SARASOTA, Fla. — Freedom Auction Company brings yet another mammoth vintage circus memorabilia sale on Saturday, February 17, with 930 lots ranging from advertising posters to films and photography of circuses from the days of yore. The complete catalog is now available for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.
As with most circus-related sales, it is the vintage stone-lithographed advance advertising posters which command the highest values. The over-the-top promises, the colorful graphics, and the immense scarcity of surviving originals routinely drive estimates into five figures.
Topping the sale is an 1879 P. T. Barnum ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ advance poster. Printed by Courier Company of Buffalo, New York, the 32-by-48in poster is described as ‘extremely rare’ and professionally conserved with restoration on archival linen. It carries an estimate of $20,000-$30,000.
This 1908 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West event poster promotes expert marksman Johnny Baker, who was the informally adopted son of William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. Baker was a trick-shot champion and a star on the Cody tours at the turn of the previous century. Measuring 39 by 82in and printed by Strobridge Lithography, the poster is estimated at $10,000-$15,000.
In 1909, the Buffalo Bill Wild West show mounted a combined tour with Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East show, offering attendees what was called an “Oriental vision, a gorgeous, superb and exalted Oriental spectacle.” The 29-by-75in panoramic printed by Strobridge Lithography offers the public a comprehensive look at the show’s highlights. Professionally conserved on archival linen with minor areas of expert restoration, the poster has an estimate of $7,000-$10,000.
Though hot-air balloons had been used in the American Civil War by the Union Army to track Confederate troop movements, they were still a novelty in the first decade of the 20th century. In response, Barnum & Bailey offered Jupiter, the Balloon Horse, who would ascend skyward while standing on a platform being lifted by a hot-air balloon. The poster “rarely comes to market,” the lot notes claim, though Freedom did achieve $26,000 in February 2023 for a better specimen. This example is estimated at a more grounded $3,000-$6,000.
By 1924, all the major circus troupes had combined to form the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. During this period, the promoters hired Lillian Leitzel, a German acrobat who specialized in the Roman rings. This Strobridge Lithography poster is linen-backed with minor restoration. Sadly, Leitzel would die just two days after a tragic fall during her act in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1931, at the age of 39. The poster is estimated at $3,000-$5,000.