-dollar diamond business allowed him to afford all the indiscretions his heart desired. The housekeeper of his Chicago apartment described dozens of women coming and going over the months he resided in the apartment, which would prove to be his final residence. On August 30th, 1920, a drunk Samuel Loftis brought a girl to his apartment, Miss Ruth Woods, the fiancee of a business partner. By the end of the night, the fiancee, furrier Roy Shayne, was at the apartment, and Loftis was dead from a blow to the head. Woods claims she called Shayne for help after Loftis fell and hit his head on the floor. The story the police believed was that Loftis had attempted to ravage Miss Woods by force; she summoned Shayne for assistance, and a liquor bottle to the head ended Loftis’ conquest. An inquest was held, both Woods and Shayne were questioned, and when the inquest ended on August 4th the death was ruled accidental, due to a fall. On August 8th, ten days after Loftis’ death, Shayne and Woods were married in Milwaukee, after receiving a special dispensation to waive the five-day waiting period on Wisconsin marriage licenses.
The original, complete wire story about Loftis’ death included many more details of Woods’ and Shayne’s testimonies, and more information about Loftis’ life. Whether due to sloppy editing or a taste for the bizarre, most newspapers cropped the story down to end just where my quote above finishes: Loftis died, and he had a book of ghost signatures. The sensationalism of the reporter who composed the original wire story appears to have attempted to tie together the reckless life of the Loftis clan to the occultism of the 1920s, and to start a much longer story with an attention-getting zinger. Reporters visited crime scenes, and the book probably caught the eye of a beat reporter looking for something interesting to punch up the article. Loftis was probably just hip to the fads of the time, and used it as a conversation piece, collecting the autographs of friends and marveling at the mysterious shapes. Loftis’ actual life was far more sinister than the so-called “ghost book” of the news reports.
The poem the newspaper quoted from the forward of Loftis’ ghost book helps identify his book as The Ghosts of My Friends, the most common of the preprinted spirit autograph books from the first decade of the 20th century. The poem is by Gerald Villiers-Stuart, and appeared in his book The Soul of Croesus. Ghosts is attributed to Cecil Henland, who had made a name for herself by producing other books of the same format, with some front material and then blank pages for the purchaser to fill in, and in founding the National Society of Day-Nurseries. Henland married Lieut. Col. Arthur Percival at age 38 in 1907, but was widowed in World War I. Heland’s next most popular book was The Christmas Book, which included blank pages for people to write their wish-lists, and additional pages laid out to record the celebrations and events of the Christmas season.
The Ghosts of My Friends is somewhat common in online stores and websites, with the price varying quite wildly, but mostly sells for around $40. In 2009, a copy belonging to Fred Astaire, or someone in his family, was placed for auction and sold for several hundred dollars. Your Hidden Skeleton is less common and tends to bring a little higher price. People who own copies of either book tend to be rather proud of their ghost signatures, frequently posting samples online. If you’d like to make one of your own but without damaging an antique book, there is a company producing ghost autograph books similar to Cecil Henland’s, which can be purchased from Reflections of My Friends.
Along with being signed by the author no less than three times, this screenplay has a well documented history (primarily) in Rice’s newsletter, Commotion Strange, regarding the arduous process of getting the film underway — even though it had been optioned by producer David Geffen. A brief synopsis of the grief is given here by Rice herself, but the details are so complicated and frustrating, that it prompted Heritage Auctions cataloger Paula Bosse (who researched well) to say, “If ANNE RICE — one of the most popular novelists of our time — has this much trouble finding a home for her baby, how much more difficult is it for an unknown to get a project produced and released?”
We purchased a lot of ephemera from a dealer going out of business — and when I say “a lot,” I mean “a lot of boxes.” So many that we almost couldn’t fit boxes and the one slender child we had with us that day into the van. While we did manage to get all that belonged to us home, it took some time to be able to inspect each piece — and the investigation of each may never ever be completed because I love to research everything.
In fact, that’s part of my problem. I’m supposed to find something from these boxes to sell — to recoup some money, feed the kids, whatever. But I keep falling in love with things. Things I didn’t know existed. Things I don’t even know about enough to love them. But in the researching of them, I become utterly smitten.
Like this 8 x 6 3/4 inch piece of now quite tanned brittle paper. It charmed me with its illustration of a man playing piano — with a photo of a man’s head pasted in place (all printed in blue ink). The signature seemed authentic; the ink not mechanically reproduced but signed with a personalized “To Wayne.” But I wasn’t sure of the name, let alone if the guy was of any importance.
I quickly discovered this comical piece depicts and is signed by Vincent Lopez, one of America’s most popular bandleaders for decades.
In 1917, at the age of 19, Lopez was already leading his own dance band in New York City. In 1921 he began to leverage the power of the new medium, radio, into popularity — and he, in turn, helped create the popularity of radio.
He began his band’s weekly 90-minute radio show on Newark, NJ station WJZ by announcing, “Lopez speaking!” (The station and Lopez would become fixtures in the NBC family.) The show theme song was Felix Arndt’s novelty ragtime piece Nola, causing Lopez to became so identified with the song that he’d satirized it in his 1939 Vitaphone short, Vincent Lopez and his Orchestra, by having the entire band singing Down with Nola.
(Sadly, attempts to find a clip of this performance only resulted in “removed” notices at YouTube.)
In 1925, Lopez gave the first-ever Symphonic Jazz concert at the Metropolitan Opera House; later that same year, he took his orchestra to London and met with great success.
Comparable to Paul Whiteman, the “King of Jazz,” Lopez became one of the most popular musicians leading Big Band, dance bands, and/or jazz bands. Charles Hamm calls them “white ‘jazz’ bands,” saying they were of the Tin Pan Alley style of jazz as opposed to the “authentic” black jazz of the time. (In his book, Putting Popular Music in Its Place, Hamm notes that even performers like Josephine Baker had their music “mediated for consumption by white European audiences.”)
Many famous and still recognizable musicians passed through Vincent Lopez’s band, including Artie Shaw, Xavier Cugat, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller.
Lopez is also credited with giving Betty Hutton her first big break, resulting in both being showcased in two Warner Brothers’ Vitaphone shorts. Shot in New York in 1939, the following video clip of the afore mentioned Vitaphone performance features 18-year old Betty Hutton performing a fantastic (classic Betty Hutton!) jitterbug to Vincent Lopez & His Orchestra’s rendition of Old Man Mose.
In 1941, Lopez and his band took what was supposed to be a sort engagement at the Hotel Taft Grill Room — where they remained for 20 years. And in 1949, The Vincent Lopez Orchestra and the Martin Sisters recorded a song called Potato Chips, which played on air along such songs as Rum and Coca Cola and The Popcorn Polka. What’s not to love about that? Other than not being able to find a copy of Potato Chips, I mean.
Lopez’s popularity meant he was widely interviewed as an authority on jazz. To this day, he remains quoted in several works discussing both the origins of the word “jazz” (proffering a story that, in essence, “jazz” came from the name of a musician named Charles, shortened to “Chaz”) as well as, in 1924, it’s definition as “contrary to music.”
Sadly, these footnotes, his recordings (including a few CDs and Mp3s), appearances in advertisements, and a few other collectibles like my autographed bit of ephemera are about all that’s left to prove the former popularity of Vincent Lopez.
But it’s time to get back to the drawing board — back to my vintage drawing of Lopez.
There are no markings to identify the illustrator or to indicate the paper’s purpose, so I’m left to conclude this was a promotional piece printed by Lopez — possibly for the purpose of providing autographs. I believe it dates to the late 1920s or early 1930’s, based on the simple caricature style of the illustration (quite popular in the 20’s — in fact, Cugat and Enrico Caruso both drew caricatures) and the youthful photographic image of Lopez.
Will I be selling it? Mmm, probably not. I don’t think I’m done investigating Vincent Lopez yet. (Stay tuned!)
PS You can keep on eye on my eBay listings to see if and when hubby twists my arm enough to make me selling it.
The scan of autographed Vincent Lopez promotional vintage ephemera piece, circa late 1920s or early 1930’s, is my own.