10 Incredible Examples of Vintage Circus Posters

Featuring Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth”

From the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

Early 20th century circus posters conveyed the energy and absurdity of their grandiose performances. They’re packed with trained animals of all varieties, mustachioed performers and exotic reenactments. These posters showcase a masterclass in graphic design. They display movement, bold text, great contrast and layered perspective.

Some of the most compelling and stunning examples of circus posters came from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”

1915. “Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth.”

1900. “The Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth. The marvelous foot-ball dogs.”

1896. “The Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth The world’s largest, grandest, best amusement institution.”

1900. “Ringling Bros, world’s greatest shows Raschetta brothers, marvelous somersaulting vaulters.”

1900. “The Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth. Wonderful performing geese, roosters and musical donkey.”

1895. “The Barnum and Bailey greatest show on earth–The world’s grandest, largest, best, amusement institution–The great ethnological Congress of curious people …”

1895. “The Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth Scenes in the grand water circus.”

1919-1930. “Christy Bros. 5 ring wild animal show circus poster.”

1909. “Ringling Bros presenting Schuman’s German horse circus poster.”

1908. “The Barnum Bailey greatest show on earth circus poster.”

 


17 WW1 Posters from the United States and Great Britain

From the Library of Congress.

The scale of the First World War is almost incomprehensible. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, the dominoes of allegiance began to fall, and soon the worlds largest nations were forced into involvement. More than 70 million military personnel were globally mobilized. By the end, almost 38 million civilians and soldiers would die.

The pace of global involvement and the mounting number of casualties forced governments to sway public opinion and encourage enlistment. The government propaganda machines began to churn out advertisements. These posters appealed to adventure, patriotism, and honor, and if those failed to sway their target, then shame was the goal.

The poster “Adventure and action, Enlist in the field artillery, U.S. Army” from 1919 shows a line of soldiers on galloping horses at sunset. This, surely to entice those bored young men who sought travel and adventure.

“It’s up to you–Protect the nation’s honor, enlist now” depicts a stern Uncle Sam, and a sleeping young woman draped in American flags. Uncle Sam points directly at the viewer, daring them to turn their back on the country. Similarly, the famous British poster of Lord Kitchener pointing out, challenges the viewer to confront the war.

One of the most interesting examples is the 1915 poster from the Department of Recruiting for Ireland that declares “Can you any longer resist the call?” In the scene, a farmer holding a plow has a vision of St. Patrick gesturing toward the ruins of a cathedral.

Historic and vintage prints on Photistoric.

19??. Print by Schneck. "It's up to you--Protect the nation's honor, enlist now."

19??. Print by Schneck. “It’s up to you–Protect the nation’s honor, enlist now.”

1917. Print by James Montgomery Flagg. "I want you for U.S. Army : nearest recruiting station."

1917. Print by James Montgomery Flagg. “I want you for U.S. Army : nearest recruiting station.”

1918. Print by Montreal Litho. Co., Ltd. "We go next! Irish Canadian Rangers."

1918. Print by Montreal Litho. Co., Ltd. “We go next! Irish Canadian Rangers.”

1917. Print by American Lithograph Co. "Lend your money to your government Buy a United States government bond, second Liberty Loan of 1917, U.S. Treasury will pay you interest every six months."

1917. Print by American Lithograph Co. “Lend your money to your government Buy a United States government bond, second Liberty Loan of 1917, U.S. Treasury will pay you interest every six months.”

1917. Print by Hegman Print Company. "Uphold our honor - fight for us Join Army-Navy-Marines."

1917. Print by Hegman Print Company. “Uphold our honor – fight for us Join Army-Navy-Marines.”

1917. Print by Guenther. "Don't wait for the draft--Volunteer."

1917. Print by Guenther. “Don’t wait for the draft–Volunteer.”

1914-1918. Print by American Lithographic Co. "Our boys need sox - knit your bit American Red Cross."

1914-1918. Print by American Lithographic Co. “Our boys need sox – knit your bit American Red Cross.”

1915. Print by Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. "Join at once. Fight for the dear old flag."

1915. Print by Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. “Join at once. Fight for the dear old flag.”

1914. Print by Hill, Siffken & Co. "Another call "More men and still more until the enemy is crushed" Lord Kitchener."

1914. Print by Hill, Siffken & Co. “Another call “More men and still more until the enemy is crushed” Lord Kitchener.”

1919. Print by Harry S Mueller. "Adventure and action Enlist in the field artillery, U.S. Army."

1919. Print by Harry S Mueller. “Adventure and action Enlist in the field artillery, U.S. Army.”

1917. Print by August William Hutaf. "Treat 'em rough - Join the tanks United States Tank Corps."

1917. Print by August William Hutaf. “Treat ’em rough – Join the tanks United States Tank Corps.”

1914. Print by Alfred Leete. "Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You. Join Your Country's Army! God save the King."

1914. Print by Alfred Leete. “Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You. Join Your Country’s Army! God save the King.”

1917. Print by James Montgomery Flagg. "Wake up America! Civilization calls every man, woman and child!"

1917. Print by James Montgomery Flagg. “Wake up America! Civilization calls every man, woman and child!”

1915. Print by Department of Recruiting for Ireland. "Can you any longer resist the call?"

1915. Print by Department of Recruiting for Ireland. “Can you any longer resist the call?”

1917. Print by Paul R Boomhower. "Pull together men - the Navy needs us."

1917. Print by Paul R Boomhower. “Pull together men – the Navy needs us.”

1918. Print by James Montgomery Flagg. "Be a U.S. Marine!"

1918. Print by James Montgomery Flagg. “Be a U.S. Marine!”

1915. Print by The Publicity Arts, London. "The Publicity Arts, London."

1915. Print by The Publicity Arts, London. “The Publicity Arts, London.”

 


Louis Rhead was an acclaimed English-American artist and author. He created works in a variety of mediums, but remains most known for his striking Art Nouveau posters and advertisements.

Rhead emigrated to New York City in 1883 when he was just 24 years old to work as an art director at a US firm. He later capitalized on the poster craze of the 1890s, and the growing popularity of the Art Nouveau style.

Rhead’s excellent command of the figure and composition made him a sought after illustrator in his time. While less known than Alphones Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Aubrey Beardsley, Rhead deserves a place among the pantheon of his more well-known European contemporaries.

From the Library of Congress

1890-1900. Print by Louis Rhead. "Try vio-violet a new Lundborg perfume."

1890-1900. Print by Louis Rhead. “Try vio-violet a new Lundborg perfume.”

1896. Print by Louis Rhead. "L. Prang & Co.'s holiday publications."

1896. Print by Louis Rhead. “L. Prang & Co.’s holiday publications.”

1895. Print by Louis Rhead. "Photochrome engraving company."

1895. Print by Louis Rhead. “Photochrome engraving company.”

1896. Print by Louis Rhead. "Prang's Easter publications."

1896. Print by Louis Rhead. “Prang’s Easter publications.”

1890 - 1900. Print by Louis Rhead. "The Quartier Latin. A magazine devoted to the arts / Louis Rhead."

1890 – 1900. Print by Louis Rhead. “The Quartier Latin. A magazine devoted to the arts / Louis Rhead.”

1895. Print by Louis Rhead. "The Century, midsummer holiday number."

1895. Print by Louis Rhead. “The Century, midsummer holiday number.”

1894. Print by Louis Rhead. "The Century magazine for June."

1894. Print by Louis Rhead. “The Century magazine for June.”

1894. Print by Louis Rhead. "Century Magazine - Midsummer Holiday Number / Louis Rhead."

1894. Print by Louis Rhead. “Century Magazine – Midsummer Holiday Number / Louis Rhead.”