Rare treasures of Carnival are up for auction

NEW ORLEANS —  Most modern Carnival krewes– think Muses or Bacchus– wouldn’t dare parade down St. Charles Avenue without fiber optic lights on floats and blinged-out throws.

But back in the day —  way back — in the earliest days of Carnival, the parades thrilled crowds with something fiber optics don’t have: an air of mystery.

That’s what you’ll find at Neal Auction Company tomorrow (Nov. 19), when rare items collected by Carnival historian and float designer Henri Schindler will be sold to the highest bidders.

There’s a papier-mache mask, crafted in Paris to look like the scowling face of a woman wearing green spectacles. She’s one of a pair– her partner has the face of a disgruntled, mustachioed man.  Kim and Kanye on a bad date?  Hardly. The two masks represent mythical characters from the “Metamorphosis of Ovid”– the brainiac theme of the Comus parade — in 1878.

Then there’s Schindler’s scrapbook of float descriptions, including clippings from “L’ Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans,” the popular French language newspaper in New Orleans in 1882.

Neal Auction Company Vice President Katie Hovas says the treasures for sale represent just a small fraction of Schindler’s vast collection.  Other pieces  are in museums, and some are kept in locked cases belonging to old-line krewes like Comus and Rex.

But the auction is a chance for mere mortals to buy baubles from a time when  Carnival was strictly for the one-percent’ers. After all, in the late 1800s you couldn’t buy a ticket to a Carnival ball. The invitations, dance cards, party favors, and doubloons were few and coveted — even more so, today.  Some of each will be auctioned on Sunday.

Try selling a string of plastic beads or a glow-stick wand from last year’s Mardi Gras and see how far you get.  Or go to the auction to glimpse mementos of Mardi Gras that have grown in value-  for more than a century.