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Treasure Trove of Circus Tomes & Ephemera Found at Florida Antiquarian Book Fair

by Larry Kellogg (04/02/12).

The three-day Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, held annually at the historic Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Here, collectors peruse and purchase rare and out of print book from the dealers participating in the event.

Each March, a virtual goldmine lures book collectors and dealers from all over the U.S. and beyond. It’s the three-day Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, held annually at the historic Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Here, collectors peruse and purchase rare and out of print book from the dealers participating in the event. Among the many nuggets for sale are historic documents, maps, prints, photographs, autographs and ephemera of all types.

Considered to be the premiere regional book fair in the nation, it’s also a festive and educational event with live classical music on Friday’s opening night and free lectures and book appraisals on Saturday and Sunday. One major book dealer from New Jersey says: “The St. Petersburg, Florida Book Fair is the longest running, and probably the most successful book fair in the American South.”

I look forward to the Book Fair each year because I love hunting for circus memorabilia to add to my own collection. You can read about my searches in the past in two previous articles about the 2010 and 2011 Book Fairs.

This year’s fair was held March 9-11 and featured more than 115 dealers from throughout the United States and Canada. I found a wide variety of circus memorabilia and even found a couple of items I didn’t have. Below are just some of the circus items I discovered. The prices shown are what the dealer is asking, but don’t always reflect the actual value.

Back In The Day Books from Tarpon Springs, Florida

Knowing the popularity of circus books, some dealers display them prominently. Back In The Day Books from Tarpon Springs, Fla., devoted a top shelf for their circus books. From left the books are: “The Love of the Circus,” by David Jamieson and Sandy Jamieson ($7); “The World of Clowns,” by George Bishop ($12); “The Circus Lure and Legend,” compiled and edited by Mildred Sandison Fenner and Wolcott Fenner ($10); “The Pictorial History of the American Circus,” by John and Alice Durant ($30); “Circus! An Investigation Into What Makes the Sawdust Fly,” by Alan Wykes ($10); “Mud Show, A Circus Season,” by Fred Powledge ($15); and “Those Amazing Ringlings and Their Circus,” by Gene Plowden ($30).

“Are You In The Circus?” by Barbara Davis Heavilin was listed at $25.

Because dealers come from all across the country, you see many regional books. Yesterday’s Books from Richmond, Ind., had “Are You In The Circus?” a seldom seen book about a family from Richmond who sold their home and ran away to travel with Carson & Barnes Circus.


“Lions and Tigers,” The Big Little Book with photos from Clyde Beatty’s motion Picture, “The Big Cage,” was priced at $34.

Yesterday’s Books also brought a copy of Clyde Beatty’s Big Little Book, “Lions and Tigers.” The book has many photos from the motion picture “The Big Cage,” which was based on a book by the same name.

An inscribed copy of “Under The Big Top,” by Bruce Feiler was listed at only $8.

Author, Bruce Feiler, spent a season as a clown with Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. His book, “Under The Big Top,” chronicles his experiences on the road. The book was brought to the fair by George Spiro Books of New Port Richey, Fla. (727.376.4914).

“Wild Tigers & Tame Fleas” by Bill Ballantine.

Bill Ballantine was a clown, designer, artist and publicist with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. During his career he wrote many circus books and articles for leading magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Colliers, Holiday, True, Cavalier, Harper’s and Harper’s Bazaar. A copy of one of his best-known books, “Wild Tigers & Tame Fleas,” was brought to the fair by Yeoman’s in the Fork in Franklin, Tenn. It was priced $35.

Two books by Charles Philip Fox, “Billers, Banners and Bombast” and “Circus Baggage Stock” were listed at $35 each.

Double A Books in Bradenton, Florida (941.792.1324) brought two Charles Philip Fox books. Fox was known by his friends as “Chappie” Fox and was the author of more than 30 books, many about the circus.

“The Circus Moves By Rail” was co-authored by Charles Philip Fox and Tom Parkinson.

March 2012 was the 31st annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and Vivian Moore Bookseller from Alpharetta, Ga., has been an exhibitor for every one of those 31 years. She always brings circus collectibles and this year was no exception. Her copy of “The Circus Moves By Rail” was priced at $88.

This Kelty Photo shows the performers with Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1931. Price was $288.

Cabinet Card of Side Show attraction Eli Bowen.

Vivian Moore also brought two unusual photographs. The large format image of Hagenbeck-Wallace performers in 1931 was an original and measured 16 x 24 inches. The photo was taken by Edward J. Kelty, who traveled the country photographing circuses. Original Kelty photos are highly sought. Copies of these photos are out there, but originals have a stamp on the back with the words, “Century Flashlight Photographers . . . Edward J. Kelty . . . or Edward J. Kelty Century Circus Photographer.” The story of Kelty and his photos is told in a wonderful book titled “Step Right This Way, The Photographs of Edward J. Kelty.”

The cabinet card image of Eli Bowen was priced at $120. Bowen was known as the “Legless Acrobat” and was sometimes referred to as the “handsomest man in show biz.” As I was browsing Vivian Moore’s booth Friday night, a local antique dealer purchased the Bowen photo.


International Big Top Circus Poster.

King Bros. and Cristiani Circus Date Sheet.

Bookworm & Silverfish in Wytheville, Va., displayed two circus posters in front of his booth, priced at $75 each. One poster featured a clown image and advertised the International Big Top Circus at the Scioto County Fair in Lucasville, Ohio. This is known as a stock poster and would probably appeal more to those in the Lucasville area. The King-Cristiani poster is known as a date sheet. The main feature of the poster is the show name, date, town and location.

1935 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey souvenir program.

1936 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey souvenir program.

Two souvenir programs for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were brought to the fair by Isaiah Thomas Books & Prints from Cotuit, Mass., on Cape Cod. The 1935 edition was priced at $35 and the 1936 Edition was $30.

“In Search of the Monkey Girl,” with photos by Randal Levenson.

Isaiah Thomas also had a copy of the book “In Search of the Monkey Girl,” listed at $50. It’s not actually a circus book, but is circus related. The book has stories by Spalding Gray and photos by Randal Levenson taken on carnivals and side shows in the 1970s.

This courier advertises Irving’s Imperial Midgets.

Another non-circus, but circus related item was a courier for Irving’s Imperial Midgets, priced at $40. This was primarily a stage show which toured the country in the 1920s. The courier was brought to the book fair by Basset Bookseller in Fullerton, Neb.


1922 Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Program.

The Ridge Books from Calhoun, Ga., brought a 1922 Hagenbeck-Wallace circus program to the Book Fair listed at $30.


1983 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Program.

Copperfish Books in Port Charlotte, Fla. brought a few circus items including a 1983 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey program. This was the 113th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth and featured the Pink Panther in the large production number called the “spec.”

King Tusk poster.

3 Ring Circus movie lobby card.

Copperfish Books also brought a couple of display items. The King Tusk poster had been removed from a 117th Edition Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus program. That show toured in 1987-88. The poster was priced at $22. In a large lot of movie lobby cards brought by Copperfish, I discovered a single card for “3 Ring Circus” starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. List price was $30. The movie was released in 1954 and was filmed on the Clyde Beatty railroad circus.

“The Lion Tamer,” by E.M. Hull was priced at $75.

Circus fiction is not as popular as non-fiction to the circus collector. I’m including this copy of “The Lion Tamer,” because it was written by well-known British author, Edith Maude Hull, who was best known for her novel “The Sheik,” an international best-seller in 1921. Notice that Bookleggers Used Books from Chicago prominently displayed the book in their booth. I always like to suggest the book was misnamed. It should have been titled “The Lion Trainer.” Lions are wild animals and are never tamed—only trained.

Monte Carlo Circus Press Kit cover.

Monte Carlo Circus Press Kit inside.

In 1979 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey produced a one-ring show under the high patronage of his Serene Highness Prince Rainier III, titled The Festival International du Cirque de Monte Carlo Spectacular. After a short arena tour, the show moved under canvas to Circus World, the Ringling owned theme park in Central Florida. Gary Nippes Books in Micanopy, Fla., (352.373.4541) brought a large media kit filled with media releases and photos. It was priced at $30.


A Peep at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Read ’Em Again Books in Montclair, Va., always brings a few rare circus items to the book fair. “A Peep at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” was a children’s book published by McLoughlin Bros. in 1887. Price of the book was $250. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was a show that had been performing since 1883. Wild West items are very popular with circus collectors.

Super Circus, Canada Dry Action Toys front.

Super Circus, Canada Dry Action Toys back.

‘Super Circus,” a weekly TV series, aired from 1949-56 on ABC Television. This tie-in set of action toys was offered by Canada Dry, one of the show sponsors. Red’Em Again Books’ price was $75.


Book of cigarette cards from Germany.

Shaw’s Books in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., brought a unique album of 200 German cigarette cards, all with scenes of circus and dancing acts performing at the Wintergarten in Berlin. At least half the cards were circus scenes. The album price was $250.

For more information about the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair check their webpage: Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. You can also find the Book Fair on Facebook.

Larry Kellogg is a Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.


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