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Portrait, Native American, Chief Joe Ironhand, Unicycle Performer, Publicity Materials, 2nd Quarter, 20th Century


Collection of Chief Joe Ironhand Memorabilia
Native American Cycling, Stunt, and Side Show Performer
Vintage Photographs, Drawings, Ephemera

Chief Ironhand
American: 2nd Quarter 20th Century
Set of six pen and ink drawings
13 x 10 inches overall, each, average approximate

Abbey Photo Studio
[Joe Ironhand on Tiny Bicycle]
Boston, Massachusetts: 2nd Quarter 20th Century
5 x 3.5 inches

[Joe Ironhand Rolling Hoops]
American: 2nd Quarter 20th Century
10 x 8 inches

[Joe Ironhand] Makes Unique Trip, Jersey City on Unicycle
Jersey City, New Jersey: 2nd Quarter 20th Century
Offset print
4 x 6.5 inches

$5.00 for Anyone Who Can Ride This Bicycle
American: c. Early 1940s
Paint on cardboard
7 x 12.25 inches

$3,500, for complete collection

A collection of memorabilia comprising original drawings, photographs and other ephemera relating to Chief Joe Ironhand. He performed cycling tricks and stunts  — including long distance and juggling  — while in his native American headdress and outfit. Ironhand worked mostly  in the 1930s and 1940s in New Jersey as a sideshow or street performer, including at fairs and midways.

Product description continues below.


The collection includes six folk art pen-and-ink drawings of Ironhand, some identified in hand-lettered captions under the drawings. Each shows him riding a unicycle while variously juggling, rolling hoops, jumping rope, or performing tricks with a second unicycle. A black-and-white photograph in the collection shows him riding a tiny bicycle; it is accompanied by a hand-lettered sign reads “$5.00 for Anyone Who Can Ride This Bicycle,” probably referring to the one in the photo. Another photograph, printed with an oval border, shows him balanced on his unicycle on a tarp outdoors, rolling six hoops round him in a circle. In it he wears a costume of a sleeveless spotted animal print and a beaded headband. A printed card has a photo of him dressed in the same costume but with a long feathered headdress, standing beside a large penny-farthing type bicycle (with huge front wheel and tiny back wheel). Alongside the photo, a printed paragraph describes a marathon trip he made on a “unicycle” — probably referring to this bicycle — from his Jersey City home to Philadelphia within nine-and-a-half hours. The card reads:


Jersey City on Unicycle

JOE IRONHAND, whose home is in this city, won a $200 wager on Saturday by riding a unicycle from Jersey City to the Evening Public Ledger office in 9 & one half hours.

Ironhand claimed to be able to make the trip in less than ten hours on the single wheel, but his friends doubted it, so they put up a purse of two hundred bucks and Joe made good.

Mounted upon his unique conveyance Ironhand left Jersey City at 6:25 Saturday morning and rode to Newark. After partaking of breakfast at Newark he proceeded to New Brunswick via Elizabeth and then to Trenton, where he arrived at noon. Leaving the New Jersey capital he followed the Lincoln Highway to Philadelphia and reached Sixth and Chestnut Sts. 9 hours and thirty minutes after leaving Jersey City.

That card helps narrow the date of the collection to between the 1920s and 1942, which is the period in which the Evening Public Ledger was published. The back of the photograph of Ironhand on the tricycle is stamped with the name and address of Abbey Photo Studio in Boston, which includes a two-digit postal code that was introduced in 1943, extending the dating of the materials to this year and perhaps a few thereafter. Nonetheless, the photograph is undated, and could have been taken and printed earlier, but circulated for some years afterwards.

Condition: Six drawings and wager sign generally good, some irregularly cut, rendered on cardboard a bit acidic and slightly brittle, variously toned overall, with other wear, handling, light soiling, slight chipping at edges. Photos and unicycle card generally good, nonetheless with various toning, handling, wear, soft creases, soiling.


“About Evening Public Ledger. [volume] (Philadelphia [Pa.]) 1914-1942.” Library of Congress. (2 June 2020).