Vintage Circus


Vintage Circus

Have you visited a circus lately? It's true that the traditional circus isn't as popular as it once was, and yet circuses and 

The circus as a form of entertainment was invented by a former Sergeant Major turned showman named Philip Astley.circus toys still exert much appeal.

In 1768 he ran a riding school and during the afternoon used to perform his 'Feats of Horsemanship' in a circular area that he called circus.

By 1770, Astley's considerable success as a performer had outshone his fame as a teacher but he needed to inject some novelty into his presentation.

Astley hired acrobats, tight-rope dancers and jugglers, and interspersed their acts between his equestrian displays.

Another addition to the show was a character borrowed from the Elizabethan theatre, the clown, who filled the pauses between acts with parodies of juggling, tumbling, tight-rope dancing, and even trick-riding.

From this stemmed the modern circus, a combination of equestrian displays and feats of strength and agility.

Vintage Circus

Performing toys

As the toy industry developed in the early and mid 1800's toys modelled on the circus began to appear, firstly as rather crude wooden models of the animals and plain jointed wooden figures of the acrobats and sad clowns.

When major and now famous toy manufactures such as Lehmann, Bing, Marklin, produced their early tin-plate toys, known as novelty toys, many of them were in the form of circus performers.

With the introduction of simple clockwork mechanisms, tinplate acrobat figures were made to do clever things like swing on string tightropes, and climb poles.

Clowns were among the most popular figures as these were made to juggle and bang drums. Early toys, which were brightly coloured, are highly sought after today and, in good condition, they tend to be expensive.

Popular Humpty Dumpty

Vintage Circus
The now rare toys, produced by the American company A. Schoenhut, are the most desirable.

It was in 1903 that the company produced its first Circus Toy Set named after a hugely popular play of the time 'Humpty Dumpty'.

The Humpy Dumpty Circus was a great hit.

The circus personnel list grew over the years to include a lady circus rider, lady acrobat, ringmaster, gent acrobat, minstrel, Chinese acrobat, and a lion tamer.

Animals included an alligator, brown bear, Polar bear, buffalo, bulldog, camels, donkey, elephant, giraffe, gazelle, goat, hippopotamus, zebra and sea lion.

Vintage Circus
Most early animals had glass eyes which were all changed to a hand painted eye by the 1920s.

Over the years, the Schoenhut company made many other wooden toys including wooden dollhouses and doll furniture, musical instruments such as xylophones and banjos, push and pull toys, and many others.

Tin-plate survivors

Vintage Circus
All types of tinplate mechanical toys in the form of circus animals and characters were produced in the early 1900's many of which survive today.

As the toy industry began to use lead and later a diecast method of production, circus figures became cheaper, with one of the well known model soldier manufacturer W Britain's Ltd adding circus items to their range in the early 1900's. One of their major sets issued in 1910 containing lead horses plus riders and card carousel canopy, which if found compete today has a value of around £3,000.

Later in the 1930's when diecast toys became popular various manufacturers introduced Circus models in their range but very few produced a full range of models similar to a real circus.

Much later Corgi Toys produced a limited range of 'Chipperfields' lorries and vans, the first of which was the Crane Truck which was released in 1960.

Vintage Circus
Since then many of the models have been re- released with the first issues fetching prices of £400 or more. Today Corgi Toys are still issuing new models with the ever-popular Circus theme.  

 Vintage Circus toy facts

The Schoenhut company introduced their reduced size circus in 1923 but failed to survive the depression and went out of business by 1935

 The Schoenhut name is alive today, owned now by Renee and „en Trinca, producing toy and miniature pianos. Their address is Schoenhut Piano Company, Inc. 6480- BUS1 North St. Augustine, FL32095 USA tel: 001 904 810 1945

A range of inexpensive tin circus toys can be bought on the internet at for around £10 each

  •  Corgi Toys, whose range of 'Chipperfields' Circus models are now very collectable are still producing Circus models under their Lledo 'Days Gone' range. They feature vehicles connected with British Billy Smart's Circus, tel: 0238 024 8844

  Collectibles Coach

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