Heralds Promote Circuses Coming to Town, Tear Down ‘Inferior’ Competition

Ken Maynard’s Wild West Circus and Indian Congress toured in 1936 and featured the motion picture, western star in person. Value is $50-$75.

Ken Maynard’s Wild West Circus and Indian Congress toured in 1936 and featured the motion picture, western star in person. Value is $50-$75.

Circus heralds and couriers stand out among all the advertising pieces produced by the traveling shows of the Golden Age. They were printed in greater volume than another advertising item—usually in the millions. For more information on couriers see my story titled ‘The Circus Is Coming!’ Circus Couriers Whet Communities’ Appetites.

A close-up of a 1900 Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows herald from Denver, Co., showing the railroad ticket rates from outlying towns.

A close-up of a 1900 Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows herald from Denver, Co., showing the railroad ticket rates from outlying towns.

Heralds are advertising sheets printed on both sides and generally measure 10 by 28 inches. A closely related item is the broadside, which is a handbill printed only on one side. As with the courier, the herald has an area where the show day, date and location are printed. Collectors sometimes find heralds with this area blank. It will often have text that says “Will exhibit at” followed by a blank section to be printed later.

The advance advertising railroad car carried the billposters, whose job it was to cover the countryside with colorful circus posters. This advance car also carried workers called programmers, who distributed the heralds and couriers. They would leave bundles in every store and even throw bundles from the train as it passed through small towns near the location where the show would be appearing. Local kids would be hired to take the heralds to every home in town.

Special excursion heralds were printed to list outlying towns that would schedule trains to pick up passengers headed to the circus. Heralds known as “rat sheets” were printed comparing the big show with some small show which would be appearing in the same area at about the same time. Derogatory phrases like “flea bitten” and “cold blooded lies” were used to run down the opposition. The designers of circus heralds loved using numbers: “10 herd of elephants,” “100 clowns,” “740 horses,” “1,000 people,” “$1 Million Worth of Wild Animals.” The bigger the numbers, the better the hype.

Illustrated here are examples of circus heralds and broadsides:

Two sides of this 1886 Adam Forepaugh Herald urge patrons to wait until July 17 to see the “Exalted Ruler of Recreation’s Realm,” and not be taken in by the inferior “Little Doris Circus,” a Forepaugh competitor.

Two sides of this 1886 Adam Forepaugh Herald urge patrons to wait until July 17 to see the “Exalted Ruler of Recreation’s Realm,” and not be taken in by the inferior “Little Doris Circus,” a Forepaugh competitor.

One section of the Forepaugh Herald lists the inventory of the small Doris Circus, which includes “2 small elephants, 2 weather-beaten camels and NO hippopotamus, NO rhinoceros, NO herd of elephants.” Value is $50-$75.

One section of the Forepaugh Herald lists the inventory of the small Doris Circus, which includes “2 small elephants, 2 weather-beaten camels and NO hippopotamus, NO rhinoceros, NO herd of elephants.” Value is $50-$75.

This is an extremely rare broadside for Gran Circo Codona a circus featuring aerialists Alfredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel. The show performed in Mexico in the 1920s during the off season. Codona and Leitzel were married in 1928, but in 1931 Leitzel fell while performing in Copenhagen, Denmark. She died two days later. In less than two years Codona married Vera Bruce, an aerialist. In 1937, while in a law office discussing divorce, Codona shot Bruce to death and then killed himself. Ironically, Vera Bruce was also featured in this Cran Circo Codona. The broadside is valued at over $100.

This is an extremely rare broadside for Gran Circo Codona a circus featuring aerialists Alfredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel. The show performed in Mexico in the 1920s during the off season. Codona and Leitzel were married in 1928, but in 1931 Leitzel fell while performing in Copenhagen, Denmark. She died two days later. In less than two years Codona married Vera Bruce, an aerialist. In 1937, while in a law office discussing divorce, Codona shot Bruce to death and then killed himself. Ironically, Vera Bruce was also featured in this Cran Circo Codona. The broadside is valued at over $100.

This Cole Bros. herald has lots of numbers, something loved by showmen. 3 Rings. 3 Trains. 3 Menageries. 3 Herd of Elephants. 3 Droves of Camels. 3 Score of Clowns. 100 Acts. 10,000 Comfortable Seats. 50 Imperial Wonders. 15 Acres of Canvas . . . and much more. Value is $25-$50.

This Cole Bros. herald has lots of numbers, something loved by showmen. 3 Rings. 3 Trains. 3 Menageries. 3 Herd of Elephants. 3 Droves of Camels. 3 Score of Clowns. 100 Acts. 10,000 Comfortable Seats. 50 Imperial Wonders. 15 Acres of Canvas . . . and much more. Value is $25-$50.

Two sides of this Yankee Robinson feature Tom Tom, the Largest Elephant on Earth, Consul II the Man Monkey, and many other attractions.

Two sides of this Yankee Robinson feature Tom Tom, the Largest Elephant on Earth, Consul II the Man Monkey, and many other attractions.

Again using numbers they show boasts “$1,000,000 Actually Invested In This Show.” P.T. Barnum’s name is not mentioned but his likeness is at the top of both sides of the herald. This herald is quite common and has a value of $10 or less.

Again using numbers they show boasts “$1,000,000 Actually Invested In This Show.” P.T. Barnum’s name is not mentioned but his likeness is at the top of both sides of the herald. This herald is quite common and has a value of $10 or less.

The other side of Ken Maynard’s Wild West Circus and Indian Congress toured in 1936 and featured the motion picture, western star in person.

The other side of Ken Maynard’s Wild West Circus and Indian Congress toured in 1936 and featured the motion picture, western star in person.

In 1900 Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows played in Denver, Colorado. This herald has rates for excursion trains on the Colorado Road to many outlying towns, from Windsor to Broomfield. Value $25-$50.

In 1900 Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows played in Denver, Colorado. This herald has rates for excursion trains on the Colorado Road to many outlying towns, from Windsor to Broomfield. Value $25-$50.

For more information about circus heralds and couriers see the chapter on that topic in the book “Billers, Banners and Bombast, The Story of Circus Advertising,” by Charles Philip Fox and Tom Parkinson, Copyright 1985 by Pruitt Publishing Co.

Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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