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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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Painted Carousel Horsehaving several layers of paint 19th/20th centuryheight 52 inches, length 54 inches
Oct 30, 10:00 AM EDT
Painted Carousel Horsehaving several layers of paint 19th/20th centuryheight 52 inches, length 54 inches
by Nadeau's Auction Gallery
Est: $400- $800
$2001 Bid
1958 Circus Wagon Domed Lunchbox with Thermos
Nov 08, 6:00 PM EST
1958 Circus Wagon Domed Lunchbox with Thermos
by Caswell Prewitt Realty, INC
Est: $0- $0
$51 Bid
Columbine Hobby Co. Wilson Brothers Circus Cage Wagon
Oct 30, 10:30 AM PDT
Columbine Hobby Co. Wilson Brothers Circus Cage Wagon
by Turner Auctions and Appraisals LLC
Est: $30- $100
$201 Bid
A FREDERICK SAVAGE OSTRICH CAROUSEL FIGURE C. 1900
Oct 23, 10:00 AM CDT
A FREDERICK SAVAGE OSTRICH CAROUSEL FIGURE C. 1900
by Dirk Soulis Auctions
Est: $800- $1,200
$4000 Bids
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A CARD OF DIVISION 3 CERAMIC AND METAL CIRCUS BUTTONS
Oct 22, 9:00 AM EDT
A CARD OF DIVISION 3 CERAMIC AND METAL CIRCUS BUTTONS
by Lion and Unicorn
Est: $200- $300
$500 Bids
Folk Art Carnival Knock Down Clown
Oct 27, 11:00 AM EDT
Folk Art Carnival Knock Down Clown
by Caza Sikes
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
carousel-Go Kart, Wilhelm Peter Fahrzeugbau
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CEST
carousel-Go Kart, Wilhelm Peter Fahrzeugbau
by Henry's Auktionshaus AG
Est: €450- €900
€4500 Bids
carousel-seesaw/swinging hen, 2. Half 20.th c., wood
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CEST
carousel-seesaw/swinging hen, 2. Half 20.th c., wood
by Henry's Auktionshaus AG
Est: €300- €600
€2800 Bids
carousel-dromedary, 2. Half 20.th c., wood painted in
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CEST
carousel-dromedary, 2. Half 20.th c., wood painted in
by Henry's Auktionshaus AG
Est: €400- €800
€4000 Bids
carousel-ram, 2. Half 20.th c., 83 x 100 x 33 cm, wood
Oct 30, 10:00 AM CEST
carousel-ram, 2. Half 20.th c., 83 x 100 x 33 cm, wood
by Henry's Auktionshaus AG
Est: €200- €400
€2000 Bids
C.W. PARKER , POLYCHROMED METAL CAROUSEL HORSE
Oct 27, 12:00 PM EDT
C.W. PARKER , POLYCHROMED METAL CAROUSEL HORSE
by Kotler Galleries & Auctioneers
Est: $1,275- $1,650
$1,0000 Bids
Group of 4 assorted Popeye Cartoon Films
Nov 07, 10:00 AM CDT
Group of 4 assorted Popeye Cartoon Films
by Matthew Bullock Auctioneers
Est: $30- $500
$150 Bids
Jewel: Pendant - Voyage - circus series by CHRISTIGUEY for GUERIT Christine
Oct 24, 1:30 PM CEST
Jewel: Pendant - Voyage - circus series by CHRISTIGUEY for GUERIT Christine
by Monsantic.com
Est: €2,400- €2,600
€2,4000 Bids
Jewel: Pendant - Amazon - circus series by CHRISTIGUEY for GUERIT Christine
Oct 24, 1:30 PM CEST
Jewel: Pendant - Amazon - circus series by CHRISTIGUEY for GUERIT Christine
by Monsantic.com
Est: €1,600- €1,800
€1,6000 Bids
Jewel: Pendant - Performance - circus series by CHRISTIGUEY for GUERIT Christine
Oct 24, 1:30 PM CEST
Jewel: Pendant - Performance - circus series by CHRISTIGUEY for GUERIT Christine
by Monsantic.com
Est: €600- €800
€6000 Bids
Friedrich Heyn Style Carousel Horse, c. 1980
Nov 06, 10:00 AM CET
Friedrich Heyn Style Carousel Horse, c. 1980
by Auction Team Breker
Est: €800- €1,200
€5000 Bids
Fairground Working Model of a Gondola Switchback
Nov 06, 10:00 AM CET
Fairground Working Model of a Gondola Switchback
by Auction Team Breker
Est: €800- €1,500
€4500 Bids
Dixi Car from a Children’s Carousel, c. 1970
Nov 06, 10:00 AM CET
Dixi Car from a Children’s Carousel, c. 1970
by Auction Team Breker
Est: €500- €700
€2800 Bids
Small Children's Carousel, c. 1990
Nov 06, 10:00 AM CET
Small Children's Carousel, c. 1990
by Auction Team Breker
Est: €12,000- €15,000
€8,0000 Bids
English Fairground Carousel, c. 1960
Nov 06, 10:00 AM CET
English Fairground Carousel, c. 1960
by Auction Team Breker
Est: €15,000- €20,000
€9,0000 Bids
Whole box full of carnival orders
Nov 05, 10:00 AM CET
Whole box full of carnival orders
by Historia Auktionshaus
Est: €0- €0
€5000 Bids
Original Vintage 1910s German Circus Poster 3 Pierrots
Nov 06, 11:00 AM PDT
Original Vintage 1910s German Circus Poster 3 Pierrots
by PosterConnection Inc.
Est: $500- $750
$2500 Bids
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Joseph Christian Leyendecker (American, 1874-1951) Circus Dog, The Saturday Even
Nov 05, 10:00 AM CDT
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (American, 1874-1951) Circus Dog, The Saturday Even
by Heritage Auctions
Est: $100,000- $150,000
$50,0000 Bids
Wilson Brothers Circus Yellow Flat Band Wagon Car Limited Edition Serial Number 1941
Oct 30, 10:30 AM PDT
Wilson Brothers Circus Yellow Flat Band Wagon Car Limited Edition Serial Number 1941
by Turner Auctions and Appraisals LLC
Est: $30- $100
$200 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Circus & Carnival Programs


Holabird Western Americana

Holabird Western Americana

Auction Team Breker

Auction Team Breker

Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.

Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.

Henry's Auktionshaus AG

Henry's Auktionshaus AG