Circus Posters
30 Delirious Posters from Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey, Sells Floto & more!

“Printing, Parade, and Performance” – the essence of the circus business, according to M.W.E. Franklin in 1901. “During a typical one-day stand, the circus would arrive in the morning, set up by early afternoon, mount a parade through the town, and then give two performances before dismantling and moving on to the next venue… As a result, circus advertising had to achieve blanket or saturation coverage in a very concentrated period of time…”

As recently as 2012, critics like Paul Sirton (in The American Circus, Bard College & Yale University) bemoaned the lack of attention and prestige given to American circus posters compared to their graphic-arts bretheren. With 1/3 of circuses’ budgets going to promotion, the art of the circus poster was crucial in the development of advertising – even as we know it today.

109. Barnum & Bailey / Greatest Show on Earth. 1894.
Artist: Anonymous
76 3/8 x 29 1/98 in./194 x 74 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000.

A spectacular, early, large horizontal poster displaying the jawdropping acts of The Greatest Show on Earth. Horse-leaping, show jumping, acrobat-tumbling, bear-wrestling, cat-boxing, human-tower-tumbling, and clown-japing marvels abound. This is a two-sheet poster.

117. Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey / Dainty Miss Leitzel. 1929.
Artist: Anonymous
28 x 42 1/8 in./71 x 107 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000.

Hailed as the ‘World’s Most Marvelous Lady Gymnast,’ “Lillian Leitzel commanded top billing longer than any other circus performer in history.

121. Clown Renard / New Dog & Cat Show. Ca. 1896.
Artist: Anonymous
36 7/8 x 27 1/2 in./93.6 x 70 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

Lovers of dogs, cats, and circuses ought to leap for joy, with one look at this amazing – and rare – poster for Clown Renard’s wonderful new dog and cat show. In the upper right, the dogs are first tutored in the arts of discipline. After acrobatic feats, the dogs have become horses for their adorable cat jockeys to ride! Renard received a wealth of mentions in French newspapers in the mid-1890s for these shows.

125. Captain Webb's Sea Lion Band. Ca. 1895.
Artist: Anonymous
37 3/4 x 28 38 in./95.7 x 72.2 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700.

It’s not Sgt. Pepper’s… It’s Captain Webb’s Seal and Sea-Lion Band, we hope you will enjoy the show! According to the San Francisco Call of November 30, 1902, “A series of hoarse barks, followed now and then by a splash as of a heavy body falling into water, are the unusual sounds that come from the darkness of the Orpheum stage nowadays… It is only Captain Webb’s seals enjoying a frolic in the big portable tank placed in the annex next to the stage… To see them on the stage is to witness a transformation that is truly startling. These six furry beasts do almost everything peculiar alone to vaudeville except talk, and they care constantly making strenuous efforts to add that accomplishment.” Tax stamps indicate this poster was used in Antwerp, Belgium.

128. Cirque d’ Hiver. Ca. 1890.
7Artist: Louis Galice (1864-1935)
33 3/4 x 48 7/8 in./85.6 x 124 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700.

Louis Galice was a noted chronicler of the Montmartre scene, and this is one of his most famous posters: for good reason. It’s a perfect balancing act between charm, amazement and downright mayhem at the Cirque d’Hiver, the oldest permanent circus in the world – a favorite of Toulouse-Lautrec’s, and still operational today! The raven-haired equestrienne, impossibly balanced on the rump of her black stallion, thoroughly steals the show.

This is just the beginning…
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