2014 49¢ Vintage Circus Posters
Set of 8
Birth Of A Circus Legend
Showman Phineas Taylor “P.T.” Barnum was born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut. Talented at haggling and salesmanship from an early age, Barnum embarked on a variety of business ventures. He owned a general store and newspaper and ran a state lottery, among other things.
Barnum began his showman career in New York City in 1835. He established Barnum’s American Museum that hosted a series of changing acts and curiosities including jugglers, magicians, exotic women, detailed models, wild animals, and daily hot-air balloon rides.
It wasn’t until he was 60 years old that Barnum established his first traveling circus – “P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome.” It had several names over the years and eventually became known as the Greatest Show on Earth. Barnum himself joined the show, riding around the tent in a chariot and joining his customers in marveling at his spectacle.
Barnum’s legacy continues today with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was established in 1907 and remains one of America’s most popular shows.
This set of eight different designs recalls the days of traveling circuses. The stamps are arranged horizontally and vertically. The large horizontal stamps measure 2” X 1.46” and the smaller vertical ones are 1.12” X 1.46”.
Menageries of exotic wild animals and fairs showcasing death-defying stunts have entertained people worldwide for centuries. In the mid-18th century, these elements began to merge when roughrider Sergeant Philip Astley decided to earn money through trick horseback-riding exhibitions. The modern circus was born.
Performed in a ring, Astley’s show quickly caught on throughout Europe. By 1793, the first of its kind had crossed the Atlantic. Early American shows also focused on equestrian stunts adding music, juggling, tightrope walking, and other acrobatic acts. Dressed in traditional riding gear at the center of the action was the ringmaster, a figure still used today. The ringmaster kept the horses on task and managed the spectacle.
In the early 1800s, the introduction of an elephant to a New York circus sparked widespread interest in exotic animals. Foreign animals were incorporated into the show’s scheme, greatly expanding the overall size of the American circus extravaganza.
By 1825, collapsible canvas tents and the advent of the railroad allowed the mammoth productions to travel more freely, bringing the circus to more places with larger audiences. Promoters needed a way to draw in the large crowds. Weeks in advance, so-called “advance men” traveled to show sites to plaster the town with bold and brightly colored advertising posters. This early “saturation advertising” heightened the anticipation of one of the greatest entertainment forms of its day.
The Vintage Circus Poster stamps were designed to look like circus posters of the 19th century. Some of these original posters were big enough to cover the side of a building and they advertised that the circus was coming to town.
49¢ Vintage Circus Posters, issued to satisfy the first-class mail rate
Issue Date: May 5, 2014
City: Sarasota, FL, at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Printed By: Banknote Corporation of America for Sennett Security Products
Printing Method: Lithographed, sheets of 96 with six panes of 16 per sheet
Perforations: Serpentine Die Cut 11