Wild West Show Memorabilia Features Great Names of the American West

This large size Kelty photo of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey shows Col. Tim McCoy and His Congress of Rough Riders of the World. McCoy was featured in the after-show during the 1935 season. This photo is valued at $300-400.

This large size Kelty photo of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey shows Col. Tim McCoy and His Congress of Rough Riders of the World. McCoy was featured in the after-show during the 1935 season. This photo is valued at $300-$400.

Collecting wild west show memorabilia is as important to circus collectors as collecting circus memorabilia. The history of the wild west show brings to mind names of great traveling shows and their attractions—Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West, 101 Ranch Wild West Show, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and Chief Sitting Bull.

Buffalo Bill Wild West postcards can be bought for as little as $25 to $30. This one was printed and sold during the 1903 European Tour.

Buffalo Bill Wild West postcards can be bought for as little as $25 to $30. This one was printed and sold during the 1903 European Tour.

This card was taken from a Rosa Bonheur painting and has a printed signature.

This card was taken from a Rosa Bonheur painting and has a printed signature.

This Buffalo Bill Wild West postcard shows buffalo in the open air arena.

This Buffalo Bill Wild West postcard shows buffalo in the open air arena.

From the late 1800s through the early 1940s, more than 100 different wild west shows traveled across America. Most wild west shows appeared in open air arenas instead of under the canvas of the big top. However, the logistics of moving the wild west show was not unlike moving the circus. Large shows traveled by railroad. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West had elephants. There were many combinations of circus and the wild west. Adam Forepaugh (1831-1890) made his circus famous in the late 1800s and in 1888 his show traveled under a couple of different names—Forepaugh and Wild West Combination and sometimes Combined Wild West and Forepaugh Exhibitions. The show featured a spectacle titled “Custer’s Last Rally.”

This printed card has a simulated autograph printed below the image. It was produced by the Courier Co. Value is $75-100.

This printed card has a simulated autograph printed below the image. It was produced by the Courier Co. Value is $75-100.

This is the Buffalo Bill Souvenir Program for the 1895 season. Note that the back says “Where We Were in 1894.”

This is the Buffalo Bill Souvenir Program for the 1895 season. Note that the back says “Where We Were in 1894.”

The reverse of the 1895 Buffalo Bill program. The value of this program is $300-350.

The reverse of the 1895 Buffalo Bill program. The value of this program is $300-350.

Even up through the middle of the last century, circuses featured wild west stars in their shows or in the after-show. The after-show, sometimes called the concert, was scheduled immediately following the main circus performance. For an extra fee the audience was allowed to stay in their seats for this show. The after-show was not always a wild west performance, but that was the norm. In 1935 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey designed special posters promoting Col. Tim McCoy, Idol of American Youth.

Ken Maynard was a famous western star appearing in nearly 100 motion pictures. In 1936 he took out Ken Maynard’s Diamond K Ranch Wild West Circus and Indian Congress.

Ken Maynard was a famous western star appearing in nearly 100 motion pictures. In 1936 he took out Ken Maynard’s Diamond K Ranch Wild West Circus and Indian Congress.

The reverse of the Ken Maynard’s Diamond K Ranch Wild West Circus and Indian Congress. This herald is valued at $50-$75.

The reverse of the Ken Maynard’s Diamond K Ranch Wild West Circus and Indian Congress. This herald is valued at $50-$75.

Among the most sought-after circus collectibles are route rooks. The same can be said for wild west show collectibles. See my article on Circus Route Books – A Record of the Past.

This is a route book for the 1896 season of Buffalo Bill’s Real Wild West. The listing of staff members inside includes James A. Bailey as Director of tour. This is the same James A. Bailey of who teamed with P.T. Barnum. Charles R. Hutchinson is listed as Treasurer and Dexter Fellows is listed as press agent. Both had a similar job on Barnum & Bailey in later years. Value is $450-500.

This is a route book for the 1896 season of Buffalo Bill’s Real Wild West. The listing of staff members inside includes James A. Bailey as Director of tour. This is the same James A. Bailey of who teamed with P.T. Barnum. Charles R. Hutchinson is listed as Treasurer and Dexter Fellows is listed as press agent. Both had a similar job on Barnum & Bailey in later years. Value is $450-$500.

For those interested in collecting Wild West Show memorabilia, I recommend these books as good reference points:

• “The Wild West, A History of Wild West Shows,” by Don Russell. Copyright 1970 Amon Carter Museum of Western Art.
• “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, An American Legend,” by R.L. Wilson with Greg Martin. Copyright 1998 Random House.
• “The William F. Cody Buffalo Bill Collector’s Guide With Values,” by James W. Wojtowicz. Copyright 1998 Collector Books.

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Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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