Vintage circus posters



2015-06-26 10:31:32

Vintage circus posters are advertising posters of varying sizes, which travelling circuses used to promote their shows during the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s.


Travelling circuses made their grand debut during the first half of the nineteenth century. Colourful, captivating posters were used as an advertising tool and were designed to draw crowds to what would have been a very short run of performances. The earliest vintage circus posters were created using simple woodblock prints and generally mentioned the name of the circus, price of admission and a few acts along side an (often pre-printed image). Later, circuses came to realise and exploit the advertising power of such posters, and from the early 1900s custom posters began to appear bearing fanciful designs, archetypal characters, fierce animals and enraptured audiences.

Vintage circus posters can vary in size from the standard A2 to the enormous banner type posters that circuses would have hung above the entrance to the big top.

Collector's guide

Condition, size, circus advertised and subject matter are all key considerations when thinking about how collectible a vintage circus poster may or may not be. Since vintage circus posters were generally put up outdoors, mint and neat mint condition posters are very rare and therefore highly coveted by collectors. The best examples of vintage circus posters are brightly coloured (not faded, torn or frayed) and display exactly those scenes that one might imagine when given the cue "Victorian circus": lions, acrobats, clowns, horses, a ring master and a large red and white striped tent.

Some collector's also collect freak show and side show posters. In this case, desirability often depends upon weirdness and, as a general rule, the weirder these posters are the more highly sought after they will turn out to be. The following link leads to a comprehensive gallery of popular circus, side show and freak show posters and may be useful for reference:

Price guide

A vintage circus poster in remarkably good condition and dating back to the earlier half of the nineteenth century, displaying the face of a clown floating above surging crowds approaching a clutch of circus tents, sold for $800 in November 2008 at TW Conroy, LLC.

Vintage circus posters can sell for anything between $30 and $500. Older posters in good condition naturally achieve the highest prices at auction. The artistry of the image is also a key factor.

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