Pam’s Pictorama Post: My memory of exactly where I scored this book has dimmed. It may have been in a used bookstore in Cananda, but I am just not sure. I do know that the moment I picked it up I knew it was splendid and I wanted it. If the penciled price on the inside is what I paid, it cost me $15. The book evidently originally belonged to Harry Dippold who wrote his name in beautiful script in pencil on the inner cover. The copyright, the single printing listed, is 1923. It was written, illustrated and photographed by Fred Hacker and Prescott W. Eames. How to Put on an Amateur Circus is exactly what the title promises – a 112 page step-by-step and blow-by-blow description of everything from how to build costumes, construct tents, make tickets, apply clown make-up, keep the books and even what the Ringmaster should say to the audience! They have left nothing up to chance, a veritable bible of starting your very own circus.
It did not surprise me to discover that the company responsible for this book is Dennison’s – the crepe paper and party decoration company, famed for their wonderful over-the-top Halloween Bogie books. (For a full discourse on Dennison’s you might try my post by the same name found here – Dennison’s.) While these folks had a vested financial interest in encouraging the use of crepe paper, the extraordinary imagination that went into their marketing books is stunning.
For me, the highlight of this book are the photos of and instructions for executing a wide-variety of imaginative animal costumes. (I sometimes wonder if all of Julie Taymor’s inspiration for her puppet costumes came from books like this.) As you can see from the photos below, photographs of the finished product were given, as were diagrams for making the costumes and even ones for how to operate them. The instructions are detailed, if arduous and requiring plenty of elbow grease – operating them couldn’t have been easy either. A google search turns up period references to this and other Dennison volumes like it – I found comments on the difficulty of executing the costumes, but it wasn’t uncommon for them to be used and identified as such in all sorts of amateur and semi-amateur productions.
Tantalizing, at the back of the book, are other Dennison books you could buy. These include the following titles: How to Chalk Talk, (must have been popular because there is also Chalk Talk Stunts), Impromptu Magic, with Patter, The High School Stunt Show and Carnival, Here’s for a Good Time (…a large and diversified collection of parties for the advanced teen ages and adults, chronologically arranged to cover every month of the year), and finally, Burlesque Debates – despite the title these were not racy, but comical. I have never been able to find another volume in the series for sale, but I treasure mine and occasionally dream of starting my own, amateur circus. Come on guys, it’s summer – let’s put on a show!