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Circus & Carnival Programs

The creator of the modern-day circus was Philip Astley, an English cavalry sergeant major who opened a riding school in London in 1768. He showed off his horsemanship in a circular arena that was commonly used by other trick riders. This type of arena was called the "circle" or "circus." Astley added novelty acts to his trick riding and the circus was born. The circular arena is now known as the "ring."

The traveling carnival was inspired by the midway at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the events include many of the same attractions. By 1937, there were about 300 traveling carnivals in the United States. Both circuses and carnivals use paper programs to introduce their show people and the acts they perform.

Most circus programs are published in a booklet or magazine format. Besides a schedule and listing of the acts included in the show, these programs often contain colorful illustrations or photographs and feature stories about the performers or circus life. Magazine-style programs are the most sought after by collectors because of their colorful formats and historical documentation of circus life. Values of vintage circus programs vary, but most can be purchased for reasonable prices.


Quick Facts

  • The Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus asked celebrities to write articles for their programs in the '40s and '50s. Programs from 1953 and 1954 featuring John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway are the most valuable
  • Special programs were printed for circus spectacles from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Programs from spectacles such as "The Fall of Babylon," presented by Barnum & Bailey in 1890, are valued at $50 and up
  • The Milner Library at Illinois State University holds the Circus and Allied Arts collection. Containing more than 8,000 volumes, this is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of programs and other memorabilia from circuses and related shows

Recommended Items at Auction

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MERVYN RAY CIRCUS CLOWN SHOES
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
MERVYN RAY CIRCUS CLOWN SHOES
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Est: $300- $600
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Antique Hand Carved Life Size Carousel Lion
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Antique Hand Carved Life Size Carousel Lion
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ROYAL AMERICAN SHOWS WINDOW CARD
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
ROYAL AMERICAN SHOWS WINDOW CARD
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Est: $200- $400
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Charles Looff Carved Carousel Horse
Feb 07, 12:00 PM EST
Charles Looff Carved Carousel Horse
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Est: $200- $2,000
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BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS POSTER
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS POSTER
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Est: $400- $800
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ADAM FOREPAUGH'S GREAT SHOW POSTER
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
ADAM FOREPAUGH'S GREAT SHOW POSTER
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Est: $3,000- $5,000
$1,1002 Bids
WALLACE BROS CIRCUS 8 SHEET POSTER.
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
WALLACE BROS CIRCUS 8 SHEET POSTER.
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Est: $300- $600
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4- VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTERS
Feb 11, 10:00 AM EST
4- VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTERS
by Milestone Auctions
Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
INTERNATIONAL CIRCUS POSTER COLLECTION
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
INTERNATIONAL CIRCUS POSTER COLLECTION
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $100- $200
$201 Bid
P.T. BARNUM & CO. GREAT SHOWS TICKET
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
P.T. BARNUM & CO. GREAT SHOWS TICKET
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $200- $400
$501 Bid
P.T. BARNUM BOOK TITLES
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
P.T. BARNUM BOOK TITLES
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid
CIRCUS POSTER CHRISTMAS CARD
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CIRCUS POSTER CHRISTMAS CARD
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid
CIRCUS BOOK TITLES
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CIRCUS BOOK TITLES
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid
CIRCUS BOOK TITLES
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CIRCUS BOOK TITLES
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid
CIRCUS BOOK TITLES
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CIRCUS BOOK TITLES
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid
COLE BROS. CIRCUS POSTER
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
COLE BROS. CIRCUS POSTER
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $100- $200
$301 Bid
HAGENBECK WALLACE CIRCUS POSTER
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
HAGENBECK WALLACE CIRCUS POSTER
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $200- $400
$401 Bid
CIRCUS ROUTE BOOK COLLECTION
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CIRCUS ROUTE BOOK COLLECTION
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Est: $100- $200
$201 Bid
BUNCO IN ARIZONA "JUNE'S WEDDING DAY" SHOW POSTER
Feb 11, 10:00 AM EST
BUNCO IN ARIZONA "JUNE'S WEDDING DAY" SHOW POSTER
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Est: $200- $300
$1001 Bid
CHRISTY BROS. CIRCUS SIX SHEET POSTER
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CHRISTY BROS. CIRCUS SIX SHEET POSTER
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $4,000- $6,000
$1,0001 Bid
CIRCUS LETTERHEAD COLLECTION
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
CIRCUS LETTERHEAD COLLECTION
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $100- $200
$201 Bid
WILD WEST CIRCUS LETTERHEAD COLLECTION
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
WILD WEST CIRCUS LETTERHEAD COLLECTION
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $100- $200
$201 Bid
SELLS FLOTO CIRCUS PHOTOGRAPH
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
SELLS FLOTO CIRCUS PHOTOGRAPH
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $100- $200
$301 Bid
ZOPPE - SHERYLL FAMILY CIRCUS WARDROBE
Feb 05, 11:00 PM EST
ZOPPE - SHERYLL FAMILY CIRCUS WARDROBE
by Freedom Auction Company
Est: $50- $100
$201 Bid

Sellers Who Sell Circus & Carnival Programs


Freedom Auction Company

Freedom Auction Company

Designer Homes of Central Florida

Designer Homes of Central Florida

Milestone Auctions

Milestone Auctions

Sworders

Sworders