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Circus History Collections & Research

Note: contents and accessibility of circus collections change over time, some of the information below may be out-of-date. A web search to determine contents of the material held in some of these collections did not always result in detailed information. If you are conducting research, you should inquire regarding their holdings and make arrangements ahead of time to access most of these collections.


  • Toole-Stott (Raymond) Circus Collection, The Raymond Toole-Stott Circus Collection contains approximately 1,300 monographs pertaining to the circus in Great Britain, other European countries, and the United States. Assembled by Raymond Toole-Stott, British author and compiler of the multi-volume Circus and Allied Arts: A World Bibliography. There is also an accompanying manuscript collection with correspondence, drafts of writings, research materials, scrapbooks, children's books, circus programs, photographs and magazines.



  • Ringling Museum of the Circus The Ringling Museum collection includes rare handbills and art prints, circus paper, business records, wardrobe, performing props, as well as all types of circus equipment, including beautifully carved parade wagons, sturdy utility wagons, tent poles and massive bail rings. There are also 19th- and early 20th-century posters and props used by famous performers. A large collection of circus history and literature includes newspaper clippings dating as far back as 1816. The Circus Museum staff and volunteers will provide reference service and answer inquiries. Appointments are required and should be made well in advance.


  • Emory University Robert Harold Brisendine papers. Brisendine was a circus researcher, whose specialty was circus dates. He collected information on all kinds of shows, from large shows like Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey to Wild West Shows to old time Medicine Shows to dog and pony shows. He did invaluable original research focusing on the routes of particular shows and recording the entertainments that visited particular cities. He never published his material, but made it available to other circus historians. The collection contains the papers of Robert Brisendine primarily relating to his interest in circus history. Includes research files, circus publications and printed materials, King Bros. Circus expense ledgers, Allen P. Wescott scrapbooks, correspondence, photographs and negatives, printed material about circuses, and audio recordings.


  • Milner Library Circus and Allied Arts Collection Illinois State University, Bloomington-Normal. Major emphasis of the collection is upon circus, this collection also includes related arts such as carnivals, carousels, conjuring, music halls, and vaudeville. This collectionís book holdings of over 6,000 volumes make it among the most comprehensive and in-depth circus and allied arts book collections anywhere. In addition to book items, the Circus and Allied Arts Collection includes photographs, circus posters, programs, route books, correspondence, business records, band scores, videotapes, audiotapes, and realia. Milnerís Circus and Allied Arts Collection has grown from approximately 2,100 items in 1963 to its current size of over 100,000 items. Instrumental to the growth of the collection has been the acquisition of outstanding private collections such as those of Harold T. Ramage, Walter Scholl, Sverre O. Braathen, Jo Van Doveren, Charles H. Tinney, Everett W. Richey, Frank Ball, and most recently, the collection of Jack Atkinson. Contact information (scroll down).

  • American Circus Collection Irving Kane Pond collection. Circus and theater related clippings, illustrations, programs, publicity, photographs, and memorabilia donated by Irving Kane Pond, 1891-1939. The bulk of material consists of Circus programs and reviews and Circus Fans Association material dating from the 1920'-1930's. The Circus programs illustrate over twenty circuses. A small collection of photographs document performers and circus life at the turn of the 20th century. Pond's illustrations and drawings created for his book titled, Big Top Rhythms, highlight a variety circus acts. The remainder of the collection consists of circus clippings, publicity and memorabilia.


  • Miami County Museum, Peru, Indiana. Miami County was the winter quarters for important circus corporations (1880's to 1930's).


  • 4-Paw Hotel Collection. Eastern Kentucky University Special Collections & Archives collection donated by Mrs. James Shropshire that includes circus tickets, programs, photos, etc. Special Collections and Archives, Eastern Kentucky University, Library 126, 521 Lancaster Ave., Richmond, KY 40475, (859) 622-1792. Link to the collection: Shropshire Circus Collection


  • American Antiquarian Society Worcester, Massachusetts. Use their search engine to determine holdings.

  • Harvard Theatre Collection, Holdings are housed in the Nathan Marsh Pusey Library, they document the history of the performing arts, especially theatre, dance, opera, musical theatre, and popular entertainments such as circuses, pantomime, puppetry, American minstrelsy, music, and fairs and pleasure gardens.

  • Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts. Correspondence, manuscripts, inventories, photographs, clippings, and memorabilia documenting aspects of the career of P.T. Barnum, Jumbo and Barnum's relationship with Tufts University. Use their search engine to find the materials in their collection.


  • Circus, Minstrel and Traveling Show Collection McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi. Collection covers 1894-1953. Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Cole Bros., Barnett Bros., Clyde Beatty, Royal American Shows, also minstrel and traveling shows.

New Jersey

  • McCaddon Collection of the Barnum and Bailey Circus McCaddon Collection Princeton University, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Collection includes documents and hundreds of photographs documenting the American circus of the 19th and 20th centuries. Correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, and other material collected by business manager Joseph T. McCaddon prior to the 1907 merger of the circus with Ringling Bros.

  • Nathan Salsbury Papers Held at Yale University, these papers contain correspondence, personal papers, photographs, a scrapbook, and memorabilia documenting the life and career of Nate Salsbury, nineteenth-century actor and co-owner of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The papers span the dates 1860-1965, but the bulk of the material covers the years 1866-1903.

New York

  • New York Public Library Performing Arts Library New York City. Photographs, reviews, posters, broadsides, and programmes. Materials as early as the eighteenth century in England. 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, and Variety 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 Townsend Walsh collection.

  • New York Historical Society New York City. Couriers, heralds, lithographs (posters), photographs.

  • Circus and Buffalo Bill Collection, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library, C. W. Post Campus/Long Island University. 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.

  • Somers Historical Society at Somers, NY, has a noted collection of of early 19th century menagerie and circus books, artifacts, etc. Phone: 914-277-4977, Curator, Terry Ariano.


  • Brandmiller Circus Collection, located at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, donated by the Brandmiller Family in memory of Herman and Elsie Brandmiller, lifetime circus fans. Contact: Miami University, Anthropology Museum, Brandmiller Circus Resource Center, 54 Upham Hall, Oxford, OH 45056. Phone: +1 (513) 529 1556. Note, September 2010 the Brandmiller website was not available.


  • William F. Cody Collection 1891-1919 The University of Tulsa McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections, Oklahoma. The William F. Cody Collection, consists of business correspondence, documents, and photographs relating to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Documents relating to Pawnee Billís (Gordon W. Lillie) Old Town and Great Far East Show and photographs. Correspondence: Joseph T. McCaddon. Fred Hutchinson. Stewart, A. A. Buffalo Billís Wild West and Pawnee Billís Great Far East Show.


  • Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection Harry Ransom Research Center, U. of Texas - Austin. Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection, 1805-1937 (bulk 1886-1902). The W. H. Crain Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection consists largely 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, 1887-1888.

  • Hertzberg Circus Collection San Antonio, Texas. Hertzberg Circus Collection and Museum has ceased operation due to the condition of the building which compromised the condition of both the circus memorabilia and the book and document archives. This collection of circus memorabilia is now located at the San Antonio Witte Museum. The collection now has over 40,000 artifacts. The best source for information about the collection is the booklet, The Inner and Outer Worlds of the Circus: Guide to the Hertzberg Circus Collection (1982). The collections was established by Harry Hertzberg (1884-1940), a San Antonio lawyer, civic leader, and state senator. Hertzberg was a circus fan who accumulated American circus and related popular-culture memorabilia. His purpose in collecting circus memorabilia was to preserve a record of the history and contributions of the circus to American culture and society.

  • Heiser-Alban Collection of Circus Historical Materials Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. Collection contains periodicals, clippings, correspondence, photographs, posters, and other memorabilia relating to the circus from the collection of Joseph Matthew Heiser, Jr. Detailed information on the collection on the website.


  • Circus World Museum Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center, Baraboo, Wisconsin. Call 608-356-8341, for information on accessing this collection. History of the American circus is collected, preserved, and made available by the Circus World Museum. Resources for anyone seeking information about the circus and related topics, from casual browsers to those undertaking advanced research. Holdings of the Library include materials that date from the first American circus of April 3, 1793, to items associated with the circus operations of today. An extensive collection of circus and wild west show ephemera is present, including more than 8,000 posters, 1,000 programs, and thousands of songsters, handbills, newspaper advertisements, and related pieces. Selected personal papers and corporate records, including business records of the Gollmar Bros. Circus, and drawings and ledgers from the wagon builders Moeller & Sons, are available for study. The travel operations and daily activities of circuses are recorded in the collection of nearly 500 circus route books, augmented by large holdings of route cards, route sheets, and compiled routes, the largest publicly accessible collection of such items. Search the online catalog.

    More information on the Parkinson Library, history and holdings.

  • Sauk County Historical Society, Baraboo, Wisconsin.

United States

  • Library of Congress has New York Clipper, Billboard, New York Mercury, Wilke's Spirit of the Times, New York Mirror, New York Dramatic News, Sporting and Theatrical Journal and Byrnes' Dramatic Times. Early periodicals that carried circus information.

  • United States Newspaper Program A cooperative national effort among the states and the federal government to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. List of microfilmed newspapers, some of which may be ordered on interlibrary loan.

United Kingdom

  • National Fairground Archive (University of Sheffield) has plublications on all aspects of fairground, circus, magic and traveling entertainments. A circus collection of over 300 titles and the Circus Friends Association Library with over 800 titles.

International Collections Database

  • Collections Database. The Federation Mondiale du Cirque has developed and maintains a list of libraries, museums and archives holding Circus collections.


Last modified August 2013.