The library's circus collection--photographs, reviews, posters, broadsides, and programmes--contains materials documenting this form as early as the eighteenth century in England. Special periodicals on the subject include Circus Scrap Book
(1923-31) and a good file of White Tops
(1928-). Other periodicals in the holdings such as Billboard, New York Dramatic Mirror,
contain circus information. Circus route books furnish a valuable and often unique record of the tours of various troupes including Barnum and Bailey (dating from 1886), Great Floto, Forepaugh-Sells, Ringling, Tom Mix, Cole Brothers, and others, as well as programmes for these and for Wild West shows such as those of Pawnee Bill and the celebrated Buffalo Bill. Most of this material relates to American circuses, although some English tours are included. There are a few route books and programmes for continental circuses, including that of Hagenbeck-Wallace. Much circus material came to the library with the Town-send Walsh collection.
Standard reference works on the circus include general studies, biographical works, and regional surveys. Here as in other areas of the Theatre Collection much vital information, particularly for contemporary figures, can be found in scrapbooks and clipping and iconography files where, for example, are stored clippings, programmes, and photographs of the famous circus clowns Felix Adler, Poodles Hanneford, Emmett Kelly, and Grock; and, from the last century, Joseph Grimaldi, whose career is documented in the Hiram Stead collection with engravings, including portraits and playbills. There is a variety of ephemeral material in the vertical files, such as tickets, route cards, advertising material, handbills, and publicity material. A representative selection of circus posters is available for consultation.
Manuscript material relating to the circus is not extensive in the Research Libraries. Perhaps the most notable archive consists of seventeen letters on show business from Phineus T. Barnum to Moses Kimball in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, dated 1846 to 1876. With them are issues of Southern newspapers of 1843 containing articles about Barnum's exhibition of his "mermaid."