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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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Collection of Vintage Hand-Painted Venetian Carnival Masks, Three Total
Jun 01, 11:00 AM EDT
Collection of Vintage Hand-Painted Venetian Carnival Masks, Three Total
by Northgate Gallery Auctions
Est: $100- $300
$1002 Bids
(3pc) Vintage Al G. Barnes Sells Circus Posters
May 25, 10:00 AM MST
(3pc) Vintage Al G. Barnes Sells Circus Posters
by EJ'S Auction & Appraisal
Est: $0- $0
$101 Bid
DE KREKO BROS, TRAVELING CARNIVAL SHOWS -WILD WEST POSTER, CHICAGO 1920s
May 20, 7:00 PM EDT
DE KREKO BROS, TRAVELING CARNIVAL SHOWS -WILD WEST POSTER, CHICAGO 1920s
by Kensington Estate Auctions
Est: $200- $400
$1001 Bid
Carousel horse, German wood workshops, 19th/20th century
May 25, 10:00 AM CEST
Carousel horse, German wood workshops, 19th/20th century
by Kunst- und Auktionshaus Quedlinburg
Est: €0- €0
€4000 Bids
1860's PT Barnum Circus CDV, Mrs General Tom Thumb, Baby
Jun 08, 2:00 PM EDT
1860's PT Barnum Circus CDV, Mrs General Tom Thumb, Baby
by Connoisseur Online
Est: $50- $150
$400 Bids
Ohmy's Grand New Circus 1883 poster
May 22, 3:00 PM CEST
Ohmy's Grand New Circus 1883 poster
by Casa d'aste ARCADIA
Est: €100- €200
€1000 Bids
carousel-figure, camel, 1970s, wood, painted in bright
May 25, 11:00 AM CEST
carousel-figure, camel, 1970s, wood, painted in bright
by Henry's Auktionshaus
Est: €200- €400
€2000 Bids
Vintage Aladdin Shriner Circus Pins
May 22, 11:00 AM EDT
Vintage Aladdin Shriner Circus Pins
by Vintage Auctions
Est: $60- $120
$100 Bids
The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth
May 22, 3:00 PM CEST
The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth
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Est: €800- €1,600
€8000 Bids
1933 ca. PROGRAMA DE MANO: NOCHES EN VENTA. Díptic…
May 29, 4:00 PM CEST
1933 ca. PROGRAMA DE MANO: NOCHES EN VENTA. Díptic…
by Soler y Llach
Est: €0- €0
€200 Bids
Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Grand Hall
May 22, 3:00 PM CEST
Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Grand Hall
by Casa d'aste ARCADIA
Est: €400- €800
€4000 Bids
Antique 1920 Jack Dempsey Goes The Limit Pictorial News Poster 14" x 17"
May 27, 5:00 PM EDT
Antique 1920 Jack Dempsey Goes The Limit Pictorial News Poster 14" x 17"
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Est: $0- $0
$500 Bids
2 VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTERS @ THE FAIR (MJT)
May 19, 7:00 PM CDT
2 VINTAGE CIRCUS POSTERS @ THE FAIR (MJT)
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Est: $250- $500
$190 Bids
CYRK, Original Polish Circus Poster, Art by Stachurski, c. 1970, Paper Backed
May 30, 6:00 PM AEST
CYRK, Original Polish Circus Poster, Art by Stachurski, c. 1970, Paper Backed
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD200- AUD300
AUD1000 Bids
HERSCHELL WOOD CARVED CAROUSEL HOURSE
Jun 15, 10:00 AM EDT
HERSCHELL WOOD CARVED CAROUSEL HOURSE
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Est: $1,500- $2,500
$7500 Bids
Papier-Mache Carnival Mask
Jun 06, 10:00 AM EDT
Papier-Mache Carnival Mask
by New England Auctions
Est: $150- $250
$250 Bids
Great Britain's Famous Sir Robert Fossett's Circus & Zoo, Original Lithographic Advertising Poster, England, c. 1970
May 30, 6:00 PM AEST
Great Britain's Famous Sir Robert Fossett's Circus & Zoo, Original Lithographic Advertising Poster, England, c. 1970
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD100- AUD200
AUD500 Bids
FRAMED CIRCUS POSTER AND PULL KNOBS
Jun 03, 6:00 PM EDT
FRAMED CIRCUS POSTER AND PULL KNOBS
by Atlee Raber Auctioneer
Est: $0- $0
$50 Bids
Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey Circus Collectible
Jun 08, 11:00 AM EDT
Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey Circus Collectible
by Gulfcoast Coin and Jewelry
Est: $150- $250
$250 Bids
Dartmouth Winter Carnival - event poster
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
Dartmouth Winter Carnival - event poster
by Premier Auction Galleries
Est: $150- $300
$250 Bids
Carnival Knock-Down Figure
Jun 06, 10:00 AM EDT
Carnival Knock-Down Figure
by New England Auctions
Est: $500- $750
$1000 Bids
Otto Eerelman (1839-1926)
May 29, 8:00 PM CEST
Otto Eerelman (1839-1926)
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Est: €2,000- €3,000
€2,0000 Bids
Sunbeam and Circus Printed Advertising
Jun 03, 6:00 PM EDT
Sunbeam and Circus Printed Advertising
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Est: $0- $0
$50 Bids
Ringling Brothers Clown - circus poster
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
Ringling Brothers Clown - circus poster
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Est: $150- $300
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Sellers Who Sell Circus & Carnival Programs


New England Auctions

New England Auctions

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers

Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers

Casa d'aste ARCADIA

Casa d'aste ARCADIA

Premier Auction Galleries

Premier Auction Galleries