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Finding the Circus in Non-Circus Books

by Larry Kellogg (09/11/12).

If you’re vigilant, you can often find old books that have chapters or photographs about the circus. One such book is “An Enchantment of Elephants,” which has chapters about circus elephants and a special chapter about Jumbo. It is usually priced at $5 to $10 but it’s possible to find a copy for less.

Books about the circus are an important addition to any circus collection. One of my previous WorthPoint articles focused on the subject of circus books, but there are many non-circus books that have sections devoted to the circus. If you’re vigilant, you can often find this type of book when browsing used book stores. Books about animals or other topics that might relate to the circus abound, and American history picture books can be a good place to look.

Below are some of the books I’ve discovered over the years and most of them can be purchased inexpensively:

“Horse From Noble Steeds to Beasts of Burden” by Lorraine Harrison. Published in 2000, this small-format (7 1/16 by 5 1/8 inches) book is overflowing with hundreds of photos and detailed text. Among the eight chapters are “Wild Horses,” “War Horses,” “Mythical Horses” and “Performing Horses.” It’s this last chapter where you’ll find the circus horse and the horse in Wild West Shows. That section also has photos of horses in motion pictures and rodeos.


Lavishly filled with horse photos and artwork the 368-page book can easily be found for $1 on the Internet.

The section on “Performing Horses” covers 42 pages.

“An Enchantment of Elephants” by Emily Gwathmey. One interesting chapter titled “The Graphic Elephant” explains how the elephant has been used on postage stamps and to advertise products. Another chapter, “The Architectural Elephant,” illustrates the giant elephant building, Lucy, which housed an office and restaurant. There are also chapters on “Pink and White Elephants” and “Patriotic Elephants.” A section with an illustration of Barnum’s white elephant is in one of those chapters. The chapter titled “The Circus Elephant” is given prominent coverage, followed by a separate chapter on “Jumbo,” Barnum’s famous elephant.

Ten pages are devoted to “The Circus Elephant.”

Because of his fame, “Jumbo” is given his own chapter.

“Publicity Stunt!” by Candice Jacobson Fuhrman. This book was published in 1989 by Chronicle Books and, as the subtitle boasts, describes “Great Staged Events That Made The News.” A check of the index shows 10 references to P.T. Barnum, who was the master of ballyhoo. Many other circus publicity events are chronicled as well.

You can easily find a copy of “Publicity Stunt!” for $5 or less.

P.T. Barnum actually borrowed a baby to be photographed with Mrs. Tom Thumb, claiming it was the child of the famous couple.

“The American Billboard 100 Years” by James Fraser. Published in 1991 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., the book features illustrations of more than 150 billboards. When I saw this book, I assumed it must include at least one circus billboard and I was correct, but only one.

“The American Billboard 100 Years” is a trade paperback and is valued at $1 to $15 depending on condition.

Strobridge & Company in Cincinnati produced this Barnum & Bailey poster. It’s the first billboard art in the book and begins the chapter, “The Early Years.”

“Mathew Brady and His World” by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip D. Kunhardt, Jr. Time-Life Books published this book in 1977 using pictures in the Frederick Meserve Collection. Mathew Brady’s Fulton Street photo gallery was located across the street from P.T. Barnum’s first American Museum in NYC, so it’s no wonder that Brady used Barnum and his many attractions as photo subjects. “The Great Showman and His Wares,” is one of the chapters with 18 pages of photos.

The Brady book sells for $10 to $30.

A Barnum section is titled “The Great Showman and His Wares.” The image on the right pictures Barnum’s American Museum.

“Hometown U.S.A.” by Stephen W. Sears. American Heritage published this book in 1975. It’s a coffee table book filled with photos of small town America in the early years of the 1900s. This is the type of book a circus collector should patiently scan because there’s a good chance some circus photos are included. Several wonderful images are in the book along with some circus related photos of a carnival and Chautauqua. Value is $10 to $25.

“Hometown U.S.A.” has chapters on “Main Street,” “All Around Town,” “Home and Family,” “Growing Up,” “Life’s Small Pleasures,” and “Remembered Moments.”

My favorite circus photo in the book is this scene of three young boys reading couriers describing the wonders of Miller Bros.101 Ranch Wild West.

“As You Pass By,” written by Kenneth Holcomb Dunshee. A picture history of New York City would no doubt have something about Barnum and his museum and this book does. Two pages are devoted to “Sweet Jenny Lind,” The Swedish singer. Brought to America by Barnum, she made her debut at New York’s Castle Garden on September 11, 1850. A later chapter in the book devotes two pages to “Barnum’s Museum.”

“As You Pass By” was published by Hastings House in 1952. You can find the book on the Internet for $5 to $15.

Much of the article on Barnum’s Museum is devoted to the two fires that destroyed his two museums in 1865 and 1868.

Under Barnum’s management Jenny Lind gave 93 concerts in America.

“America In 1876: The Way We Were” by Lally Weymouth. The 1976 Bicentennial was responsible for many nostalgic looks at our past. This book contained a look at America during its Centennial year. Twenty-eight pages are devoted to “P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman On Earth.” This section illustrates highlights of Barnum’s career from his American Museum to the traveling circus.

More than 100 copies of “America in 1876” are available on the Internet for $5 or less.

One attraction at Barnum’s American Museum was a giant aquarium which included a live whale.

“The Encyclopedia of Collectibles” by Time-Life Books – Volume 4. In 1978 Time-Life Books published a 16-volume set of books on collectibles—alphabetically from Advertising Giveaways to World War Memorabilia. Volume 4 covered Children’s Books to Comics. Included in this volume is a 12-page section on Circus Memorabilia.

Most volumes in this set sell for $1 but volume 4 seems to bring a few dollars more.

A number of different types of collectibles are illustrated in the section on circus. It includes posters, programs, couriers, heralds, tickets and photos.

“The Townsmen” by Keith Wheeler. Another Time-Life series is the 26-volume set titled “The Old West.” You can see books from this series in nearly every antique mall or used book store you visit, usually priced at less than $5 per book. “The Townsmen” volume has four circus and circus related photos.

“The Townsmen” is one of the 26-volume Time-Life series on The Old West.

A two-page spread in The Townsmen shows a circus parade in Abilene, Kansas in 1895.

“Timber Line, A Story of Bonfils and Tammen” by Gene Fowler. First published in 1933, “Timber Line” has been re-published many times in hardback and paperback editions. It’s an autobiographical story of Frederick Glimer Bonfils and H.H. Tammen, founders of the Denver Post newspaper. Because author Fowler started his writing career at the Denver Post, he had firsthand knowledge of the paper’s owners. The book is a history of not only the Post, but also of the city of Denver during its early years. One chapter, “A Study In Sawdust,” focuses on Sells-Floto Circus which also was owned by Bonfils and Tammen. Copies of the book can be found for $1 and less.

This Ballantine paperback edition was published in 1974.

“Fathers & Sons” by Todd Richissin with photos by Jim Graham. Thirty groups of famous fathers and sons are featured in mini-essays. Well-known celebrities like TV journalists Mike and Chris Wallace, tennis pro John P. McEnroe and his sons, Mark and Patrick, are included along with lesser-known names like Civil War re-enactors Paul Pokorskis and his sons, Victor and Stephen. Four pages in the book are devoted to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams and his son Mark Oliver Gebel. At the time their essay was written, Gunther had ceased performing, but was still very involved in the care and training of animals. Mark Oliver had taken over his father’s act. This would be a difficult book to stumble across. I just happened to know about the essay on Gunther and Mark because the photos were taken at winter quarters during the time I worked with The Greatest Show On Earth. I was asked to supervise part of the photo shoot.

My last Internet search for “Fathers & Sons” found more than 50 copies of the book for $5 or less.

During rehearsals at Winter Quarters, Gunther Gebel-Willaims and his son, Mark Oliver Gebel, took time out to pose for this photo.

“America’s Greatest Brands – Volume 3” published by America’s Greatest Brands, Inc. This edition lists 61 of America’s top brands—names like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, 3M, Union Pacific . . . and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

A few copies of “America’s Greatest Brands – Volume 3” are available on the Internet for $1 or less but many copies are $10, $20 and up.

At the time of this book’s publication (2004), The Greatest Show On Earth was celebrating 134 years, making it the longest-running hit show in the history of show business and the only continuous, entertainment phenomenon to span three consecutive centuries.


Larry Kellogg is a Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.


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