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II: Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks. Sources from the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield

Further information on this digital resource can be found on our website www.amdigital.co.uk.

The National Fairground Archive (NFA) is a unique collection of photographic, printed and manuscript material covering all aspects of the culture of travelling showpeople, their organisation as a community, their social history and everyday life; and the artefacts and machinery of fairgrounds. Material covers the history of both UK and US fairgrounds, circuses and travelling entertainments.

Materials include rare books and periodicals from the UK, Europe and US; posters; programmes; photographs; postcards and other rare ephemera. It covers the history of travelling shows from both an audience and professional perspective.

Subjects covered include:

  • Circuses, clowns and animals
  • World’s Fairs
  • Barnum and Bailey
  • Freaks and oddities
  • Fairs, including Nottingham Goose Fair and Bartholomew Fair
  • Fairground rides, including the extremely rare collections of fairground manusfacturers Orton and Spooner
  • W.H Crain Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection and Joe E Ward Circus Collection from the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas

This material is drawn from the great performing arts collections at the HRC. The Joe E. Ward Circus Collection was assembled by Joe Ward, longtime clown with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses. It contains nineteenth- and twentieth-century circus memorabilia, including rare books, photographs, letters, programs, route books, costumes, and props from his career. Additional sixteenth- through nineteenth-century materials provide a substantial history of the circus.

The W. H. Crain Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection spans the years 1805 to 1902 and consists of correspondence and legal documents concerning P. T. Barnum, James A. Bailey, and Joseph T. McCaddon and their business dealings. Notably present are business letters from Barnum, legal documents, manuscript calculations, and endorsed bank checks written during Barnum and Bailey's partnership agreement. Much of the information in this collection relates to Bailey and includes biographical notes and clippings, correspondence, various legal and financial documents concerning his property and estate, and other ventures, such as his purchase of Cooper's share of Forepaugh's Show, 1890-1892.

Highlights include:

  • Dime Museum cabinet cards, depicting circus and carnival sideshow performers
  • ‘Freaks’ including Tom Thumb and Chang and Eng
  • Wild West productions including Buffalo Bill’s show
  • Posters for PT Barnum, Buffalo Bill, Adam Forepaugh, Ringling Brothers and many others
  • Photographs and ephemera about aerialists, animal acts, contornists,clowns, tightrope walkers and many others
Victorian Popular Culture: Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks


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