Do you remember the first circus you ever saw? Many people not only remember, but take every chance they get to find items that bring back those childhood memories by collecting all kinds of circus memorabilia.
The first circus opened in the United States in 1793 in a Philadelphia amphitheater. It was copied after the English circus with skilled equestrians and risky acrobatic stunts.
In the 1820s, tents were invented and circuses were shown under the big top.
From about 1870 to the 1920s, circuses were considered top of the line in entertainment across the world. The top 3 circuses were P.T. Barnum, James A. Bailey and the Ringling Brothers. The three merged in 1919. The combining of the three made for the Greatest Show on Earth.
Other circuses tried to complete including M.L. Clark and Sons, the Campbell Brothers, Adam Forepaugh and the Sells Brothers. In order the keep up, all circuses made glamorous posters and other advertising materials that are highly collected today. They also printed lots of photographs and had highly decorated costumes and props.
Very little of those have been saved. Most that are still around are in collections and many are kept in museums or are private collections.
Many people who collect circus memorabilia believe the older the better. Posters are still the most widely sought after followed by newspaper advertisements and programs. Posters can go for $60 to thousands of dollars. The more unusual the topic, the higher the value.
Some programs were quite extravagant showing a menagerie of equestrian events. These sell from $20-$200.
A lot of people also collect tickets. Tickets were often given out to townspeople and many were unused. Unused tickets also can carry a variety of scenes from the circus. Some people even seek out rolls of unused tickets. Values range from $20 to $200 depending on number of tickets and age.
Some circus collectibles include side show items. They could feature everything from the two-headed monster to the bearded lady. Most of those are paper pieces either handed out or taped to tents or buildings. Some have sold for thousands of dollars.
Portraits taken at circuses or of circus performers are also desirable. Photographs taken by Matthew Brady, Harry Atwell and Frederick Glasier are the most preferred. But, the highest value comes from the negatives. Very seldom, these are found, but if you are so lucky, you may have come across a small fortune.
Photographs featuring unusual things such as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus fire in Hartford, CT on July 6th, 1944 in which 167 persons lost their lives are also favorites of collectors. Original photographs can be valued around $100 and up.
Other circus items people often collect include press releases, cups/mugs, stuffed animals, popcorn bags, decals, paper fans, buttons, toys, booklets, passes, food tickets and pennants.
Source: Encyclopedia of Collecting