Item Details

Collection of Circus Travel photography albums.

c. 1890-1960. Spiral Bound. Although arranged in a rather random non-chronological order it is possible to catalogue the albums as containing photographs from the late 1890’s (a Lemen Brothers circus parade passing through Detroit, Minnesota in 1897 is one of the earliest images, depicting the glamour of the parade passing down a main street that looks to all intents and purposes as if it hasn’t seen its last gunfighter yet), right through to some images from the early 1960’s, including one image where roustabouts are shown using an ex army Jeep as a piledriver, eschewing the traditional “7-Up” method of bedding the tent poles and supports. There is also one small format photograph showing the John Stowes Circus bandwagon, hitched to a team of eight horses and standing in a tent field ready to roll out, from the 1850 season; in the main however the majority of images depict circusses from at least three or four decades later. The main interest of the collection, obviously not downplaying the sheer toe-curling joy of seeing an array of highly detailed images from the golden era of the American travelling circus, is the wealth of detail depicted in the vehicles, costumes, acts and indeed candid day to day living shots of the travelling circus community. The arrival of Barnum and Bailey in the 1941 season was by far the most glamorous and magical thing the inhabitants of McCook, Nebraska would see in the course of the year, and the same for most of the small midwest towns that waited in exquisitely romantic excitement for the news that the circus was in town, before crowding main street as the bandwagon and animal cars rolled ecstatically by on their way to whatever previously empty field was temporarily and for three nights only, going to be designated heaven. The fact that many of the photos show not only the triumphal and choreographed cavalcades but also the breakdowns, random feeding stops where a herd of a zebras and and overheated elephant mill about in some New Jersey train yard, catastrophic train wrecks (some of the most devastating rail disasters in US history have involved circus trains) and the everyday routine of circus people and their accoutrements; is really just an added, academic bonus. All of the greats of the circus circuit are represented, obviously Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Brothers and Clyde Beatty Circus (without doubt the archetypal big top lion tamer, Beatty was the man who would enter the big cat cage with a chair, a whip and a pistol at his side, directly affecting the perception of both circuses and animal acts, for better or worse, for most of the 20th century); but also dustbowl circuit giants Sells-Floto, Parker-Watts and the Hagenbeck Wallace outfits. A particularly dramatic sequence of images dated 1903 shows the Great Wallace Circus struggling with aftermath of a massive flood at Bucyrus, Ohio, showing waterlogged tents, onlookers huddled on high ground and wagons up to their axles in floodwater. Carson Barnes, Gentry Bros. Circus (the original “Dog and Pony Show”, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show and a multitude of others are also represented. Bandwagons and animal cars are a particular focus of the images. Often elaborately carved and decorated, often extremely large and ornate (Ringling’s had a bandwagon that would process through town to attract customers led by twenty harnessed horses) they were masterpieces of the coachbuilder’s art and were jealously guarded and maintained. This collection is a treasure trove of 16 spoke wagon wheels, intricately embellished calliope cars (including Ringling’s famous “Carrillion Chimes” bell wagon); the mind boggling carved scenes on the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show bandwagon depicting the man himself above a fresco of what appear to be conquistadors; the Monroe Brothers animal cages and a fair representation of the other more prosaic circus vehicles; generator cars, ticket wagons and water cars that would progress down the street after the main parade making sure that the populous weren’t inconvenienced by mountains of elephant and zebra dung. Similarly less dramatic are the scenes showing the circus cars in their winter quarters, paint chipped, boards cracked, awaiting refurbishment and the start of the new season to shake dust again. There is ample historical evidence here of the massive expenditure of both money and physical labour necessary to maintain a travelling circus in the the early 20th century US. The crowds of roustabouts and roughnecks unloading at remote rail stops shows a weary, tenacious diversity of races, ages and dress. Some circuit points would have been better than others for the numerous African American workers shown strapping down rail loads and posing beside newly erected tents; Redlands California was probably just another railyard, main street and field; Birmingham, Alabama and Savannah, Georgia might have been an entirely less straightforward labouring gig in the early years of the 20th century. A considerable number of images of circus rail crashes are also present, including images of the Hammond Circus Train Wreck in 1928 which all but destroyed the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and in which 86 circus performers and workers were killed. A splendid collection of images depicting the height of the travelling show, its victories and disasters and and insight into day to day routine. Very Good+. Item #9077 A fabulous pair of albums containing upwards of 550 black and white original photographs and clippings of circus vehicles, parades, acts and equipment dating from the late 19th century through the Depression and war years up to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. 2 volumes, quarto, approx 34 leaves per volumes, 310 images in volume I, 234 images in vol II with some loose and displaced images throughout. The albums are 1940’s rexine bound ring binders with heavy sugar paper leaves, all images in very good condition or better, the majority captioned with typed tape slips either on the image or adjacent to it on the album page.
Price: $4,500.00     Item #9077
See all items in: Photography [Vernacular]