Handbill: "Barnum & London 10 Greatest Shows on Earth"

Handbill for Barnum & London's "10 Greatest Shows on Earth," promoting a circus show to take place in Reading [Pennsylvania] on Wednesday, May 25, 1887. A handbill is similar in concept to a modern day flyer, although in this case the tall, narrow proportion is quite different from today's usual 8.5 by 11-inch page. The two-sided handbill advertises the Strange Hairy Family of Burma; a three-ring circus show; the Roman Hippodrome; Captain Paul Boyton, a "heroic life-saver and inventor"; a "jumbo" herd of elephants; the "historic" display of Jumbo the Elephant's remains; and the elephant Alice, Jumbo's so-called widow. The black and white handbill includes detailed illustrations at the top and bottom. The upper illustration shows Maphoon and her son Moung-Phoset, who were billed as the Strange Hairy Family of Burma, standing before their Burmese king. The illustration in the lower third is a grim depiction of Jumbo being hit by a train, the tragic event that ended his life in 1885. In the center of the handbill, a decoratively arranged block of text is designed with the text set in four directions to create the appearance of four triangles. At the center of the text block is a circle advertising Captain Boyton's name in bold letters and describing his aquatic adventures. The illustrations and text on the reverse side of the handbill are unknown to the time this description has been written (2017), since the piece is framed. This promotional piece employs over-the-top, boastful descriptions--the kind of hyperbolic language that Barnum's circus promoter, R. F. "Tody" Hamilton, was known for, and possibly this is an example of his work. In addition to highlighting the performers and "1000 Rare and All-Amazing Sights," the handbill describes the enormous scale of the enterprise as "3000 Honest Tons of Purest Entertainment Under Ten Acres of Stupendous Tents." The printer of the handbill is The Courier Company, Buffalo, NY; the name faintly shows through from the back side of the page. P. T. Barnum is best known today for the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, but his circus ventures did not come about until he was in his early 60s. His first circus, in the early 1870s, was called P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Circus. Barnum subsequently opened the New York Hippodrome with similar acts. In the 1880s, competition from other circuses increased. A merger between Barnum’s show and the Great London Show of Cooper, Bailey, and Hutchinson formed the circus called Barnum & London. America's new and ever-growing railroad system propelled the circus to success, making it possible to add destinations and reach distant locations, as well as transport many more circus wagons, animals, equipment, tent canvas, performers and support staff. Barnum's partnership with James A. Bailey in 1887 formed Barnum & Bailey, which continued to be managed by Bailey after Barnum's death in 1891. After Bailey's death in 1906, the Ringling Brothers bought Barnum & Bailey and operated it separately from their own circus. In 1919 the two were combined to form Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth. That circus gave its final performance on May 21, 2017.