Vintage Circus Collectibles – Collectibles Worthy of A Smile

vintage french clown

Clown figurines  and other vintage circus collectibles are a popular collecting area for many antique and vintage collectors.  Here’s a little history on the origin of clowns…Clowns have always been a part of many cultures, and the art of clowning has existed for many centuries.  Although clowns in the past, were usually found in the courts of kings and queens ( I imagine everybody needed a laugh from the important matters of state that were part of daily court life) clowns can be traced as far back as the courts of Pharoah.  A pygmy clown performed as a jester in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty about 2500 B.C.  and court jesters have performed in China since 1818 B.C.

When the Spanish Conqueror, Cortez , conquered the Aztecs in what is now the state of Mexico, Cortez was surprised to discover clowns in the court of Montezuma.  It is said that dwarf clowns, and hunchbacked buffoons were among the “wonders” that Cortez took back to Europe and presented to Pope Clement VII. However, these clowns and other clowns of that time period, with their outrageous dress and crazy antics often wielded power and influence in royal courts, and their role varied from the clowns we know today.


Our modern day clowns can give credit to Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) who elevated the art of clowning to a theatrical fine art.  He is credited for moving away from the harlequin type of clown of that day and was the first to use whiteface in his performances.  A superb and engaging entertainer, he developed elaborate tricks and special effects.

Around 1874, two entertainers James McIntyre and Tom Heath developed the tramp characterization with which most people are familiar with.  Although, there is controversy over the exact origins of the tramp clown some say they represented  the traveling “hoe boys,” or itinerant farm workers, who rode the rails from one town to another, often in rag tag clothing and covered with soot. They were known as hoe boys (or hobos).  Famous clowns among this type of character are Emmett Kelly Jr. as “Weary Willie” the son of an equally famous clown Emmett Kelly Sr.

Emmett-Kelly-xmas ornament

Emmett Kelly was a clown whose fame had become so notable, he was known throughout the world and was designated as one of the World’s most famous clowns.  In 1972 Emmett Kelly, Jr., with help from his manager, established his own national circus.   His circus was the only circus to perform at the White House, not just once but twice—once in 1972 and again in 1973 during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

Emmet Kelly, Jr.’s image and the image of other notable clowns are often available in prints, figurines and circus playbills and there is an active collecting community in this hugely popular genre.  Companies such as Lladro, Murano Glass , Flambro and other porcelain companies sell clown and harlequin figurines and other items that range in price from several dollars to a couple of thousand. In addition, there are many groups that collect paper and other circus collectibles from all around the world, some of these groups can be located on Flickr.

However, figurines are not the only objects that circus collectors purchase.  According to Kovels, an antique price guide and collectibles publisher, circus collectors  “look for posters, programs, popcorn bags, paper fans, toys, food tickets and pennants, the older or more unusual the better.  A Barnum & Bailey’s  circus toy (circa 1900s)  is a tin wind-up truck made by Strauss Toys of Germany.  It’s 9 inches long and sold for $360 at a Morphy auction in Pennsylvania.


In my opinion, I find clown and circus collectibles beautiful and fun as they bring back fond memories of going to the circus when I was a child.  However, there are some people who fear clowns perhaps as a result of so many horror movies that have typified clowns as scary and repulsive.

In addition, not only are clown figurines popular but clown or circus ephemera collectibles are  also very popular, either for party decor, altered art or other DIY craft projects. The following image is an example of desirable clown or circus images.

Source: via Gary B. on Pinterest



In any case, whatever your wallet size may be, you’ll be sure to find a clown figurine suitable to your pocketbook and budget– a memory of a clown or an event that made you laugh!



Images via Flickr = Double M ~ Mary Margret

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