Unearthing A Colorful Past

Our business mind tells us to buy things as a commodity. And never buy things based on emotion or intellectual curiosity. But the very reason Katrina and I went into this field was  our love of research, history and intellectual enlightenment.

From The Days When Vaudeville Reigned

This week, we’ll share one we lost money on. These scrapbooks will bring hundreds of hours of reading, enjoyment and education for us in the next few weeks, and when we do sell them, for a loss, someone else will enjoy them. They will be saved for future research for hundreds of years.

What caught my attention was the silver box. It did sell, but for a paltry $300. It is made of fine silver with a solid gold signature of Nick Kaufmann — his name balancing on bicycle wheels of gold with small diamonds as spokes, denoting his stature as the king of trick bicyclists. He traveled the world in vaudeville troupes, circuses and carnivals doing tricks,
riding odd bikes, playing bike games and wowing crowds. Go ahead: Google him.

kaufmann photo
cyclists photo
jessie women

It was previously owned by a woman named Jessie Keller, who passed away in St. Petersburg in the 1960s. She was a protégé of Kaufmann’s and billed as “Venus on Wheels, the most beautiful woman on wheels.” He called her “sister.”    So the box was likely a gift to her. 

But the coolest stuff remained unsold in our auction. No one wanted to pay what we’d paid. Four scrapbooks with thousands of autographs of vaudevillians, fellow acrobats, cyclists, singers and dancers. Over 300 colorful original artworks, dedications to their friend Jessie.

Inside jokes about “taking chloroform” and “French kisses” and romantic interludes. From New York, Cuba, Germany and England and some of the biggest theaters and venues in the world.

A curiosity to most. Maybe an amusing anecdote to history? Or a bonanza to a vaudeville researcher? At the very least,  a fun way to spend hours mesmerized in the life of an unheralded, little-known St. Pete resident. If you’d like to stop by and take a look at the scrapbooks before we sell them, feel free. We like to share.

Three former sothebyscom associates and two art historians on staff.                                                                                      You read about us in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Fortune magazine.                                                  Call or email us if you want to deal with Florida’s leading auctioneer.                                                                                        We have sold the contents of museums and collections for USF. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Always buying rare and valuable items. We make house calls statewide.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

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