Magazines dedicated to the circus are inexpensive collectibles. This stack of 42 issues of “White Tops” from the 1970s sold on eBay for $35.
Magazines often publish circus stories, along with colorful photos and graphics. In a previous article I wrote for WorthPoint (Magazine Articles Chronicle Circus Life of Yesterday and Today), I wrote of the popularity of the circus as a subject for magazine articles. Most of the information for that story came from a Circus Magazine Article Index, which I have compiled over the past 25-plus years. It lists more than 2,200 articles from some 550 different magazines, dating from the mid 1800s to the present day.
When I first started to enter this data into a computer, I decided to not list trade and hobby magazines devoted partially or exclusively to the circus. It wasn’t necessary to list them because every issue had circus information. With this article, I want to highlight some of those magazines and newspapers and take a look to their value.
The hobby category includes the publications of Circus Collector & Fan Organizations. The three most popular fan magazines are “White Tops,” “Bandwagon” and “Little Circus Wagon.” All three have been around for a long time and are still being published. “White Tops” is the official publication of the Circus Fans of America. “Bandwagon” specializes in historical articles and is the publication of the Circus Historical Society. It should not be confused with a song and dance magazine also called “Bandwagon,” which began publication in 1939. That magazine featured popular music of the day, not circus. Members of the Circus Model Builders receive a subscription to “Little Circus Wagon” as part of their membership fee. The magazine has stories about miniature circuses, as well as plans for building wagons and other circus equipment.
In the 1920s and ’30s, “The Circus Scrap Book” was a filled with circus news of the day and historical stories. Copies of this publication are very difficult to find. In a previous article about my circus friend, Charlotte Shive Maxwell (Fascinating Story behind Antique Sunburst Circus Wagon Wheel), a large section of a story from “The Circus Scrap Book” was re-printed.
In the 1970s, a quarterly magazine, “Southern Sawdust,” was published by Wilson Poarch. It was not affiliated with any circus fan organization, but the magazine proved to be very popular with circus fans. The publication emphasized black and white photos.
Single copies of these fan magazines sell on Internet auctions for $5 to $20, depending on the content. If you watch for groups of the magazines, you can win a bid for as little as 50 cents to a dollar an issue, plus shipping.
This random selection of four issues of “Bandwagon” sold for $5 on eBay.
I won this copy of “The Circus Scrap Book” in an eBay auction for $10.
A lot 16 “Southern Sawdust” magazines brought an auction price of $20.
Trade publications for those in the entertainment industry, including circus, are very desirable. The most popular of those is the “New York Clipper,” which was known by most simply as “The Clipper.” The weekly entertainment newspaper began publication in 1853 and contained news of circuses, dance, music, theatre and sports. It continued publication until 1924, when it was merged into the entertainment weekly “Variety,” which is still being published. Single copies of “The Clipper” sell for $10 to $25, with some issues occasionally bringing $50 or more.
This single copy of “New York Clipper” sold on eBay for $40 in 2007. Single copies of “Variety” sell for $5 or less. Because there are fewer circuses on the road today, there is little circus news in “Variety.”
During most of the 1970s, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey purchased a small, one-column ad on page 2 in every issue of the weekly “Variety.” The ads featured quotes by members of the media and VIPs. This ad ran in the Jan. 28, 1976 issue with a quote by me when I was promotion manager for WFLA-TV & Radio.
Through the 1970s and ’80s, Ringling purchased the cover of “Variety” every year to promote their new production. The colorful poster art of the new edition of The Greatest Show On Earth ran on the cover. Most of these special issues also included a color ad on the back cover promoting one of the other shows produced by the Felds, the producers of Ringling. The artwork shown here is a printer’s proof for an advertisement promoting the 1985 shows. Ringling is on the cover. The back cover promotes “Beyond Belief with Siegfried & Roy,” produced by Irvin Feld and Kenneth Feld. The ad on the right is for the two new “Disney on Ice” productions. That ad was a full page which folded under the cover. You will note that the “Variety” logo is missing on this proof. In the final product it would appear in the blank area on top of the Ringling poster art.
Another of the classic weekly trade publications was “The Billboard,” which began publishing in 1894. During the early 1900s, it was the paper of record for circuses, carnivals, amusement parks, fairs, vaudeville, etc. In later years it added sections for the juke box industry, popular music and television. In 1961, the popular music news continued to be published in Billboard. Outdoor industry news, which included circuses, was transferred to a new publication called “Amusement Business,” which ceased publication in 2006. Issues of “The Billboard” from the 1940s and 50s that include circus news can be read on books.google.com. Single issues of “The Billboard,” published prior to 1961, sell for $25 to $50. Issues from the 1940s and 1950s are a cross-collectible because of the popular music section, and these sometimes sell for inflated prices. Special issues also bring higher prices.
This 1932 issue of “The Billboard” sold at auction for $28.
This Summer Special issue of “The Billboard” highlights the 1939 World’s Fair. It sold on eBay for $106.
“Circus Report,” once a weekly publication, is still available, but is now mailed every other week. The magazine is published by Graphics 2000 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Two copies of "Circus Report" are shown here, one from the 1990s and a smaller version on top from the 1980s. These magazines will sometimes show up on Internet auctions for as little as $2 for an entire year’s worth which would be 52 issues. Shipping would be the larger cost.
All these publications are filled with history, facts and information that make for enjoyable reading. Often, they will help document and verify circus collectibles.
Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.
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