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Archives and Special Collections: Circus and Buffalo Bill Collection

Archives and Special Collections is a repository for materials contained in a variety of formats: books, manuscripts, correspondence, journals, photographs, posters, maps, original drawings, theatre programs, archival documents, and other materials.

Circus Collection

The Circus Collection consists of such a variety of elements as books, magazines, advertising posters and leaflets, photographs, pictorial cards of animals and circus people, and special illustrations. The father of the American Circus, Phineas T. Barnum, (1810-1891), is represented with a signed note, a cartoon, and two of his books. The intensely exciting, evolving whirligig world of the circus in nineteenth century America is vividly depicted in such magazines at Pluck and Luck, Brave and Bold, and Work and Win.

These publications feature such spine tinglers as: "Fred Fearnot and the Boy Acrobat; or, Out with His Own Circus"; "Nimble Nick, the Circus Prince; or, The Fortunes of a Bareback Rider"; "The Boy Fire King"; or, "Barnum's Brightest Star"; and "Dashing Hal, the Hero of the Ring, a Story of the Circus".

How the circuses loudly proclaimed themselves!: "Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus... The Highest Class Show on Earth"; "Bentley's 'Big' Vodvil and Dog Circus ... Positively Most Beautiful Troupe of Trained Dogs in the World"; "The Leviathan of Shows. Howes' Great London Circus and Grecian Hippodrome...". How, also, they blare the merits of their performers!: "Miss Kate Fisher, the Great Protean Actress and Daring Equestrienne!"; "Pennick the Expansionist, or Human Balloon"; and the "Flying Concellos. Peerless, Daring Artists of the Flying Trapeze".

Circus Images

  The Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth
The Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth
  Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Magazine and Daily Review
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Magazine and Daily Review
  Barnum's Australian Cannibal Boomerang Throwers
Barnum's Australian Cannibal Boomerang Throwers
  Brave and Bold, "Nimble Nick, The Circus Prince or The Fortunes of a Bareback Rider", by Albert W. Aiken, 1905
Brave and Bold, "Nimble Nick, The Circus Prince or The Fortunes of a Bareback Rider", by Albert W. Aiken, 1905
 
 
  P. T. Barnum Caricature: "Every Man Rides His Own Hobby"
P. T. Barnum Caricature: "Every Man Rides His Own Hobby"
  Ivorine, The Wonderful Cleanser trade card
Ivorine, The Wonderful Cleanser  trade card
  Circus Elephant and Trainer
Circus Elephant and Trainer
  Nineteenth Century French Circus Poster
Nineteenth Century French Circus Poster
 
 
  Nineteenth Century French Circus Poster
Nineteenth Century French Circus Poster
  The Great Family of Giants; The Chinese Giant, The Tallest Man in the World
The Great Family of Giants; The Chinese Giant, The Tallest Man in the World
  Herman, Monarch of the High Rope
Herman, Monarch of the High Rope
  Herman, Monarch of the High Rope
Herman, Monarch of the High Rope
 
 
  Herman, Monarch of the High Rope
Herman, Monarch of the High Rope
  The Biggest and Best Side Show on Earth
The Biggest and Best Side Show on Earth
  Houdini Presents His Own Original Invention: The Greatest Sensational Mystery Ever Attempted on This or Any Other Stage
Houdini Presents His Own Original Invention: The Greatest Sensational Mystery Ever Attempted on This or Any Other Stage
  The Old Time Circus, Drawings by John Wolcott Adams
The Old Time Circus, Drawings by John Wolcott Adams
 
 
  There's One Born Every Minute: Phineas T. Barnum
There's One Born Every Minute: Phineas T. Barnum
  Sunlight Strikes the Poster for "The Greatest Show on Earth"
Sunlight Strikes the Poster for "The Greatest Show on Earth"
  Work and Win: An Interesting Weekly for Young America, March 17, 1905
Work and Win: An Interesting Weekly for Young America, March 17, 1905
  Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson's World's Fair and The Great London Circus and Menagerie, for the Season of 1884
Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson's World's Fair and The Great London Circus and Menagerie, for the Season of 1884
 
 

Buffalo Bill Collection

Out west of the Mississippi, that legendary Western frontier of song and story, was theatrically brought to life by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. This Western version of circus entertainment popularized cowboys and Indians, stagecoaches and sharp-shooting, indelibly implanting these images onto the American consciousness and foreshadowing the movie Western.

Our Collection in this area gives a tantalizing flavor of these shows and their popularity. One 1893 "programme" booklet is entitled Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. There are samples of Buffalo Bill tales of daring in such magazines as: Buffalo Bill Stories, Boys of New York, Beadle's Dime Library. New York, Beadle's Half Dime Library, and Beadle's Boy's Library of Sport, Story and Adventure. So readers, mostly young men and boys, poised on the edge of their seats over such thrilling tales as: "Adventures of Buffalo Bill from Boyhood to Manhood"; "Buffalo Bill's Rifle Shots, or, The Buckskin Bravo's Lone Trail"; "Buffalo Bill's Boy Mascot or Jack Jarvis' Hold-up, a Story of the Tenderfoot in the Wild West"; and "Gold Bullet Sport; or, The Knights of the Overland". Some stories, including the last named, are presented as written by the "Hon. Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill)". Thus the legendary West was formulated, and later sustained, celebrated, and endlessly reformatted on movie screens throughout the 20th Century. Also, gunshots and hoof beats were heard from radios across America, and, of course, during the second half of the Century, came the sights and sounds of gunfights, stagecoach chases, and saloon brawls to families gathered before their television screens.

Buffalo Bill Images

  Buffalo Bill Biographical
Buffalo Bill Biographical
  Sketch of Buffalo Bill, The Poet Scout, 1879
Sketch of Buffalo Bill, The Poet Scout, 1879
  Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley
  Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane by Herself
Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane  by Herself
 
 
  Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World
Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World
  Buffalo Bill's Deadwood Stagecoach
Buffalo Bill's Deadwood Stagecoach
  Buffalo Bill's Wild West "Historical Scenes"
Buffalo Bill's Wild West  "Historical Scenes"
  Life On The Border: A Border Drama in Five Acts
Life On The Border: A Border Drama in Five Acts

Circus and Buffalo Bill Collection

Thus the three rings of daredevil entertainment under the Big Tent and the out-of-doors devil-may-care action and drama of Western Americana are here united in one collection. Whether sawdust or sagebrush, ladies in tights standing on their horse's backs or cowpokes leaning from their saddles while lassoing varmints, acrobats balancing on the high wire or war-painted warriors chasing berserk stagecoaches, it's all one - "The Greatest Show on Earth"!

Conrad H. Schoeffling
Special Collections Librarian

Circus and Buffalo Bill Images

Buffalo Bill and First American Indians Visiting Venice

Buffalo Bill and First American Indians Visiting Venice

 

P. T. Barnum Signature, 1884

P. T. Barnum Signature, 1884