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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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William ''Buffalo Bill'' Cody Show Ticket
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A rare fairground carousel juvenile 'Dobby' horse by F Savage & Co.,
Mar 07, 4:00 PM GMT
A rare fairground carousel juvenile 'Dobby' horse by F Savage & Co.,
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Est: £2,000- £3,000
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Group of 5 Stieff Circus Performers in Box
Mar 12, 12:00 PM EDT
Group of 5 Stieff Circus Performers in Box
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Group of Stieff Circus Animals in Boxes
Mar 12, 12:00 PM EDT
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Est: $10- $1,000
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Artist Unknown - Barnum and Bailey - Lithograph 56" x 41"
Mar 19, 11:15 AM EDT
Artist Unknown - Barnum and Bailey - Lithograph 56" x 41"
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Est: $125- $150
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A fairground carousel galloper mount by Anderson,
Mar 07, 4:00 PM GMT
A fairground carousel galloper mount by Anderson,
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Est: £2,500- £3,500
£2,0000 Bids
A rare fairground juvenile carousel mount in the form of a lion by Anderson,
Mar 07, 4:00 PM GMT
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Est: £3,000- £5,000
£2,4000 Bids
A rare fairground carousel mount galloper horse by F Savage & Co.,
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A rare fairground carousel mount galloper horse by F Savage & Co.,
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Est: £3,000- £5,000
£2,4000 Bids
A rare fairground carousel galloper horse by R J Lakin,
Mar 07, 4:00 PM GMT
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An extremely rare juvenile elephant fairground carousel mount by C J Spooner,
Mar 07, 4:00 PM GMT
An extremely rare juvenile elephant fairground carousel mount by C J Spooner,
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A rare and important carved fairground carousel mount torso by C J Spooner,
Mar 07, 4:00 PM GMT
A rare and important carved fairground carousel mount torso by C J Spooner,
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Est: £6,000- £8,000
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A magnificent large fairground carousel galloper horse by Anderson,
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Est: £5,000- £7,000
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A pair of juvenile 'Dobby' fairground carousel horses by Anderson,
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A double-seat fairground carousel galloper horse by Anderson,
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Antique Carnival Open Ride Car
Mar 28, 11:00 AM EDT
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A carved wooden fairground carousel figural boss by F Savage & Co.,
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VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTER 1960'S POSTER (MJT)
Mar 24, 7:00 PM CDT
VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTER 1960'S POSTER (MJT)
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Est: $250- $500
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VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTER 1960'S POSTER (MJT)
Mar 24, 7:00 PM CDT
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Est: $250- $500
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VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTER 1969 POSTER (MJT)
Mar 24, 7:00 PM CDT
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1966 CIRCUS FANS NATIONAL CONVENTION POSTER (MJT)
Mar 24, 7:00 PM CDT
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Est: $250- $500
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Sellers Who Sell Circus & Carnival Programs


Sworders

Sworders

Auctions By Moldenhauer

Auctions By Moldenhauer

Amelia Jeffers

Amelia Jeffers

Westport Auction

Westport Auction