YESTERDAY'S TOWNS

HOWDY, MY NAME IS BILL STRONG, I'LL BE YOUR "24 HOUR MAN", ROUTING YOU INTO THE PAST TO SEE WHAT THE CIRCUS WAS IN DAYS GONE BY. IF YOU'RE LIKE ME, AND MISS WHAT IT USED TO BE, THEN COME ON ALONG AS WE GO DOWN THE ROAD FOLLOWING THE ARROWS BACKWARDS, TO "YESTERDAY'S TOWNS"! IF YOU HAVE CIRCUS RELATED PICTURES YOU WOULD LIKE POSTED, SEND THEM TO,,,,yesterday1@verizon.net,,,,AND WE WILL TRY TO FIT THEM IN. "24 HOUR MAN" WILL HAVE THE FINAL DECISION ON POSTING.

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Location: GIBSONTON, FLORIDA, United States

Three years at CWM made me a real traditionalist, and I keep remembering Bob Parkinson saying, "I want the people to see what the circus used to be, not what it is today. That's what this site is about!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

FROM DICK FLINT REGARDING POSTERS

Good evening, Bill!
A big "WOW" to the stunning number of posters on your blog! Its
particularly nice to see some of the older stock work for small shows
not often illustrated in circus publications that always go for the
same "classics." Admittedly, a lot of this is interesting to me since
I've generally concentrated on the truly old posters and don't look at
stuff I once considered too modern!

For anyone interested in the beginnings of the show poster houses and
color woodblock (letterpress) work, I have an extensively detailed
article well-illustrated in color with some of the very earliest
posters known that will appear in about six weeks in issue number 50
of "Printing History," the journal of the American Printing History
Association. It is titled "'A Great Industrial Art': Circus Posters,
Business Risks, and the Origins of Color Letterpress Printing in
America."

I do have a number of comments and corrections to make, however, but
let me first state that I wholeheartedly support Neil Cockerline's
discussion about poster conservation and care.

As to the size of the poster sheet, this goes back to before there
were circuses and has more to do with paper makers though it is not
clear just why sheets began to be made and trimmed in somewhat uniform
sizes. In the late 18th century the first paper making machinery was
developed by Fourdrinier resulting in paper of "endless" lengths. The
size of a printing press "bed," where the type sits on which the paper
is then laid, could be twice the size of the platen that presses the
paper to the inked type; it just required rolling the form holding the
type a second time further along under the platen, thus requiring two
"pulls" on the press handle to press the paper against the inked type.
Most newspapers were printed this way: while a double page of type
would be in the bed and a single sheet would cover both pages of type,
each page required its own "press" of the smaller platen against the
inked type.

The only thing holding back the use of large images on posters was the
cost and size of the wood used for the pictures. Traditionally, only
mahogany or boxwood was used. Both were very expensive and neither
was available in large sizes. A man named Joseph Morse developed ways
to cut upon cheap pine and this was done specifically for circus
posters beginning in the 1830s. Morse also developed ways to print in
color by the 1840s. All of this, along with the story of how show
printers were often tied to the financial fate of their circus
customers, is detailed in my article. In it, readers will also learn
how, in the 1870s, one show printer, Torrey Bros., collapsed because
of the failure of the Great Eastern circus yet James Reilly's shop
weathered the financial troubles of the Great London Circus and
survived. There are 22 illustrations, most in color, and no poster
illustrated is later than 1873.

There was only one 100-sheet poster ever printed and that was by
Strobridge for the W.W. Cole show in the early 1880s. Forepaugh
contemplated one but it was never produced; Barnum is not known to
have considered such a large bill. 100-sheet posters have been
constructed by stringing together four 24-sheet posters and adding a
two-sheet "reader," such as Buffalo Bill did with his surviving "Look
Upon This Picture" poster offering a textual description of the four
scenes. This, of course, is not a single image so it is not a true
100-sheet.

By the time lithography is used for circus posters (as early as about
1850 but not at all common), the sheet sizes were pretty much
standardized so the Bavarian limestone was cut to match the size of
paper that the press could accommodate. Lithograph was a slow,
expensive process until cylinder presses (which had been used for
letterpress posters by the early 1830s) were first used by
lithographers in the 1870s. Cylinder presses allowed steam power to
be used and this greatly increased the speed of printing, thus
reducing costs. The change from letterpress to litho work was rapid
and the old-style woodcut, now regarded as crude compared to the fine
details of a litho, was rapidly eclipsed by the late 1870s. Some show
printers hung on, such as Calhoun, doing work for small shows that
were judged as second-class because of their crude appearing posters.
Let me also note that stone work was being replaced by zinc plates as
early as the 1870s and the metal plates could actually imitate the
appearance of stone. When photographic processes began to be used to
transfer an image to a light-sensitive plate, so-called rotary offset
presses came along in 1904. This method of printing can be discerned
from just looking at the image as the dot pattern is quite regular
(like the old half-tone photographs in newspapers) unlike the random
pattern (actually the tiny grains of sand in the litho stone) found on
more traditionally executed litho images. In 1911, when Enquirer
moved to a new building that Old Whitey will remember but was torn
down in the 1980s, they decided to concentrate on date sheets and
other letterpress work rather than make the costly transition to the
newer rotary presses. In the long run, this old fashioned method
meant they survived since shows, especially early movies, were
satisfied with the more craftsman-like work. The Depression hit them
hard but the 1935 Cole show helped revive their pictorial show work
and show posters constituted the majority of their production until
the death of Harry Anderson in the 1980s. Their old presses have been
discarded in favor of offset in their new location.


One of the best-designed of the early woodblock, or letterpress,
posters is that of the "Five Celebrated Clowns Attached to Sands,
Nathans & Co's Circus" that was done by Joseph Morse himself in 1856.
It is a 9-sheet—almost 7 feet tall and over 11 feet wide—and I am
sending a copy for you to post alongside this response to your
comments that began this wonderful new series. Remarkably, two copies
of this poster survive. More amazing, another large poster from 1835
that is 6 by 9 feet survives in four copies and one collector actually
owned two of them at one time but they were discovered separately.
I'm fortunate to have a two-sheet from that date but I am wondering
how many other collectors are so lucky to own any such early gems (to
use a Bob Parkinson word) from the 19th century other than Strobridge
posters. If there are, I would be interested in possibly using them
in a future book on circus posters and show printers. Most such
survivals, of course, are in the two big well-known collections or in
museums.

Also attached is a charming children's book illustration
from the 1840s showing a billposter as well as a photo from the 1970s
of some posters ready to be shipped from the old Enquirer shop.

In the photograph you see so many "days" worth of paper that would have
gone to one town along the route to be picked up by the billing crew.
What made the show printer special was not the technology of printing
but his service—the ability to deliver so many "days" worth of the
correct posters on time to specific towns where the billing crew
awaited them for the single day they were in town. You didn't want
you posters sitting around the express office to be lost (or sabotaged
by a rival show!). Enquirer's Harry Anderson once told me how Doc
Miller once drove to the Enquirer plant to pick up posters because of
his worry about a rival show; Anderson found it amusing because he
thought Miller was the only guy still around that knew the tactics of
the past!

Dick Flint

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