With magnificent border-work exemplifying the epitome of 1900 style, this poster is headlined by a trio of photorealistic cameos of the circus-master Sells Brothers and Forepaugh. Only Lewis Sells was still alive and actively managing the circus at the time of printing.
Circuses were always chancy operations; mountebanks and scammers abounded. In many posters of the this period, regal portraits of the proprietors lent a bit of credibility toward the purchase of one's circus tickets. Here, however, the irony is overwhelming: Adam Forepaugh died in 1890; his name was sold to James Bailey, who partnered with the Sells Brothers to create these "Enormous Shows Combined," as a forerunner of Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey. In this earlier image of the founders / partners, the third Sells brother, Ephraim, makes an appearance.
The Sells Brothers (L & R) merged with Adam Forepaugh in 1900 to create the Forepaugh & Sells Bros. "Big United Shows." Adam Forepaugh created many notable innovations in circus history, including a "wild west show," the first beauty pageant in America, and hired one of the first African-Americans in the circus industry as an elephant trainer. As we've said elsewhere, owners' portraits were meant to establish integrity and legitimacy; in reality, Forepaugh was rather unscrupulous: whitewashing a grey elephant to one-up P.T. Barnum's own "white elephant," for example.