Circus and Wild West
22 awe-inspiring designs

Lion tamers, acrobats, cowboys, and the thrill of the open road—welcome to the unimaginable wonder of magic shows, circus performances, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows.

166. Bidel.  ca. 1885.
Artist: Anonymous
34 1/8 x 47 7/8 in./86.6 x 121.7 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

Jean Baptiste François Bidel was a famed lion tamer who encouraged ferocity in his performances. In his autobiography, “The Memories of a Tamer,” he humbly wrote this mock conversation: “With Bidel we risk nothing. He has brilliant titles of intelligence, honor, courage, and modesty… When his lion Sultan seized him one day by the throat, beginning to devour him, Bidel, while thinking himself lost, but struggling with a sublime intrepidity, had stiffened his arm, seized also the lion by the throat, and, by pushing away, shouted at him, with supreme eloquence: ‘Sultan! Sultan!’ more eloquently for sure than Cesar said to Brutus: ‘You too!'” This promotion for his appearance at the Magasins Réunions was produced in Hamburg by C. Adler; the text is a woodblock engraving executed by Morris in Asnières. Rare!

167. Barnum & Bailey / La Roche. 1896.
Artist: Anonymous
30 x 39 3/4 in./76.2 x 101 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

This ornate design promotes a curious act in which La Roche climbs into a Fabergé egg style container, rolls himself down a precarious and guard-free spiral runway, and rolls back up again without the aid of sight or a motor.

173. The Life of Buffalo Bill in 3 Reels. 1912.
Artist: Anonymous
28 1/2 x 48 3/8 in./75 x 122.8 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

“In 1912, The Life of Buffalo Bill… told Cody’s life story, beginning with a scene in which he rides through a river, looking for Indians or game. Cody rides up to the camera, with hat back, left hand up… his trusty Winchester ‘73 rifle clutched in his right hand… Since there is a story line to the sequence… the film is much more advanced than the Wild West [shows] and is classified as one of the first Westerns. Cody was attempting to move the Wild West show from the arena into movie theaters. But in his sixties, he was a bit old to become a cinema star and capitalize on the new medium, try as he did” (Buffalo Bill/Legend, p. 227 & 228). The top scene is “First Scalp for Custer,” and the poster promises “Thrilling incidents in the life of the last of the great scouts.” The film was produced by Buffalo Bill-Pawnee Bill Film Co., and this image includes a tip-on for its distributor, Barnsdale Films.

174. Buffalo Bill's Wild West.  ca. 1912.
Artist: Anonymous
28 x 42 1/4 in./71.2 x 107.3 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

The point here is clear: do not mess with Buffalo Bill’s troupe, for hell hath no fury like a cowboy scorned. Much of the aura surrounding Buffalo Bill involved qualities of wildness, the untamed, and also the heroic—and his posters certainly promulgated those illusions. This poster includes a Barnsdale tip-on.

176. The Life of Buffalo Bill in 3 Reels. 1912.
Artist: Anonymous
42 1/8 x 80 7/8 in./107 x 205.5 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

This is the very rare three-sheet version of “The Life of Buffalo Bill.” The vignettes have changed from its first and more well-known variant (see no. 173), with Cody at the center, now dismounted. At the top is the famed Stage Robbery scene presented at all the Buffalo Bill shows, while the bottom showcases a display of his heroics as a military scout under General Carr. The film was produced by the Buffalo Bill-Pawnee Bill Film Co. in New York.

180. The Life of Buffalo Bill / Portrait. 1912.
Artist: Anonymous
28 1/2 x 47 in./71.8 x 119.5 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

Although this portrait was created near the end of Buffalo Bill’s life—note that his hair is almost completely white—he retains a strength of spirit and an undeniable command of leadership. “It was not just that he dramatized the West; his presence made it real, vital and thrilling. It was therefore natural that the star attraction of the Wild West be given such importance in the posters that advertised it” (Buffalo Bill, p. 6). This portrait includes Barnsdale tags at top and bottom—and it’s rare!

185. Cirkus Schumann. 1967.
Artist: Ib Antoni (1929-1973)
31 1/2 x 47 in./80 x 119.4 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

“We see here the uniting of two circus dynasties: the Schumanns and the Rivels. Gotthold Schumann was a leading horse trainer; while his son Albert worked in Berlin, his younger son Max established the circus in Denmark. The Rivel brothers gained fame in the 1920s with a variety of European circuses and eventually performed separately. The most famous was Charlie. Antoni beautifully captures the mastery of this clown, and this design has been widely used by other circuses who have employed Rivel since then. Antoni made close to 200 posters in his too-brief lifetime; this poster he loved the most of all—a feeling we can all share with him” (Circus Posters, p. 15).

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