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Magazine Articles Chronicle Circus Life of Yesterday and Today

by Larry Kellogg (06/08/09).

Time” Magazine, March 29, 1937 – Wild Animal Trainer Clyde Beatty.

Time” Magazine, March 29, 1937 – Wild Animal Trainer Clyde Beatty.

Stories featuring the circus have always been a popular subject for magazines. Collecting these magazines is an inexpensive way to add some spice and details to your Circus Collection. All of the most popular magazines of the past have regularly chronicled circus life. Weekly magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look and Colliers featured circus articles yearly—sometimes several times a year. Even Time, the first weekly news magazine, which began publication in 1923, featured circus stories, including at least three covers.

When I bought my first computer about 20 years ago, I started compiling a data base of magazine articles about the circus. Today that list contains more than 2,200 articles that have appeared in more than 550 different magazines. The copyrighted, 38-page document lists magazines alphabetically from Advertising Age to Youth’s Companion. Each magazine is further sorted chronologically. The list is constantly being updated as new articles are printed and old articles are discovered. It’s a good resource when going to antique malls or flea markets where large quantities of old magazines are being sold. You can purchase a copy of this Circus Magazine Articles Index, through WorthPoint here.

The oldest magazine article in my list appeared in The Illustrated London News in 1844 and tells about General Tom Thumb, Barnum’s diminutive discovery, and Mr. Carter, a lion trainer. The current list has 86 articles from the 1800s. But it’s also up-to-date. More than 90 circus articles have appeared in magazines since the year 2000.

National Geographic” Magazines, October 1931 and March 1948.

National Geographic” Magazines, October 1931 and March 1948.

There are many standout articles, such as the two appearing in National Geographic in October 1931 and March 1948. Both of these features were written by F. Beverly Kelley and are filled with black & white and color photos. Kelley joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1930 and worked in the publicity department throughout the 1930s and 1940s. His autobiography, “It Was Better Than Work,” was published in 1982. National Geographic has also published other circus and circus related articles, among them, an in-depth look at an old-time circus, Hoxie Bros., in a May 1972 feature. Most of these issues can be found for less than $10 each.

Harper’s Weekly,” October 4, 1873 – "The Circus Coming Into Town" – Hand Colored engraving.

Harper’s Weekly,” October 4, 1873 – “The Circus Coming Into Town” – Hand Colored engraving.

Harper’s Weekly,” February 21, 1864 – “Wedding of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb)” from a photo by Mathew Brady.

Harper’s Weekly,” February 21, 1864 – “Wedding of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb)”.

Many of the articles from the 1800s were published in Harper’s Weekly. This magazine, called “A Journal of Civilization,” was published from 1857 to 1916. Among the most important circus articles were the accounts of the wedding of General Tom Thumb, which was featured on the cover, the burning of Barnum’s American Museum and the death of P.T. Barnum. A story in 1873 entitled “The Circus Coming Into Town,” included a classic cover illustration of a circus parade. Sometimes you can find issues where the engraving has been hand colored, as in the example shown here. Harper’s Weekly issues can be found for $5 to $10 with special issues such as the ones mentioned above bringing as much as $25.

Life magazine in its many incarnations is one of the best-known magazines of the past. Originally, it was a humor and general interest magazine first published in 1883. During the early years there were many circus covers by illustrators like Norman Rockwell, Leyendecker and Victor G. Anderson. In 1936, Henry Luce purchased the magazine and beginning in November of that year, it became a weekly news magazine with an emphasis on photos. It remained a weekly until 1972, and during those 30-plus years the magazine ran circus articles in more than 100 issues. Three of those issues featured circus covers. One of the saddest articles, “The Big Top Bows Out Forever,” told the story of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s final performance under the Big Top in 1956. Life magazines from the Henry Luce period are fairly inexpensive, except for the first issue (November 23, 1936), which sells for about $100. That issue has an article about the circus paintings of John Steuart Curry titled “Curry of Kansas.” Most of the other Luce-era magazines are $10 to $30 per issue. 

Life” Magazine, July 28, 1941 – “Wire Walker Hubert Castle and family.”

Life” Magazine, July 28, 1941 – “Wire Walker Hubert Castle and family.”

 

Life” Magazine, April 8, 1946 – “World Famous Clown Lou Jacobs.”

Life” Magazine, April 8, 1946 – “World Famous Clown Lou Jacobs.”

 

Circus magazine articles provide valuable information for circus historians, and in some cases, incredible inspiration. In May 1952, Popular Mechanics published a story entitled “Here Comes the Circus.” The article featured a diagram of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey 79-car circus train, a layout of the circus grounds and a figure illustrating the rigging and set up of the Big Top tent. A teenager named Howard Tibbals saw this article and it was part of his inspiration to build the largest miniature circus in the world. You can read about Tibbals and his Howard Bros. Circus in my article You Too Can Be A Circus Owner.

If you are serious about collecting circus ephemera, magazine articles from the past and the present will give you an inside look at this fascinating world. They are inexpensive and are widely available to collectors through yard sales, flea markets, antique malls, the internet and other sources. They are a valuable source of historical information.


Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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12 Responses to “Magazine Articles Chronicle Circus Life of Yesterday and Today”

  1. Mrs Wesley H Dibble says:

    My late husband was a member of Circus Model Builders, Circus Historical Society, a semi professional magician. with many items to research for their value. Boxes of Bandwagon mag. 1963 to-july-Aug 1999, issues of Little Circus Wagon from 1964-1996 (92 Seems incomplete but is probably somewhere in all the research he did) ‘O’gauge circus model kits and his own miniature circus, if memory serves me correctly the Carson Barnes, old photographs. HELP please on any direction of their worth. He had too much to list and its time for me to relocate to be near our grown children.

  2. Mrs Wesley H Dibble says:

    One correction to my inquiry. The circus was Christy Bros according to all the very old photographs. Thanks

    • Larry Kellogg Larry Kellogg says:

      Mrs. Dibble,

      The magazines have some value. Recently 24 issues of Little Circus Wagon from the 1960s sold for $100. A complete set from 1964 to 2005 sold for $260.00. A hundred issues of Bandwagon sold for just over $100.00. It’s not possible to put a value on the models without seeing them. Value is based on the quality of the model and whether is was built from scratch or from a kit. The photos could have great value if they are original but without seeing them I couldn’t place a value on them. You mention he was a semi professional magician. Old magic equipment is highly collectible.

      • Mrs Wesley H Dibble says:

        You have been of enormous assistance. I hope to be in touch with better information, pictures of pictures some dated 1947 hopefully in the next two weeks. Thank you so much

  3. Mrs. Wesley H. Dibble says:

    This is actually Mrs. Dibble’s daughter writing regarding the worth of the circus memorabilia. We have been going through the collection of items and have found many black and white pictures possibly dating back to 1936 or earlier of the following circuses: Wallace Brothers, Cole Brothers, Ringling Brothers, Daily Brothers, Christy Brothers, and Robins Brothers circus’s. We also have many posters from circus’s such as Christy Brother’s wild animal show, Ringling Brothers Worlds Greatest Circus, Emmett Kelly painting, signed painting by oberstein and a signature I can’t make out (see attached photo’s). We also have other posters from Robert G. Earl circus, wallace bros., bears and barns circus, and mills brothers. This is not including a book of 100 posters that my dad had in his collection. The circus models are all kits. We also have two metal mechanical clown banks, but I can’t find a date. I will include pictures of the items I have mentioned. Also, would you know any collectors who would be interested in circus memorabilia who we could contact?Thank you for your advisement as to the value of these items. We really appreciate your time and effort.

    • Larry Kellogg Larry Kellogg says:

      I cannot go into detail on value here. This forum is for questions regarding the above article. You can get Expert Evaluation from a Worthologist for $19.95 by clicking on the Research your items tab.

  4. Mrs. Wesley H. Dibble says:

    Hello, again.Here is the link for the circus photographs:
    ttp://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=117584&id=656890801&l=ae6f4f320. Thanks again!

  5. Clarissa Hedgepeth says:

    Hello,

    My Uncle is Thomas E. Moore of Caroleen, NC. He worked with Mills Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus in 1951 to 1955. I am trying to locate additional information about his circus life. If at all possible please email me at cahedgepeth@yahoo.com. I do have one picture of him working but he passed away in the 70′s therefore I never knew him and alot of information about his has been lost.

    Thanks,

    Clarissa Hedgepeth

  6. Teresa Earl says:

    My husband, Robert T. Earl’s parents, Bob and Doris Earl, owned the Robert G. Earl Circus in 1964 and 1965. We are very interested in information on any and all posters that are available. We have very few of them in our collection. Please contact me. Our family owned and operated the Roberts Bros. Circus from 1973-2001.

    • Bill DeFlorio says:

      Teresa,
      My father-in-law booked for the Roberts Bros. in Vermont and New Hampshire for a number of years and knew both your parents. I have a number of promotional items related to the Roberts Bros. Circus including posters, tickets and I’m not sure what else. I don’t know if there is anything you are interested in but if you are I’d be happy to give them to you. My father-in-law also kept yearly diaries and if I recall correctly he mentions the Earls many times and some of that might be of interest.
      Sincerely,
      Bill

    • Kevin says:

      I’m not easily imssrpeed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

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