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Circus Collection:

A Preliminary Inventory of the Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Title: Circus Collection
Dates: circa 1775-1988 (bulk circa 1850-1940)
Extent: 34 document boxes, 6 oversize boxes, 27 flat file drawers, 1 lateral file cabinet drawer, 2 framed items (ca. 28 linear feet)
Abstract: The Circus Collection consists of materials assembled from other Performing Arts collections. It is divided into six series: I. American Circuses, II. Foreign Circuses, III. P. T. Barnum, IV. Dime Museums, V. Wild West Productions, and VI. Posters and Playbills. The bulk of the collection dates from the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.
Call Number: Performing Arts Collection PA-00016
Language: English .
Note: This brief collection description is a preliminary inventory. The collection is not fully processed or cataloged; no descriptions of series or indexes are available in this inventory.
Access:

Open for research. Selected digital images from this collection are available on the Harry Ransom Center Digital Collections website.

Digitized material is available for this collection. Click here to explore.


Acquisition:

Assembled by Performing Arts staff from the Davis-Kendall Collection and others

Processed by:

Erin Lawrimore, 2002; Helen Adair, 2009; Helen Baer, 2012

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin


The Circus Collection consists of materials assembled from other Performing Arts collections. It is divided into six series: I. American Circuses, II. Foreign Circuses, III. P. T. Barnum, IV. Dime Museums, V. Wild West Productions, and VI. Posters and Playbills. The bulk of the collection dates from the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

The American Circuses series contains materials related to individual circuses as well as the performers and administrators associated with them. This series consists of newspaper clippings, photographs, posters, programs, and musical scores, with the bulk of the material dating from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. Included in the American Circuses series is documentation of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, the Ringling Brothers Circus, John Robinson's Circus, and the Sells Floto Circus.

The Foreign Circuses series also contains clippings, photographs, posters, and programs, as well as numerous scrapbook pages. The majority of the material in this series covers British circuses and dates from the late 1800s.

The third series pertains to the showman P. T. Barnum (1810-1891) and contains photographs, posters, programs, and scrapbook pages related to Barnum's Circus and Museum and the performers who worked for and toured with him, both in Europe and in the United States. General Tom Thumb and Siamese twins Chang and Eng are especially well documented.

The Dime Museum series consists of cabinet cards of various Dime Museum and circus and carnival sideshow performers. Many of the performers depicted are not individually identified on the cabinet cards, but the cards are divided by type of act.

The fifth series contains newspaper clippings, photographs, programs, and scores documenting the Wild West productions of the late 1800s. The bulk of the material is related to Buffalo Bill Cody (1846-1917) and his Wild West Show. Other individuals featured in the series include Annie Oakley, Ned Buntline, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickock.

Posters and playbills make up the final series, which is divided into four subseries: A. American Circuses, B. Foreign Circuses, C. Wild West Shows and Rodeos, and D. Circus Performers. The bulk of this series consists of posters for American circuses such the P. T. Barnum Circus and Museum, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Adam Forepaugh Circuses, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey, and the Sells-Floto Circus, among others. Most of the foreign circus material pertains to performances in England.

The materials in the Circus Collection were gathered together by Performing Arts staff, with the majority of the material assembled from the Davis-Kendall Collection.


Related material may be found in the W. H. Crain Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection and the Joe E. Ward Circus Collection