Circus and Wild West Posters
17 magnificent circus posters and 9 fantastic Wild West images.

Whether performing elephants or bustin’ broncos, these performative images are sure to instill the sort of awe and fascination that audiences must have felt a century ago. Here you may witness the remarkable skills of wild animal tamers, the frightening feats of tight-rope walkers and aerial gymnasts, and the glory of Buffalo Bill atop his fearless white stallion.

22. Claire Heliot. ca. 1905.
Artist: Anonymous
52 3/4 x 73 3/8 in./134 x 186.3 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Claire Heliot, the powerful yet gentle lion trainer, is larger than life in this rare large format poster. Beginning her work in 1905, she employed compassionate training methods to coax the beasts to eat from her hand and obey her commands. In the climax to her impressive routine, she carried Sicchi, a 10-year-old 350-pound lion, on her shoulders as she left the performance. This beautiful portrait expresses Heliot’s strength, as well as her caring demeanor, sensationally. This is a rare large format poster in four sheets.

25. Barnum & Bailey / Great Florenz Troupe. 1904.
Artist: Anonymous
39 7/8 x 30 1/2 in./101.2 x 77.4 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

Superlatives abound in this advertisement for The Great Florenz Troupe, a 12-person assembly of buoyantly flexible acrobats, who, the poster proclaims, are “The greatest number of marvelous acrobats ever seen in one astounding act.” The central cartouche presents the group in formal gowns and suits, while the surrounding landscape, otherwise idyllic, bursts with troupe members flipping, twirling, jumping, and climbing atop one another. A most marvelous depiction for “The world’s largest, grandest, best, amusement institution” that is Barnum & Bailey.

27. Ringling Brothers / Biggest Menagerie. 1913.
Artist: Anonymous
39 7/8 x 30 1/4 in./101.2 x 77 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

This straight-to-the-point advertisement highlights one of the exotic creatures in the Ringling Brothers’ “world’s biggest menagerie”—the polar bear. While most wild animals were often depicted as fierce and fearsome, this particular polar bear is given the sentimental treatment. “Polar bears are especially dangerous animals because their faces show no emotion, including no anger signaling attack. The Strobridge solution: Go the other direction, making carnivores cute, flashing anatomically impossible but pleasingly anthropomorphic smiles” (Strobridge, p. 33). Indeed, our gentle beast beckons adoration.

29. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey / Performing Elephants.
Artist: Anonymous
42 x 28 1/4 in./106.6 x 72 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Elephants were a hot commodity in the circus world, and “Competition between circus owners for the greatest number of elephants was fierce. Advertising wars declaring the largest elephant, the largest herd, the only white elephant, filled the newspapers” (Strobridge, p. 198). This particular advertisement aims to supersede all the rest: the massive creatures, who total a quarter-million pounds, fill the scene as they perform an animated conga line and a pyramid, coaxed by dapper ringmasters in tomato red tailcoats. The poster boasts “The most colossal trained animal display ever presented,” and if the depiction is accurate, it must have been a truly awe-inspiring event.

Artist: Various
Each approximately 26 3/4 x 38 1/8 in./80 x 97 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000 (37)

This is a unique opportunity to collect 37 Polish Circus Posters, made in the 1960s and 1970s by a medley of top Polish artists who include: Urbaniec, Sawka, Gorka, Swierzy, Mtodozeniec, Cieslewicz, Hilscher, and Lenica. In contrast to most American and Western European circus posters, these are quite minimalist, but full of spirit: saturated monochromatic backgrounds draw the focus to a single animal (a bicycle-riding monkey or a laughing tuxedoed seal, for instance), or a gripping moment from a magical performance, and the only text is the word “CYRK,” rendered in declarative and experimental typefaces. We think they are aesthetically distinctive, and inarguably magnificent.

410. Colonel W. F. Cody "Buffalo Bill." 1908.
Artist: Anonymous
38 5/8 x 80 5/8 in./98 x 204.7 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

“One frequently speaks of a ‘classic’ poster of a famous person. It is meant to denote a poster which shows that individual to his best advantage, possibly at the summit of his career, serving to summarize his achievements, and distill all his qualities into one final graphic statement. One can speak of such diverse luminaries and iconographic personalities as Yvette Guilbert, Sarah Bernhardt, Harry Houdini, Josephine Baker or Jimi Hendrix, and point to one of their many posters as ‘the classic.’ …And there can be no question but that all the qualities that go into making such a poster are at work here. In 1908, he was no longer at the height of his career, but he was surely sitting tall in the saddle, firmly in control of any situation, and his steadfast gaze seems to be one which looks forward, as if to say, ‘The show must go on,’ and at the same time pensively looks back to a life full of the kind of action that no one would ever live through again. Doffing his Stetson with one hand he is both welcoming us and bidding us farewell; what matters is that the other hand is firmly holding the reins. There’s no question about it, this is ‘the classic Cody’” (Buffalo Bill, p. 16). A magnificent 3-sheet testimonial to an individual whose reality was as large as the legend that surrounded him. Extremely rare!

412. The Life of Buffalo Bill in 3 Reels. 1912.
Artist: Anonymous
28 1/4 x 41 7/8 in./71.8 x 106.2 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Here is Buffalo Bill in all his glory, riding his white steed over a rocky outcrop and ruminating over the Native Americans below. A newspaper wrote in 1883 that, “Cody was an extraordinary figure, and sits on a horse as if he were born in the saddle” (Buffalo Bill, p. 3), which certainly rings true in this image from later in his life. This poster is one of several advertisements for his epic biopic “The Life of Buffalo Bill in 3 Reels,” and gives film production credit at bottom to Buffalo Bill-Pawnee Bill Film Co., New York City.

416. Buffalo Bill Stories.
Artist: Anonymous
33 1/4 x 49 3/8 in./84.3 x 125.5 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

“Who doesn’t know the world-famous Far West hero, Buffalo Bill?” Not many, after reading these dime-novels, which propelled the Wild West showman to global fame. “The art of slick promotion owes a great deal to Cody’s master promoters and merchandisers” (Buffalo Bill/Legend, p. 3). This poster double-bills him with Nick Carter (the adventure hero, not the Backstreet Boys crooner). Sixteen exciting, fully illustrated covers festoon the lithograph, including gems like “Buffalo Bill and the Cross-Eyed Detective,” “Buffalo Bill and the Whistler from Warberville,” and “Nick Carter and the Clue of the Seventh Stain.” An absolute smorgasbord of eye-candy for kids of all ages. This two-sheet poster is the Dutch-language version, with book titles largely in English.

Live auction begins February 24, 2019 at 11am EST
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