Circus Books: Building a Solid Foundation for Collecting
The Circus: 1870-1950,” by Noel Daniel
The title page of “Circus and the Allied Arts"
Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with the Circus”
“Books are among life’s most precious possessions. They are the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that man builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, civilizations perish, but books continue. The perusal of a good book is, as it were, an interview with the noblest men of past ages who have written it.” — Unknown
It doesn’t matter what you collect, books on that topic can form a solid foundation for your collection. And nowhere is this truer than with circus collectibles. Circus collectors usually have an intense interest in circus history. A wide-ranging library of circus history books can help provide that information. Typically, the interest in circus books is limited to non-fiction, but there are a few circus classics that can add color to a collection. Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with the Circus is a good example. It’s a children’s book originally published in 1881 that tells the story of a young boy who ran away from home to join the circus. On the other hand, the recent novel Water for Elephants received rave reviews and was even No. 1 on the New York Times best seller’s list, but most circus historians give it very low marks for accuracy.
It’s easy to start a collection of circus books. You might begin by checking out books from your public library so you can find titles you would like to purchase. A recent search for “Circus History” of Amazon.com’s book section resulted in more than 6,000 hits. Looking for “Circus” or “Circus History” on Alibris.com or Abebooks.com will also bring up hundreds of books. Or try searching eBay for “Circus History Book.” But the most fun is the old fashioned way of going to a used book store and browsing through the stacks.
In building your circus book collection, make every effort to find the multi-volume Circus and the Allied Arts—A World Bibliography by Raymond Toole-Stott. It’s expensive, but a very important set of books. There are five volumes, but volume number five is nearly impossible to find. Single volumes of the set frequently sell for $25 to $100. A set of the first four volumes sells from $300 to $600. Only 1,200 copies of the first four volumes were printed and the 1,200 copies of Volume No. 4 are signed and numbered. Volume One covers the period 1500-1957; Volume Two, 1500-1959; Volume Three, 1500-1962; Volume Four 1500-1970.
The first four volumes of Circus and the Allied Arts were published by Harper and Sons (Derby) Limited in England. As stated on the title pages, the bibliography is “based mainly on circus literature in the British Museum, The Library of Congress, The Universiteitsbibliotheek Van Amsterdam, The Bibliotheque National and on the author’s own collection.” The author, Toole-Stott died on Jan. 10, 1982. Ten years later, Volume Five was published using photo copies from his original typewritten script. A detailed review of Volume Five was published in the November-December 1992 issue of Bandwagon, the official publication of the Circus Historical Society.
Today there seems to be a resurgence of new circus books being published, perhaps because of the popularity of Water for Elephants. In the July-August 2008 issue of White Tops, the official publication of Circus Fans Association of America, there’s an article which lists nearly 150 circus and circus related books that were published in 2007 and 2008. Among these new books is The Circus: 1870-1950 by Noel Daniel (Editor) published by Taschen. It’s a monumental work with 670 pages and nearly 900 illustrations. This beautiful book measures 17.3 inches by 11.4 inches by 3 inches and weighs more than 18 pounds. For more details on this book you can go to the Taschen website. There’s even a link there so you can leaf through the first 66 pages of the book.
For more information on the Circus Historical Society and the Circus Fans Association of American mentioned in this article see my article on Circus Collector Fan Organizations.