Here's the full seller's description:
Exceptionally rare and historically important, original 1872 or 1873, Stereoview Photograph of the Interior of the Sideshow Tent at P.T. Barnum's Circus - known at the time as "P. T. Barnum's Great Traveling Exposition and World's Fair" - taken in the 2nd or 3rd year after Barnum first took his "Greatest Show on Earth" to the road with some of the most famous Circus Sideshow Performers on Stage. We believe this to be among the earliest (if not THE earliest), original photographic image of Barnum's Circus and certainly the VERY earliest Image of the interior of a Circus Sideshow Tent. As such its importance can not be overestimated and viewing it literally sends a shudder up and down the spine of any true Circus Historian.
This simply amazing Stereoview Photograph carries no photographer's imprint nor any printed title but does carry a period, manuscript inscription that reads "Modern Greece With Variations". The View came to us with 4 other Stereoviews titled in the same hand each of which identified the View as being from the "World's Fair". This identification of these Views at first confused us as we knew that there were no "World's Fairs" at or around the time that Stereoviews of this type were manufactured (mounted on a flat, rounded corner card). We quickly realized that this View and four other matching ones which we acquired at the same time, were Circus Images and that's when "the light bulb went on". We knew that in 1872 and 1873 P.T. Barnum's Traveling Circus went under the name of "P. T. Barnum's Great Traveling Exposition & World's Fair" and it became obvious that the Stereoview was a previously unknown and likely unpublished image taken at P.T. Barnum’s Circus!! Once we began to identify ther Sideshow Performers pictured in this Stereoview there was no doubt that these Photographs were from Barnum' Circus!!!
This simply amazing, P.T. Barnum Circus Sideshow Tent Interior Stereoview features a number of the most famous "human oddities" "purchased" and displayed By Barnum in the mid-19th century. Pictured here are Zip the What is It?; Annie Jones the bearded child; The John Hanson Craig, The Kentucky Fat Boy and Mary Powers, the Kentucky Giantess - all of whom where with Barnum in the early 1870's. There is also an Albino Woman that we have been unable to identify and a somewhat odd black woman with a "Circassian" type hair style who appears to be somewhat mentally challenged.
This amazing View pictures the "Human Oddities" seated onstage within a Circus tent. Most just sit displaying themselves but the Kentucky Fat Bow plays the Violin!!! At the right, in the background, there are two Circus Employees - possibly Sideshow "Barkers" or perhaps simply "canvasmen" who have come into the tent out of curiosity. This wonderful Image offers an amazing snapshot of the spectacle that was the early American Traveling Circus - a never before seen view of the interior of Barnum's Circus Sideshow Tent - a place of "mystery" and "curiosity" that was closely guarded from the public (unless, of course, they were willing to pay the price of admission)!!!.
In 1871 William Cameron Coup and Dan Castello convinced P.T. Barnum, then 60, to enter the circus business for the first time. Coup and Castello formed a huge wagon show that opened April 10th on the Fulton Ave. & Hoyt St. lot in Brooklyn, New York. The Circus then moved overland but in 1871 traveled no further west than Niagara Falls, NY. 1872 was the landmark year not only for Barnum’s Circus but for the Circus in America as a whole. Cameron Coup put P. T. Barnum’s Circus on rails and thus revolutionized the circus business. The feat was accomplished gradually by trial and error and the breakthrough came when the decision was made to load the wagons from the end of the flat cars with the use of cross-over plates rather than from the side via loading docks. In 1873 the Barnum show began the unique policy of opening in one New York building and closing the season in another, in this instance opening Mar. 29 thru Apr. 15 at the American Institute (3rd Ave. and 63rd St) and then closing the season at the N.Y Hippodrome (Oct. 20 thru Nov.15). In 1873 Charles White was the featured animal trainer presenting his cat act as well as one of the elephants. The 1873 Barnum Circus Program included text that read “Display No. 9: The Great Performing Elephants......... Ring 1 "Gipsey" introduced by Col. Chas. White........Ring 2 "Betsey" introduced by Frank Dooley.
It should be remembered that Barnum was 60 years old in 1871 when “P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus” made its debut. At the time, it was the largest circus venture in American history. "We ought to have a big show," Barnum said. "The public expects it, and will appreciate it." And appreciate it they did: Barnum grossed $400,000 in his first year of operation. By 1872, Barnum was already referring to his enterprise as "The Greatest Show On Earth" -- and it was! "P.T. Barnum's Traveling World's Fair, Great Roman Hippodrome and Greatest Show On Earth" covered five acres and accommodated 10,000 seated patrons at a time. The Photograph offered here is one of only a handful of real photo image of Barnum’s first, massive Circus and this Image is an immensely important piece of American Circus History. As a View of the interior of the Circus Sideshow Tent, it is a unique view of the most mysterious and mystical attraction of the American Circus of the mid 19th century!!!
We unconditionally guarantee that this is an original, 1872 or 1873, Albumen Stereoview Photograph of the Interior of the Sideshow Tent and the "Human Oddities" of P.T. Barnum’s Circus - it is not a reprint, reissue, or later copy - the photograph was taken and printed out in 1872 or 1873 by an unknown photographer and is likely THE only known example of this important Image.
This exceptionally rare and historically important, 1872-3 Phineas T. Barnum Circus Stereoview Photograph is in very good condition. Both of the Photographs are well preserved - the right hand Image exhibits sharp focus, strong contrast and rich tonality while the left hand Photograph exhibits some fading at the left hand edge of the Image. The Photographs are clean and crisp while the card mount has some soiling and some edge wear.
We cannot stress enough the visceral reaction we had when we first saw this amazing view. We have handled scores of Studio CDV and Cabinet Card Photographs of the Sideshow Performers / Human Oddities that were exhibited by Phineas T. Barnum but never before have we encountered an Image of those Performers as they appeared on stage in Barnum's Traveling Circus (or, in fact, as they appeared in any other venue!!). To those, like us, who find the history of the American Circus a thrilling and emotionally engaging subject, the Photograph offered here is like none other that will ever be encountered - what was it like to go to the Circus and see Zip The What is It? or to see first hand the "human oddities" that the great P.T. Barnum had collected from the "corners of the World". The Photograph offered here s certainly the closest one will ever come to experiencing the thrill of a P.T. Barnum Sideshow and we are immensely proud to have, not only owned this wonderful Stereoview but to be able to offer it here at unreserved auction.