Update: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster sold for $439.
What you see: A 1913 poster by Ringling Brothers, featuring Joan of Arc and promising a ‘Magnificent 1200 Character Spectacle.’ It’s from the Richard Bennett Collection of Circus Memorabilia. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers estimates the poster at $400 to $600.
Why is Joan of Arc on this Ringling Brothers poster? Where are the tigers, elephants, and clowns? “Circuses were not seen as the most classical or tasteful form of entertainment. To drum up business and legitimize the circus, the performers would parade through the streets dressed as classical Romans or knights with Joan of Arc,” says Nicholas Coombs, associate specialist at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. “This spectacle was the first encounter the town would have with the circus, and it was a free parade down the main street.”
Why build a parade around Joan of Arc? Why would that be a draw in 1913? “Joan of Arc was a character who would have been known to a large slice of the population,” he says. “Ringling Brothers tried to appeal to as many people as possible. Joan of Arc certainly had that sort of cache among everyday, average Americans.”
What would the parade-goers have seen? “It would have been a fully-costumed production,” he says. “They probably tried to have as large a French army as possible, dressed up as knights. They tried to depict a mighty spectacle to get people to go to the circus later. They would have showed some animals as well.”
What other forms of entertainment was Ringling Brothers competing against in 1913? “It really didn’t have much competition,” Coombs says. “The circus was its own form of entertainment. A production this large, with thousands of people coming to your town–it was an event. Everyone came out to see it for miles around.”
The poster trumpets a 1200-person spectacle, but it only shows Joan of Arc and her horse. Is that unusual? “From the ones we’ve encountered, they try to sell the cast of a thousand characters aspect,” he says. “This stands out for its visual strength and its simplicity.”
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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
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