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Is That Old Circus Poster You Found Authentic or a Reproduction?

by Larry Kellogg (11/03/08).

1922 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – White Face Clown on left

So you’ve just found the most amazing circus poster online and want to bid on it. Or maybe you are thinking about buying one at an antique mall. How do you know it is real? Could it be a reproduction? You aren’t sure. What can you do?

Size is the first clue about whether or not a poster is original. The majority of collectible posters are one-sheet (28 inches by 42 inches) or half-sheet. But posters also came in larger sizes — three-sheet, six-sheet, nine-sheet, 16-sheet, 20-sheet, 28-sheet and many other sizes. One of the largest ever produced was for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a gigantic 108-sheet billboard.

For more information about reproduciton circus posters, read “Is That Old Circus Poster You Found Authentic or a Reproduction? More Answers.”

The circus poster reproductions seen most often are the six printed in 1960 by Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin and the vast assortment printed by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey beginning in the early 1970s and continuing through the early 1980s. Those are the ones we will concentrate on in this article. Some of those posters are shown above.

Al G. Barnes Circus Tiger Riding Elephant

Circus World Museum posters

The posters printed by Circus World Museum measure 13 ¼ inches by 19 inches each. If they haven’t been altered it’s easy to identify them because in the lower left border it says “Copyright 1960 Circus World Museum.” But I have seen these in antique shows with that line trimmed off and being passed off as original. Sometimes they are neatly framed and matted. The posters were originally sold as a set in a folder that said “Old Time Circus Posters – Six Colorful, Authentic Reproductions – Each Resplendent and Spectacular Reproduction is an Eye Feast of Beauty That Captures All the Unparalleled Magnificence of the Original Poster.”

The titles and images of the six posters are:

Ringling Bros. – Army of 50 Clowns
Barnum & Bailey – Peerless Prodigies of Physical Phenomena . . .
Barnum & Bailey – The Meers Sisters
Al G. Barnes Circus – Tiger riding on an elephant
Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. – Automobile Double Forward Somersault
Forepaugh & Sells Brothers – Hippopotamus & Rhinoceros

Ringling Bros. – Army of 50 Clowns

Barnum & Bailey – Peerless Prodigies …

Barnum & Bailey – The Meers Sisters

Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. – Automobile

Forepaugh & Sells Brothers – Hippo & Rhino

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey posters

In the early 1970s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey began reproducing many of their historic posters. They were advertised as “The Only Antique Posters Authorized by The Greatest Show On Earth.” These reproductions were sold at the concessions stands on the traveling shows and by mail as advertised in the souvenir program book. They were also sold in the gift shops at their theme park, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World, which opened in 1974 in central Florida near Disney World.

Beginning with the 100th Anniversary Program in 1970, some of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey programs had poster reproductions inserted in the program book. These varied in size, but were about 16 inches by 20 inches. It’s easy to identify them because they were folded in quarters and have staple holes where they were inserted into the program. They continued this for several years.

In 1970 the 100th Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey souvenir program advertised a set of four posters measuring 26 inches x 17 inches for $3.98 per set.

Those posters were:

Barnum & Bailey – Tiger Head – Blue Background
Barnum & Bailey – 1000 Skits by 50 Original Clowns
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Giraffe Neck Women from Burma
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Dainty Miss Leitzel

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Giraffe Neck Women

Barnum & Bailey – 1000 Skits by 50 Original Clowns

Barnum & Bailey – Tiger Head, Blue

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Dainty Miss Leitzel

Individual Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey posters

Starting in 1971 individual posters could be ordered from the souvenir program book. They were advertised as approximately 24 inches by 17 inches. All of these posters had an order number printed in the lower corner which begins with the letter “P.”

Here’s a list of these posters:

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Chariot Races, Blue Background

1897 – Ringling Bros., Three Famous Aerial Artists

P-103 – 1935 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Chariot Races – Blue Background
P-104 – 1897 – Ringling Bros. – Three Famous Aerial Artists
P-105 – 1904 – Barnum & Bailey – The Great Florenz Troupe
P-109 – 1921 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Polar Bear – Red Background
P-113 – 1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Gargantua the Great
P-114 – 1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Terrell Jacobs & Lions
P-116 – 1888 – Ringling Bros. – Portraits of the five brothers
P-117 – 1927 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – May Wirth
P-118 – 1933 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Felix and 99 other Famous Clowns
P-123 – 1904 – Barnum & Bailey – Blue Ribbon Winners – High Jumpers
P-125 – 1917 – Barnum & Bailey – Clown Standing over Tents – Blue Background
P-127 – 1920 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Worlds Biggest Menagerie – Elephant Head & other Animals
P-128 – 1916 – Barnum & Bailey – By the Hair of their Heads
P-131 – 1900 – Barnum & Bailey – Clown Band – German Text
P-132 – 1915 – Barnum & Bailey – Great Groups of Trained Wild Beasts including Mlle. Adgie
P-136 – 1928 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Crouching Lion
P-137 – 1895 – Ringling Bros. Mlle Elena
P-141 – 1922 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – White Face Clown on left
P-143 – 1916 – Barnum & Bailey – Pallenberg – Bears That Dance
P-144 – 1913 – Barnum & Bailey – Great Free Street Parade
P-146 – 1916 – Barnum & Bailey – Roaring Tiger Head
P-149 – 1936 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Seated Clowns with Circus on their backs
P-152 – 1900 – Ringling Bros. – Portraits of the five brothers
P-153 – 1897 – Barnum & Bailey – Portraits of Barnum & Bailey
P-155 – 1932 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – 5 Big Herds of Performing Elephants
P-157 – 1903 – Barnum & Bailey – Miss Helen Girard
P-158 – 1906 – Barnum & Bailey – A Whole Horse Show
P-159 – 1925 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Chariot Races- Red Background
P-162 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Giraffe Neck Women
P-202 – 1883 – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West – Featuring Indians

1904 – Barnum & Bailey, The Great Florenz Troupe

1904 – Barnum & Bailey; The Great Florenz Troupe

 

1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Gargantua the Great

1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Gargantua the Great

 

1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Terrell Jacobs & Lions

1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Terrell Jacobs & Lions

 

1888 – Ringling Bros. – Portraits of the five brothers

1888 – Ringling Bros. – Portraits of the five brothers

 

1927 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; May Wirth

1933 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Felix and 99 other Famous Clowns

1920 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Worlds Biggest Menagerie – Elephant Head

1916 – Barnum & Bailey; By the Hair of their Heads

1904 – Barnum & Bailey; Blue Ribbon Winners – High Jumpers

1904 – Barnum & Bailey; Blue Ribbon Winners – High Jumpers

1917 – Barnum & Bailey; Clown Standing over Tents – Blue Background

1917 – Barnum & Bailey; Clown Standing over Tents – Blue Background

1900 – Barnum & Bailey; Clown Band – German Text

1900 – Barnum & Bailey; Clown Band – German Text

1915 – Barnum & Bailey; Great Groups of Trained Wild Beasts

1915 – Barnum & Bailey; Great Groups of Trained Wild Beasts

1900 – Ringling Bros.; Portraits of the five brothers

1900 – Ringling Bros.; Portraits of the five brothers

1897 – Barnum & Bailey – Portraits of Barnum & Bailey

1897 – Barnum & Bailey – Portraits of Barnum & Bailey

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey posters – Larger size

1936 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Seated Clowns

1932 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – 5 Big Herds of Performing Elephants

1906 – Barnum & Bailey; A Whole Horse Show

1903 – Barnum & Bailey; Miss Helen Girard

In 1976, the 105th Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Program began to advertise the posters as 23 ½ inches by 36 ¼ inches. Sometimes they were advertised as 2 feet by 3 feet. Many were the same images as sold before, only the size was larger.

Here’s a list of those posters:

P-1 – 1883 – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West – Featuring Indians
P-2 – 1895 – Ringling Bros. Mlle Elena
P-3 – 1916 – Barnum & Bailey – Pallenberg – Bears That Dance
P-4 – 1916 – Barnum & Bailey – Roaring Tiger Head
P-5 – 1917 – Barnum & Bailey – Clown Standing over Tents – Blue Background
P-6 – 1920 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Worlds Biggest Menagerie – Elephant Head & other Animals
P-7 – 1921 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Polar Bear – Red Background
P-8 – 1925 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Chariot Races- Red Background
P-9 – 1928 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Crouching Lion
P-10 – 1933 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Felix and 99 other Famous Clowns
P-11 – 1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Terrell Jacobs & Lions
P-12 – 1938 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Gargantua the Great
P-20 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Seal Act
P-24 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Seven Clown Heads
P-25 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Trains more than one a third mile long
P-26 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Congress of World Famous Horse Acts
P-27 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Leaping Tiger
P-28 – P.T. Barnum & Great London Circus – Jumbo the Elephant
P-29 – Barnum & Bailey – Four Giraffes

In the 1978 souvenir program the numbers following the letter “P” were incorrect and did not match the numbers on the posters, but that was corrected the following year.

1921 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Polar Bear, Red Background

 

1925 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Chariot Races, Red Background

1928 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Crouching Lion

 

1883 – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West; Featuring Indians

1895 – Ringling Bros.; Mlle Elena

1916 – Barnum & Bailey; Pallenberg – Bears That Dance

Barnum & Bailey; Four Giraffes

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Seven Clown Heads

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Seven Clown Heads

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Trains more than one a third mile long

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Trains more than one a third mile long

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Congress of World Famous Horse Acts

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Congress of World Famous Horse Acts

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Leaping Tiger

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey; Leaping Tiger

Beware of cheap circus poster reproductions

There are many circus poster reproductions, but the ones listed above seem to be the most common. They are frequently up for auction on eBay and are regularly seen in antique shows and malls. None of these posters have much value—less than $5 each—but they are sometimes advertised as “guaranteed original,” with prices in the hundreds of dollars. Usually, the seller really believes they are authentic and isn’t trying to rip you off.

If you just want to decorate your walls and don’t care about value, there are some nice reproductions and they are not hard to find. Just be very careful when you want to buy an original.

Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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269 Responses to “Is That Old Circus Poster You Found Authentic or a Reproduction?”

  1. Hello Larry,

    I purchased a Barnum and Bailey poster of the Meers sisters, Marie and Ouika, at an estate auction in 1980. It is rather heavy poster board and it has the Strobridge Lith & Co., Cincinnati & New York in the lower right corner. I am confused because of the size. It measures 30″ x 23 1/2″. It appears to have an autograph (fairly small and squiggly) at the bottom. Since I only paid a pittance for it, I will not be disappointed with your reply. LOL
    Thank you for your time.

  2. I have a poster of the ice skating bear’s ie- Pallenburg. My question is would there be anything on it that would identify it as a authentic poster and not a copy?

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