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Circus, Magic, & Wild West
8 early American images

Circus and Wild West posters represent the dawn of the poster craze in America. Traveling troupes relied on these images not only to announce their performances, but to draw audiences and sell tickets. These advertisements had to not only deliver essential information, but enthrall passersby

124. Buffalo Bill's Wild West / I Am Coming. 1906.
39 x 28 1/2 in./99 x 72.4 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

The buffalo is frequently seen in Wild West lithography, but here it’s even more appropriate, since Col. William F. Cody derived his pseudonym from them. In another version of this same design, Cody announced he was coming to France with the words “Je Viens.” Here, he announces his arrival in England and Germany as well. Rare!

125. An American. ca. 1894.
28 1/4 x 41 in./71.3 x 104.2 cm
Est: $6,000-$7,000

This is the original Forbes printing of this poster, which was subsequently reprinted by A. Hoen & Co. in Baltimore, with text at top that read “Congress Rough Riders of the World,” and below, “An American.” “The first change is understandable, this not being the commonly accepted subtitle of the Buffalo Bill Wild West until about 1893. But the second change is a mystery. The whole idea or message of this poster would seem to be a reminder to the spectators that the Indian is, after all, ‘An American.’ An obvious statement, but one worth making. Without it, [as seen here], it is simply a drawing of an Indian. Did the addition of this bottom line represent a change of heart on the part of Buffalo Bill and his management, or was it a response to the current enthusiasm toward Indians and an attempt to more properly place them as the rightful tenants of our western lands? Or, perhaps, it was simply a way of adding this national horseman to the list of others in the Rough Riders of the World who were gaining attention—and posters—for their country. The speculation is interesting” (Buffalo Bill, p. 8). Rare!

127. George / The Supreme Master of Magic. ca. 1929.
26 3/4 x 40 1/4 in./68 x 102.2 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

Grover George (1887-1958), an Ohio native, began performing as a magician when he was only 10. He continued to perform at small theatres across the United States, then left with his company of 18 for a five-year tour of Central and South America. He returned to the States in 1929 flushed with success, and expected to storm the theatres of his own country. This spectacular poster is one of the designs created for that “triumphant American tour.” But that triumph was out of reach—the magician Howard Thurston was intent on maintaining his territory, and brought suits against George whenever he attempted to book a venue of any distinction. Although these suits were, in fact, frivolous, George did not have the necessary funds, and was relegated to playing second-rate stages. He returned to South America, making occasional minor trips back to the U.S., and died in São Paolo, Brazil, where he had retired. The uncredited artist pulls out all the stops to seduce the viewer with exotic and otherworldly affiliations: from demonic intervention to Oriental mysticism, the magician’s credentials are graphically laid out. Unfortunately, due to George’s legal woes, the poster may never have reached its intended audience.

128. Carter the Great / The Elongated Maiden. 1935.
41 x 79 1/2 in./104.4 x 202 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Created for his eighth and final world tour, “Charles Carter was proud to present the latest illusions in his elaborate show. Here is his version of Selbit’s Stretching a Lady, the successor to Selbit’s famous sawing-in-half illusion. A woman was locked into elaborate stocks and seemingly stretched in every direction. In this image, Carter, dressed as an Oriental wizard, watches over the action. The stretching illusion was an instant hit with audiences” (Magic, p. 566). This is a three-sheet poster.

130. Barnum & Bailey / Twelve Most Famous Riders. 1897.
37 3/4 x 30 in./95.8 x 76.2 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

Always eager to claim to have the best of the best, Barnum & Bailey here present the “12 Most Famous Riders” in the world. This image was originally used during their tour in England, and then again in 1909 for their European tour. Of particular note in the lineup are the Mathews Sisters, known for their mounted clown act, and Miss Dunbar, the ringmistress in the center.

131. Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey / Magnificent Dressage. 1939.
28 x 21 in./71.2 x 53.2 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

With three rings filled to the brims with horses, it seems as if there is no containing this “biggest and most magnificent dressage display.” The text also points out that the show includes “85 pure bred American horses schooled in the European manner of the world-famed Imperial Spanish Riding Academy in Vienna.”

132. Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey / Terrell Jacobs. 1939.
28 x 21 1/8 in./71.2 x 53.6 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

In the 1930s, Terrell Jacobs was touted as the youngest animal trainer in any circus, accompanied by a record number of 52 lions, tigers, and leopards in a single arena on a given night. He was passed around between the better known circuses for a while before starting his own short-lived venture in the 1940s in Peru, Indiana. Here, he is unflappably composed amid dozens of terrifying big cats.

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