“Born in sub-Saharan Africa, Jumbo (1861-1885) spent most of his life in London’s Zoological Gardens. He grew from a small, sickly calf to a ponderous pachyderm standing eleven feet tall—about three feet taller than the typical circus elephant—and weighing six and a half tons… At the time, Jumbo was the largest elephant known to exist in the western world. The poster artist depicted Jumbo in his former home at the Zoological Gardens, where the good-natured elephant provided thousands of children rides on his back… One of Jumbo’s most enthusiastic admirers was P. T. Barnum (1810-1891), who was constantly searching the world for the unusual, both great and small. Barnum offered the Zoological Gardens $10,000 for the giant elephant… The elephant and his keeper set sail for New York City, arriving April 8, 1882… Jumbo was the featured attraction on the circus and heavily advertised by the show… Sadly, on September 15, 1885, in the railroad yard at St. Thomas, Ontario, Jumbo was struck and killed by an unscheduled train. Even in death, Jumbo provided Barnum with new exhibitions for the circus. In 1886, both the great elephant’s preserved hide and enormous skeleton trouped with the show” (Strobridge, p. 154). His skeleton was also displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1974 and 1993. This is possibly the most desired of all circus posters. Regrettably for collectors, it’s extremely rare. “P. T. Barnum brought the mighty Jumbo to America in 1882, the greatest animal attraction the circus ever had. Even though his career only lasted four years, the huge African elephant was such a success that his name has become synonymous for ‘colossal’” (The Circus/Taschen, p. 213).
Authorized by the Courier Lithographic Company in Buffalo, this poster promotes Barnum & Bailey’s elephant spectacles in France, which include acrobatic exercises, tea time, bicycle riding, military exercises, and a waltz.
By Pal (Jean De Paléologue, 1860-1942)
This poster for the lion act was prepared for the Nouveau Cirque in Paris, but the image was also used as a stock poster for the animal spectacular when the Kings of the Jungle took their act on the road (see PAI-XIV, 389). This four-sheet poster is a highly unusual design for Pal, not because of the circus subject matter, but because of the lack of a voluptuous young lady as its central figure. But even without the presence of a beautiful woman, Pal certainly knows how to catch our attention.
An act that translated perfectly from American to French audiences was Buffalo Bill and the Rough Riders of the world. Here, Cody is seen reviewing the troops; a rainbow of countries sent their “best riders” as ambassadors of showmanship. The earlier Courier Litho. printing of this image was headlined “Buffalo Bill Reviewing the Rough Riders of the World.” As Michelle Delaney points out, the Rough Riders “were not battle scenes or dangerous settings at all. Often the posters advertising the Rough Riders were long lines of international cavalrymen on horseback, in dress uniforms, being reviewed by Cody, also on horseback. His figure resembles a military general reviewing the troops more than the entertainer he is in this situation. The cavalrymen cheer his review or line up in silent respect” (Buffalo Bill/Art & Advertising, p. 92).
“The theatrical seasons of Buffalo Bill Combination, from 1872 to 1883, contained much of the seed of the Wild West exhibitions to come. In addition to the romanticized scenes of western life, there were feats of marksmanship by Cody, numerous animals, and a good number of authentic Indians used, both in dramatic scenes as well as in their own dances and ceremonies. And in this poster for the next-to-last Combination season of 1881-82, one of these real Indians is the main attraction. ‘He-Nu-Kaw (The First Born)’ is billed also as ‘The Handsomest Indian Maiden in the World.’ She may have had a part in the season’s drama, ‘Vera Vance; or, Saved from the Sioux.’ She is quite stunning, as is the lithography of W. J. Morgan… Some 27 years separate He-Nu-Kaw from Arrowhead but surely the standard of feminine beauty remained compellingly high at all times” (Buffalo Bill, p. 12). Rare!
Based in Chicago, Prince Kar-Mi’s tricks baffled even the most skilled illusionists who came to see him. He began each act by having an assistant claim that he did not speak English, and therefore would perform entirely in pantomime. In actuality, he was Joseph B. Hallworth, an American man and not a Hindu. Here, he appears to rise from the dead after 32 days of being buried underground. This is a two-sheet poster.
In-gallery viewing June 29 – July 17 (11am-6pm daily)