Searching For Circus Collectibles
View from the balcony at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.
“Where do you look for circus collectibles?” I get asked that question over and over, and it’s a question you could ask any collector, no matter what their interest. Coins, stamps, furniture, glassware, books—it doesn’t matter what the item, the search is part of the fun.
I find circus items on the Internet, in antique stores and malls, book stores and sometimes from private collectors. One of my favorite places to search is right here in my hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla. at the annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. Over the past 20-plus years of attending this event, I have found numerous items for my collection.
The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is held the second full weekend of March in St. Petersburg’s historic Coliseum. It is the oldest and largest book fair in the southeast and many dealers rate it as the best regional book fair in the country. It features between 115 and 120 dealers from as many as 25 different states. Dealers come from as far away as California to exhibit and sell rare and out-of-print books, documents, autographs, maps, prints and ephemera.
This year was the 29th anniversary for the three-day event. For 16 of those year, I was privileged to manage the fair and have made many friends among the dealers. Every year some of those dealers surprise me with circus items to peruse and buy, if I want them. Although I retired a few years ago from managing the fair, I would never miss going to the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair—it’s at the top of my list of favorite things to do.
This year, my annual search uncovered many items, some extremely rare. I didn’t purchase all of them because many were already in my collection and some were out of my price range. Shown here are just some of the circus treasures I discovered at the 2010 Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and a few items I purchased at past events here. For more information about the book fair, check out its Web site: Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.
Circus Lingo,” by Joe McKennon.
“Circus Lingo,” by Joe McKennon, was brought to the book fair by Vivian Moore Bookseller of Alpharetta, Ga. As I was standing by her booth on Saturday, I saw a man purchase this book. It was priced at $18.
Little Circus Wagon” is the official publication of the Circus Model Builders.
A 1954 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey date sheet.
Bookworm & Silverfish from Wytheville, Va., had many circus items. Among them were a 1954 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey date sheet (priced at $40) and a stack of 25 issues of “Little Circus Wagon” from the 1970s (priced at $125). “Little Circus Wagon” is the official publication of the Circus Model Builders. For more information about that and other circus organizations see my article Circus Collector Fan Organizations.
A Van Amburg & Company Songster .
A Van Amburg & Company Show biography.
The two rarest circus items I found at the fair were brought by Read ’em Again Books of Montclair, Va. Both were from Van Amburg & Company, a show that was on the road from 1845 to 1881. The 36-page Songster was priced at $400. The 79-page biography of the Van Amburgh show was priced at $700. The full title of that booklet was “Biographical Sketch of I.A. Van Amburgh and an Illustrative and Descriptive History of the Animals Contained in his Mammoth Menagerie and Great Moral Exhibition.” The date of the publication was 1868.
A 1924 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey program.
Read ’em Again Books also brought several early Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey programs including this 1924 edition priced at $120. For more information about circus programs see my article Circus Programs: Souvenir Magazines a Colorful and Plentiful Collectible.
Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. 2nd Largest Circus poster from the 1950s
Dales Wild Animal 3 Ring Circus poster.
Mori Books from Milford, N.H., displayed two stock circus posters priced at $40 each. One was an Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. 2nd Largest Circus poster from the 1950s. The other was for Dales Wild Animal 3 Ring Circus. In trying to find out more about Dales Circus, I searched through Robert L. Parkinson’s book “Directory of American Circuses 1793-2000.” The only show listed that almost matches the poster was Dales Bros. Circus, which exhibited from 1948 to 1950.
Sells & Gray herald front.
Sells & Gray back.
This two-sided circus herald for Sells & Gray was also brought by Mori Books. The price was $30. For more information on circus heralds see my article Heralds Promote Circuses Coming to Town, Tear Down ‘Inferior’ Competition.
A General Tom Thumb & Company carte de visite.
Colebrook Book Barn from Colebrook, Co brought a binder filled with unusual photos including this carte de visite (CDV) of General Tom Thumb & Company published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Company. The text on the bottom of the card says “General Tom Thumb and Wife, Commodore Nutt and Miss Minnie Warren, in the identical costumes worn before her Majesty, Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle, June 24, 1865.” The back has four printed signatures. Price of the CDV was $100.
The back page from a King Bros. courier.
This single back page from a King Bros. courier was brought to the Book Fair by Joe Maynard from Brooklyn, NY. It was priced at $25. For more information about circus couriers see my article ‘The Circus Is Coming!’ Circus Couriers Whet Communities’ Appetites.
A 1937 Cole Bros. route book.
This 1937 Cole Bros. route book was at the booth of Bartleby’s Books from Washington, DC and was priced at $275. Route books are among the most popular items for circus collectors. For more information on route books see my article article Circus Route Books – A Record of the Past.
A photo of the famous clown Lou Jacobs.
A Book Legacy from Palm Harbor, Fla. had this framed photo of famous clown Lou Jacobs on sale for $65.
The booth set up by Double A Books of Bradenton, Fla., featured several circus books.
The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is mainly old, rare and out of print books. This booth occupied by Double A Books of Bradenton, Fla., featured a small section of circus books. The books and their prices (from left) were “Billers, Banners and Bombast,” by Charles Philip Fox and Tom Parkinson ($75), “The Circus Moves,” by Rail by Tom Parkinson and Charles Philip Fox ($55), “Circus Baggage Stock,” by Charles Philip Fox ($45), “Those Amazing Ringlings and Their Circus,” by Gene Plowden ($15), “The One Horse Show: The Life and Times of Dan Rice, Circus Jester and Philanthropist,” by John C. Kunzog (signed by author $35), “Indiana’s Big Top,” by Don L. Chaffee ($12.50), “Circus Parade,” by Phyllis R. Fenner ($30), “Circus Dreams,” by Lynn Goldsmith ($6) and “This Way to the Big Show,” by Dexter W. Fellows and Andrew A. Freeman (signed by Fellows $45). For more information about circus books see my article Circus Books: Building a Solid Foundation for Collecting.
Copies of circus fiction books “Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus,” and “Mr. Stubbs’s Brother,” by James Otis and illustrated by Richard H. Rodgers.
Most circus collectors are only interested in non-fiction, but the fiction book about Toby Tyler, the young boy who ran away from home to join the circus, is an exception because it’s a children’s classic. Brooks with Books from Greenville, SC had a copy of “Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus,” by James Otis and illustrated by Richard H. Rodgers. The price was $6. The same booth also had a copy of a book that is not as easy to find, “Mr. Stubbs’s Brother,” also by James Otis. This is the sequel to “Toby Tyler.” The price was $7.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey programs from 1934 and 1935.
More than 20 years ago these two Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey programs (1934 & 1935) were sold to me by a dealer at the Book Fair for $15 each. Today each is valued in the $40-50 range. A copy of the 1935 program, the one on the right, sold on eBay last year for over $100, but that isn’t typical.
The title page from Volume One of “Circus and the Allied Arts—A World Bibliography,” by Raymond Toole-Stott.
“Circus and the Allied Arts—A World Bibliography,” by Raymond Toole-Stott, is a multi-volume set that is very collectible and also difficult to find. Most sets contain only the first four volumes. Volume five is almost impossible to find. It was published after the author’s death using photo copies of his original typewritten text. The original script was uncorrected, so there are numerous errors. Several years ago I was able to find a set of the first four volumes at the Book Fair for $300. This is the title page from Volume One.
A 1920s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
About five years ago I found this 1920s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey poster at the Book Fair for $300.
Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.
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