The final issue of the old series of Printing History came out a month or so ago (don’t worry, they’re well into their new series), and I just got around to reading the fascinating story of circus poster printers in the nineteenth century, contributed by Richard Flint. Not only was it a big part of the printing business, it also was in the technological forefront, introducing some of the earliest four-color printing and forcing the growth of sheet sizes for ever-larger posters.

There were many interesting factoids in the article. From an account of how grooves were used for a primitive form of tint: “To blend colors so it wouldn’t set up as a pattern, on the next color, if they wanted like a tint, they would run the red cuts diagonally to what the yellow cuts were so that they would never end up with a square pattern on the cut…then if they came along with a third color, they’d run a third color the other way…never parallel.”

But to me the very most interesting discovery pertained to finance. Printers were expected print posters for a year’s shows in advance, but were only paid when the posters were used. One of several examples: “In 1887…three show printing companies–Booth, Courier, and Strobridge–apparently took possession of the Doris and Colvin circus. It is unclear if they sold it at auction or forced its sale, but they were the prinicipal creditors, having carried a debt for three years that accumulated to more than $30,000.”

Back issues of Printing History (not to mention membership information for the American Printing History Association) are available here. The poster is more than a yard square, printed in 1873, and comes from the Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin.

–Bob McCamant