|Meerschaum cheroot holder showing an acrobatic routine involving three male and one female acrobat.|
Specifically, as the carving indicates in this complex routine, a lady acrobat is precariously positioned while holding up three male acrobats and their paraphernalia: a table and a variety of barbells. At the base of the holder is the inscription: ‘TROUPE LAFAILLE’.
What this particular act signified, and who this troupe was piqued my interest and curiosity, and I began an investigation of sources available to me.
To my excitement, Google produced the first clue, indicating that this group was a member of the [P.T.] Barnum and [James Anthony] Bailey, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’; since 1907, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey was listed under ‘performers and acts with circuses’ (Billboard, July 16, 1910). Hence, this was proof that this group was real, not a motif imagined or invented by the carver, and that Troupe Lafaille were professional performers affiliated with this circus renowned for its high-flying trapeze acts. As a collector and at that time, I was content with this knowledge, having gained this much information for my own purpose. Were someone to ask about it then, I could offer this titbit in response.
|Black and white German postcard (right) showing the Lafaille troop in the same acrobatic position as the cheroot holder (left).|
|Black and white English postcard including a photograph of the troop manager J. Lafaille.|
without additional details, but this second postcard made my day nonetheless.
|Black and white photograph of the entire troupe accompanied by a young Belgian acrobat in the archives of the Museum of East Flanders, Gent.|
This mystery was being solved, piece- by-piece, and I sensed that with all this new, additional information in hand, I could craft a story from what I had now learned that would be stimulating reading to any inquisitive individual interested in either circus history or meerschaum iconography.
|1909 and 1910 programs for ‘THE BARNUM AND BAILEY GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH’.|
|1909 poster for Barnum and Bailey circus showing the Troupe La Faille in the center.|
The greatest pleasure in owning this poster is seeing the troupe, center stage, performing its signature routine just as it appears on the holder and on the first postcard. The poster bears the inscription: